Countdown to Branding Eminence

Episode 1


In the realm of effective marketing, there are principles that can not be denied, and factors that hold true universally. A key to making your mark in today’s business landscape is image building and identity – in a word, branding. Even sectors that were traditionally not all too concerned about branding like non-profits, civil agencies, organizations, associations, etc., are now obliged to adapt, reinvent themselves, and apply good branding principles. This is likely due to the visibility-driven aspect of modern media. We are compelled to create captivating, and eye-catching corporate identities in order to stand out and be noticed in the over-saturated, ultra-connected, social media-driven world we live in. 

So what are the principles to apply and the pitfalls to avoid in effective global branding? How would you define a dope, modern brand that extends beyond borders and boundaries? 

As part of our Countdown to Branding Eminence blog and video series, starting at number 8, the Ultimise Team has compiled these 8 Do’s and Don’ts for Developing Dope Global Brands. Let’s get started!

1. DO keep it Brief.

In creating a strong brand, you want it to be easily said, easily spoken, easily remembered. A major factor in making this happen is keeping the brand name short. A good brand should have no more than four syllables, and if you can keep it to two or three syllables, that is even better. Brand names that exceed the four-syllable-length standard, will end up being shortened or abbreviated automatically, and this is not good for maintaining and controlling your brand identity. Inevitably, in common usage, a long name will be turned into an acronym which is something you want to avoid because then the brand image is compromised.

We find that in this day and age, the strongest, most iconic brands adhere to this standard.

Google, one of the most valuable brands of today – two syllables

Adidas, another classic brand with strong longevity – three syllables

Skype is a unique and original brand that they managed to keep to a single syllable.

You will find that such brand names will be spoken in entirety. They won’t be shorted to Goog, or Ad. They are short enough to avoid being adulterated. This goes for cool brands like iPhone, Whatsapp, and Facebook as well.

The Ultimise Team created and designed a brand for a fintech project called Susnova. The name is replete with meaning, coming from the words sustainable innovation, but we kept it to three syllables. What is important is that the name is completely original and unique. So we are not ashamed to say that we are pretty proud of that one!

2. DO keep it Simple.

Another essential factor in branding is simplicity. A good brand may be hip and trendy; a great brand that can stand the test of time is simple, while not being simplistic or bland. 

Let’s look at some examples.

One of our favorite examples of awesome branding is Kodak. The creators of that brand were bold enough to break new ground and rewrite the marketing rulebooks. It was one of the first original word brands – basically a made-up word created to be memorable and universal. As a two-syllable word with simple vowel sounds, the name was sure to be easily pronounced pretty much anywhere in the world. In addition, with such an original name, the company did not need to erase any previous perceptions or preconceived notions. They were able to fully own the brand, and create the perception, image and ideology they sought to ascribe to it. Kodak is now sadly fading away as a company, perhaps due to later inheritors of the company not having the same progressive, innovative mindset as its founders. One thing is certain, however, the company is not losing ground due to poor branding. 

A cool Asian brand is Uniqlo. Presumably the brand’s creators combined the words unique and clothing, creating a new word that is, well, unique, yet nonetheless meaningful and easily perceived. Notably, the brand is a great fit for its related business being apparel.

Another iconic brand that effectively applies the universality principle is Pepsi – meaningful, simple, short, and also easily pronounced in most any language.

3. DO make it Meaningful.

Regardless of how simple, brief, and easy to pronounce your brand name is, there still needs to be a brand story. There should be some clearly definable meaning behind it. Even if your meaning or purpose is not readily apparent, the purpose behind your brand name should be more than simply “just because”.

Some great examples of this are:

Netflix. Innovatively combining internet and flicks the creators of Netflix were able to create a word that has basically become synonymous with movie streaming and the whole new online viewing experience that is so prevalent today. The branding is so strong, that it would be extremely difficult to dethrone Netflix from this frontrunner defining status. 

Instagram. What comes to mind when you see this brand, and its general brand identity is somewhat of a retro feel – the combination of classic and essentially antiquated things – instamatic cameras, and telegrams. This perfectly matched the original feel of the brand characterized by the application of cool vintage filters to photos. Brilliant branding in my opinion.

Minecraft. Here again you have a very clever combining of words to create a new word that communicates very strongly. Notably, the name is also kept to just two syllables, ensuring that usage remains unadulterated or altered which helps to further reinforce the brand identity.

Plastolix. This is a brand that the Ultimise Team created for a project that employs industrial technology for converting waste plastic to fuel. We sought to apply strong branding principles in combining the word plastic with the abbreviated “ol” which denotes petrol, oil, and/or petroleum. Adding the suffix “ix” communicates industry and technology. The resultant 3-syllable, easily pronounced brand name is rich with meaning and effectively communicates the core brand message that is needed.

4. DO make it Universal.

Global interconnectivity is an undeniable reality in today’s world. Whereas in the past reaching a global customer base was generally limited to very large corporations, this is now much more broadly possible with little more than a click of a mouse or a tap of the finger. As such, it is wise to think global when launching a startup. You never know when your brand may reach well beyond your resident market, so you might as well bear that in mind from the onset.

It is impossible to factor in any and all meanings and nuances of meaning present in all territories around the world as you develop your brand, but considering expansion possibilities, it is wise  to make your brand name function in as many territories as possible. 

Examples of brand names that effectively function in multiple regions are Dell, Toyota and Coca-Cola. You can see that these brands can be read and pronounced with an acceptable level of accuracy pretty much anywhere. 

Using words with basic vowel sounds such as a, o, and e, where possible, helps greatly with the universality of your brand name, along with the use of basic consonants. Once brand names move into using various vowel and/or consonant combinations, like ue, th, or throaty sounds like kh or zh, it becomes more challenging for them to be rendered in multiple languages.

Japanese words, for example, generally speaking seem to work especially well in multiple territories. There is little confusion or ambiguity in how to pronounce names such as Honda, Toyota, and Yamaha, or even Yashika, Komatsu and Kawazaki, even if the international ways of pronouncing these brand names is not entirely true to the authentic Japanese pronunciation.

5. DO make it Local.

I realize that this may appear contradictory, but as much as you want to maintain a global perspective in your branding, you must put a particular emphasis on making sure your brand functions especially well in your primary target territory, is easily pronounced locally and does not have a negative meaning in local languages. 

There have been some classic failures to learn from in brand-creation over the years, often causing substantial waste of money, time and resources, and most of all big embarrassment in many cases. 

We present examples of what not to do in this case:

Ford Pinto. This is a classic example of insufficient market research in advance of a product launch. Ford faced huge challenges when trying to sell their compact car model named Pinto in Brazil. Finally they found out why. The word “pinto” is a Brazilian slang word for “small male genitals”.

A branding style employed by the huge Swedish furniture retailer Ikea, is to give products Swedish names. This is a core aspect of their corporate identity, but this has posed problems with their global expansion when those product names have different, and sometimes embarrassing meanings in the local language. Surprisingly, this has been a problem even in English, as in the case of the mobile workbench named “Fartfull” which in Swedish means speedy, but in English, well, no explanation needed.

It seems that some brand naming faux pas occur simply due to carelessness or basic oversight as in the case of this company which even appears to be in the United States: Passmore Gas & Propane. Nuff said.

6. DON’T be Commonplace.

Considering the information oversaturation we face in this cybergeneration, it has become increasingly important to consider how your brand can stand out from the rest and make an impact. As a startup you have a clean slate to begin with. You have the opportunity to completely create your image, the perception of your brand and to set the narrative. This being the case, I strongly suggest that you go beyond using obvious, self-evident, generic words in your brand creation, and instead look for something unique. With countless new companies being launched around the world at all times, and over half a million new websites created each day, it is getting harder and harder to be noticed and make a mark. 

In order to do this, you should aspire to uniqueness. As a sort of exercise while preparing this blog post I Google searched some random basic words, like “green hills” and sure enough, numerous results popped up. There is nothing wrong with that name. It is a nice name, but I am simply trying to illustrate that if you use common words or terms in your branding, you will have a huge obstacle in optimizing search engine results. 

There are certain “top hit” words used in branding, such as “success”, “wealth”, “rich”, “healthy”, “wellness” etc. As much as you may want to associate your brand with such qualities, making such words part of your brand name is generally not advisable because such words are heavily overused. 

Another uber-popular word in brand names these days is “smart”. Again, I strongly advise against using that word prominently in your brand. Try thinking out of the box.

Now I read an article by an “expert” advising against using newly created words in your branding. The reason given was that with a brand new word you will have to invest exorbitant amounts of money on marketing to create brand awareness and recognition. Such thinking is very passé and not supported by current reality and trends. To defend her point, the writer of the article cited companies like Facebook and Google and the massive resources they have – budgets that startups could never aspire to. Unfortunately, she is flat wrong. First of all, let’s remember that when those titan companies began and named themselves, they did not have big budgets. These were tiny startups with small teams and very limited resources. This is the case with Facebook, Google, Spotify, Whatsapp, Twitter, Snapchat and more, ad infinitum. The exact opposite of what this person claims is true. As a startup with limited resources, you want to start with an original, unused name because then you have a clean slate to start from, you can fully own that space, and most importantly you will show up on the first page of search engine results in no time. 

But don’t take my word for it. Let the facts speak for themselves. 72% of the world’s top brands feature original/created words. (Read about that here)

7. DON’T use Alphabet Soup.

A quick fix in picking a brand name is to use initials, abbreviations or various acronyms as your name. Just don’t do it, believe me. Stick with me and I will explain why.

Let’s say you pick names like TK Electronics / SF Engineering / FR Publishing, or whatever. I just randomly came up with those names on the spot while writing this. Now let’s do an experiment. Copy and paste the supposedly hypothetical names into Google, and you will find that, wonder of wonders, each one brings up a result. There are companies named that way, and I venture to say that you would get a search engine result on just about any short, random combination letters you try in a search engine, and in many cases there will be multiple results.

Now I strongly advise that you do not use this brand naming technique. It is lazy and unimaginative. It poses quite a difficulty in projecting meaning and creating perception of a brand story. It is commonplace and forgettable.

Some people advise against using one’s own name as a company brand name. There are logical reasons for this (like what if you want to sell the company?), but I personally find that there is great precedent for iconic companies named after their founders like Ford Motors named after Henry Ford, Kraft named after James L. Kraft, Dell named after Michael Dell, JP Morgan (currently JP Morgan Chase) named after John Pierpont Morgan Sr. (Note: in this case the use of initials is acceptable since the letters don’t stand on their own and have a clearly understood origin); or names that contain the founders’ names such as Walmart and Walgreens (named after the Waltons). The Founder’s name, if not to long, complicated, hard to pronounce, or overused, has an immediate brand story, and gives tribute to the founder regardless of what path the company/organization takes down the line.

But the most crucial reason to avoid alphabet soup names is that initials can be abbreviations for many different things, and in the quick texting/messaging world of today, new abbreviations pop up all the time. What if your alphabet soup name ends up being popular smut slang, like WTF, or just extremely common chat lingo like BRB, AFK, or LOL? (OK, Boomers, if you don’t know what those stand for, take a coffee break now and go look them up.) It is very hard to “own” a brand that is an abbreviation, unless you are very huge, like CNN, BBC, or the UN. Even if you are big, chances are, the name has been used. Finally, taking tips from the playbook of the greats, relatively few major multinational brands are alphabet soup names, and those that are, have often been abbreviated from an already understood, recognized brand name, like British Petroleum to BP, Hewlett-Packard to HP, Men in Black to MIB.

In popular usage, it is fairly common for organizations (charities, NGO’s) and news corporations to have abbreviated names, like the NBA (National Basketball Association), IMF (International Monetary Fund), NBC (National Broadcasting Company). Even then, I would venture to say that it should be a less preferred naming option. I much prefer the names News Corp and Time Warner to NHK, BBC, ABB, ABC, NBC etc. And there are still problems posed with doubling up. An ABC TV channel exists in both the US as well as Australia). Do you think of WWF as the World Wide Fund for Nature/World Wildlife Fund, or the World Wrestling Federation? In this epic wrestling match, the World Wrestling Federation lost and had to change its name to WWE – World Wrestling Entertainment, which cost them a lot of money, I’m sure, and in the end many of us still identify with the WWF name, more than WWE. The WWF/WWE would have been well advised to stick with Titan Sports, I think, but then who am I to say. (Ref.)

Now to some examples. I randomly Googled some not so great common abbreviations, and what do you know? These are actual search results:

BS Company. Need I say more?

STD Express Company. Wow. I can think of some pretty awesome taglines for that company, and no, they are not selling antibiotics. (For those who may not know, STD stands for sexually transmitted disease.)

UN Company. Ummm. It is pretty bold to try to go up against the UNITED NATIONS and hope to be found, but this firearm sports company is that bold. Run to the battle, guys! Nevertheless, in my Google test searching for “UN”, this company had not shown up by the 10th page of search results. Google favors large organizations and content perceived as news and information, which would directly advantage the UN in SEO, also there are countless other massive organizations that operate under or in collaboration with the UN.

BAD. Yes I am not making this up, and this is not an illiterate company from Timbuktu. It is the British Association of Dermatologists. BAD: Healthy Skin for All. Yay!

Honorable mentions:

In Aussie slang “RS” stands for “ratshit” or “rat stuff” – signifying something of very low quality. RS Group is a huge media/entertainment conglomerate in Thailand. 

BM Tech. My reference point for BM is “bowel movements”, AKA, taking a dump. Other meanings include “Black Man,” “Baby Mama” and “Bad Mannered.” It just does not get better.

I hope I have convinced you against those alphabet soup naming tendencies. If not, all I can say is ROFL and LMAO.

8. DON’T Plagiarize or Copy.

I won’t elaborate much on this point, because I think it is pretty self evident, but besides that fact that it is just lame, copying whether intentionally or unintentionally can land you in a whole lot of trouble later on, as in legal trouble and lawsuits.

If you do not get in trouble for plagiarizing or stealing another brand, you will still never be the first or one and only, which means even if you can outdo the original, in my books you will remain second best. Take pride in who and what you are. Be unique!

So that wraps up our “8 Do’s and Don’ts for Developing Dope Global Brands”. 

And if you need a strong partner to help take you through the process of developing a powerful, unique and memorable brand, we at Ultimise are experts at all aspects of branding, including creating unique brand names, logos, taglines, and more. We have a great track record of producing high quality branding that is meaningful, captivating and extraordinary. Check out our high value branding packages here.

Happy branding!

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