Ok, ok, I get it. My last blog post, The Paradox of Brand Protection, was way too long. Just so you know, I do recognize that we live in a sound bite world, but sometimes the educator and storyteller tangled in my DNA get the worst of me, at least when it comes to brevity.

Brevity is a gift. The federal Court of Appeals judge I worked for in Washington, D.C., years ago, had this gift, among many others. He used to describe those who “go on and on” as having no “terminal facilities.” Those of us who worked for him eagerly awaited the meaningful pearls of wisdom he gifted from time to time.

Brevity is memorable. Out of all the words strangers have uttered to me during my life, I have never lost one brief line from a man (a man I couldn’t pick out of a line-up today, by the way) at the public swimming pool some thirty-five years ago: “You’re going to have in-grown toe nails some day.” He was right, and I have never forgotten those exact words.

Brevity is effective. The GOOGLE® home page is a model of brevity. The ALTAVISTA® landing page has migrated in this direction too. Author and master-blogger Seth Godin makes “every word count” a new art form. His blog posts are models of brevity.

Brevity is hard work. It takes significant time, effort, and knowledge to properly distill complex thoughts and ideas into brief, digestible, and meaningful points. This hard work, however, pays dividends in giving the lasting and important gifts of being memorable and effective.

Brevity can have issues. Sometimes it misleads people into believing things are simple, when it is far from the truth. Other times it creates arguments much later about lacking notices or informed consent. So, while brevity is valuable in engaging attention, any further necessary information should be filled in later, as appropriate.

In the trademark world, brevity has issues too. Perhaps most importantly, brevity is more difficult to own, making it much more valuable when you can. Many different companies might vie to boil down their names to the very same acronym. The same is true for top level domains with a limited number of characters. If you haven’t heard before, there is extraordinary value associated with two character top level domains. Quite simply, the shorter the designation, the more interest and competition there is to use and own it.

For all of these reasons, and probably more, it seems everyone these days wants to truncate their brand. American Express® is AMEX® (never mind that it isn’t the only one), Federal Express® is FEDEX®. Gatorade® is truncating to G (more about that controversial move later). Even law firms, frequently strangers to brevity, are on the bandwagon too. In case you hadn’t noticed, there is currently no shortage of law firms attempting to truncate their multiple alphabet soup names to a single surname. As you might imagine, this can and does lead to trademark fights, even between law firms.

Food for Thought: Will McDonald’s® ever attempt to truncate its famous 71 letter mark? Click here to see their trademark registration.  Repeating it in this post clearly would violate my new quest for brevity.

  • Great post, Steve. As a former newspaper reporter, I saw this first-hand. Reporters universally despise writing short newspaper stories — they see them as dumbing down.
    I always maintained that it was a lot harder to write a good six-inch story than a 20-incher. When you don’t have much space, every word counts and you have to be a lot smarter about conveying the essence of your point.
    When you have more room, it’s a lot more likely that you’ll just empty your notebook.

  • James Mahoney

    I believe it was Blaise Pascal who wrote, “I’m sorry this letter is so long; I didn’t have time to write a short one.”