Yeah, we usually mean this Apple, when we spill digital ink, not today, instead the edible varieties:

Hat tip to Erik Pelton who tweeted about the federal registration of LUDACRISP for fresh apples.

We know something about non-ludicrous trademark protection for apples > First Kiss and Rave.

They are newly minted brands for the MN55 Apple, a cross between HoneyCrisp and MonArk.

As it turns out, Honeycrisp might have been a trademark, but for its inclusion in a plant patent.

If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, does that include juris doctors who are into trademarks?

Or, would it be ludicrous for Apple, you know the iPhone XS one, to name a device Honeycrisp?

If only Honeycrisp could be a University of Minnesota apple trademark; Apple still has a chance.

To grasp lessons learned from the Honeycrisp story, and fully digest the Best Buy brand refresh, join us in Minneapolis on Thursday, a few seats remain for our Creative Brand Protection II event:

Winthrop & Weinstine’s Trademark and Brand Protection practice group will host a few hours of trademark and brand protection education, food and drink, and networking!

For the educational portion of the evening, we’ll share valuable insights and guidance for those who love brands and want to learn creative strategies for maximizing their value.

Yours truly, will moderate a panel discussion joined by:

  • Karen Brennan, Senior Director, Intellectual Property, Best Buy
  • Anne Hall, Technology Strategy Manager-Life Sciences, University of Minnesota
  • Aaron Keller, Co-Author: The Physics of Brand; Co-Founder Capsule Design
  • Tim Sitzmann, Trademark and Brand Protection Attorney, Winthrop & Weinstine

The panel will share best practices and creative approaches to both launching new brands and refreshing a mature brand. The panel will develop a robust discussion using the University of Minnesota’s MN55 apple launch and Best Buy’s brand refresh to explore the following themes:

  • Transforming a commodity into a valuable brand
  • Strategies for selecting and owning names and marks
  • Carving a path for global trademark and brand protection
  • Legal considerations for refreshing a brand’s visual identity

Reserve your spot now, space is limited. We hope you will join this lively and informative event!

And, I’ll say it again, if only Honeycrisp was an apple trademark, or an Apple trademark . . . .

In the meantime, since Honeycrisp is generic for fresh edible apples, is this stylization distinctive?

Nope, the pedestrian style is not striking enough to be trademark ownable, contrast Miller’s Lite.

Laurel Sutton, Senior Strategist & Linguist at Catchword Brand Name Development

CES 2016 (January 6-9, 2016) has come and gone, and, as always, offered up a rich selection of new product and company names for analysis (and occasional mockery). Questionable name choices for “innovative” products pop up every day, but only at CES are they concentrated in one place, at one time.

Of course, some of the names come from non-American/UK companies, and so should not be judged by the same standards as English-language efforts. Gyenno, for example, is a well-established Chinese company whose name apparently has no meaning, according to their registered US trademark. It sounds uncomfortably close to the Greek wordpart “gyno-”, but presumably it was chosen for its Chinese significance. Likewise, Carpyz (car pies? Car peas? Car piss?), a French company specializing in fluid mechanics, may have taken its name from its founder, Pierre Carrouset, and Pyz, a scientific notation used in fluid calculations. (This is just speculation – I’d love to know the real derivation.)

But what about Samsung Welt? The name was displayed at CES on a smart belt, or “wellness belt”, which is where the name apparently came from. Despite owning the registered TM for the name, Samsung might want to think about the primary meaning in English, which is “a red, swollen mark on the skin”, something you might get if your belt was too tight, I guess. Welt in German means “world”, which is at least not negative, but again, does not really play well with the product (I’m picturing a belt around the circumference of a lovely round globe – not the image you want for a wellness belt).

Ween is a smart thermostat developed by a French company but aimed at an English-speaking audience. Could it be a play on the French word for “yes”, oui? Or maybe it’s supposed to connote wean – but that doesn’t make any sense at all (wean means to accustom a child to food other than mother’s milk). I immediately thought of the indie band Ween, who coined the name as a combination of the words wuss and penis, and which provokes adolescent snickers to this day. Ween has not yet filed for a trademark, and I’d be very interested to see if they claim that the name is meaningless, and if so, whether the USPTO buys it. (The band does not have a trademark, either.)

Some names are just impenetrable (to me, anyway). Smaato is a mobile advertising platform; their registered trademark was likely a breeze, since the name appears meaningless and unique. Pureple seems to be a play on pure and purple; it’s an app for digitizing your wardrobe, but it’s not clear how the name relates to the function. Spün is the name of a set of smart utensils that tracks calories (something I never want). The set comes with a spoon and a fork, so the name is kind of limiting even if you can figure out that it’s pronounced “spoon” and not “spun”. (The actual sound of “ü” in German isn’t quite “oo”; it’s a front rounded vowel, whereas “oo” is a back rounded vowel.)

And some names are easy to understand but not particularly elegant: Grush is a “gaming toothbrush”. Laundroid is a robot that folds laundry. Whill is a customizable wheelchair. Displ’ever is a home-automation display; the random apostrophe is puzzling, but the domain name is downright awful: displ-ever.com. And then there is Healbe, the company that really likes the word “be” – so much so that they stuck it on their fitness tracker to create the Pig Latinish name Healbe GoBe.

It’s heartening to see that these companies are at least protecting their, ahem, unusual name choices. But maybe, next time, hire a naming company?

Aaron Keller, Managing Principal, Capsule

We do a lot of naming. When we started our firm over 15 years ago I was opposed to doing any naming at all; it has the distinct properties of being one of the hardest creative things you can do for a client and the least respected, hence least valued. Yet our friends at Byerly’s, one of our largest clients in the early Capsule years, said with a smart argument, “you can’t build the firm you’re building without doing naming.” Since that day we named our first international brand, a chair for Herman Miller called Setu – the Hindi name for bridge.

Now, we do a lot of naming and are always seeking more knowledge on how to make the process better. We’ve purchased and devoured almost every book with any reference to naming. Anything on naming is interesting to us, mainly because it is the most challenging creative effort to get a team of people to agree upon.

So when we see an article in The Economist titled, “Nine Billion company names” our interest is immediate and focused. And, we’re fans of The Economist because it is one of a short list of content distributors still putting out good meaty subject matter.

While the sentiment is right, the article has two huge flaws. One: the writer references Copyright law instead of Trademark law, which if you do any naming at all you know the difference. Two: the writer references Tesla as a name referencing a “unit for measuring the density of a magnetic flux” when in fact the Tesla name is a nod to a famous physicist, philosopher and engineer named Nikola Tesla. Two flaws in the article, yet we really, really wanted to like it. The broad points are important and right, but factual errors are troubling. Fact checking is an important piece in the world of journalism and we’d expect the highest standard at The Economist.

With those points aside, the important piece here is the challenge of naming and putting the right resources to such challenges. We would see this getting realigned each time we talk to clients who’ve been scared by naming.

Have you felt the pain of naming? Do you have scars to show for it? We’d love too hear stories of how challenging naming is if you’re willing to share.

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

I’m often asked by companies if they should change the name of a product, service or even the company itself. Here is my shortlist of 10 really good reasons to change your name:

  1. People Can’t Pronounce or Spell Your Name – Here are a few of the names chosen by startup companies last year: Zairge; Xwerks; Synthorx. If no one can pronounce or spell your name how do you expect people to remember it?
  1. Your Name Requires Explanation – Xobni (pronounced “zob-nee”) was founded in 2006 and made software for mobile and email applications. The founders of Xobni loved the name because it was inbox spelled backwards. However, without an explanation, most consumers could not “get it.”
  1. Your Name Is Generic Or Descriptive – If your product is called “Fast Chop” because “fast chopping” is the main benefit of your product, you may think you have a great name. But if your competitive set consists of products called EZ Chop, Speed Chop, QuickChop, and TurboChop then nobody is going to notice it. Advertising will be wasted because even if consumers think “Fast Chop” is great when they get to the shelf they will be confused by all the similar names and products. If your name does not stand out versus your competition you had better change it.
  1. You Have A New Target Or Strategy That Won’t Fit Your Current Name – Speaking at Macworld Expo in 2007, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that Apple was dropping the word “Computer” from its name. “The Mac, iPod, Apple TV and iPhone. Only one of those is a computer. So we’re changing the name,” said Jobs. Today, Apple is a powerhouse of consumer electronics and is a great example of why a strategy change should drive a name change!
  1. Your Name And Current Brand Identity/Execution Clash – In 2003 the world’s largest tobacco company, Philip Morris, officially changed its name to Altria Group. While some considered this a PR maneuver to distance the company from its tobacco heritage, CEO Louis Camilleri said that the name change was “an important milestone” in the evolution of the company. “It doesn’t signify an end or a beginning,” he said. “Rather, it marks how far we have come and gives us a framework for how much further we aim to go.” The sleek and modern Altria Group has been a star performer in the stock market since this name change.
  1. You Are Ready To Enter The Big Leagues – Larry Page and Sergey Brin started a search engine called BackRub. A year later they changed the name to Google, which reflected their mission to organize a seemingly infinite amount of information on the web. Blue Ribbon Sports was founded on January 25, 1964. The company, started by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight, officially became Nike, Inc. on May 30, 1971. Sometimes the name you start with is not one you want to use when raising money from the investment community!
  1. You Can Add A Relevant Benefit To Aid Recall & Persuasion – Diet Deluxe was the name for a new frozen entree company which was renamed Healthy Choice to add a benefit to the product name. Sound of Music operated nine stores throughout Minnesota in 1978. After a tornado hit their largest store, the owner decided to have a “Tornado Sale” of damaged and excess stock in the damaged store’s parking lot promising “best buys” on everything. After Sound of Music made more money during the four-day sale than it did in a typical month, the company was renamed Best Buy. Is there a relevant benefit in your name? Should there be?
  1. Your Current Name Is An Ego Trip – The biggest factor in selling or gaining an investment in your business is the degree to which the business can operate without you. If your name is the business name, then growth and investment will be limited. Subway started out as “Pete’s Super Submarines” in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Do you think that Subway would have grown as fast if it were still called Pete’s Super Submarines?
  1. Your Current Name Is An Acronym – Sometimes the acronym represents the initials of the owners (e.g., A&W Restaurants after Roy Allen and Frank Wright). Sometimes the acronym is a shortening of a larger name (e.g., Aflac is the first letters of American Family Life Assurance Company). Acronym brand names are almost always bad. Not only do they take years of advertising to establish, the risk of mis-pronunciation is huge and can often cause negative brand equity. SAP is the market leader in enterprise applications and software. Their primary competitor, Oracle, loves to use the “sap” pronunciation and SAP-haters say the acronym stands for “Sad And Pathetic.”
  1. Your Name Is Not Likeable – What is the “Acid Test” response? If you expose the name to your target customer and she smiles when she hears it or says, “That’s a great name!” without thinking about it, then you may have a winner on your hands. On the other hand, if she has a puzzled look or a negative reaction, you might want to consider a change. I also count “polite indifference” as a failure. If people have no reaction, then they are probably too polite to tell you how bad it is. And please do not expose the name only to friends and family. These people are programmed to be nice to you and so you won’t get honest feedback. If your name does not bring a smile to your customer’s face, then maybe you should change it.

Of course, each situation is unique and there are always costs to changing a name that should be considered. Are there other situations where changing a name can be a good idea?

We’ve made a lot of friends in the naming community over the last six years, special congrats to one of them, Anth Shore over at Operative Words, whose work in naming Jaunt was recently featured in a New York Times article called: The Weird Science of Naming New Products.

It is a fascinating inside look at the art and science of naming, definitely worth reading, enjoy!

Here are some of Anth’s previous guest posts here on DuetsBlog, thanks Anth for sharing your wisdom:

Love the word Jaunt, do you think it will be verbed?

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

I’m often hired for name development by entrepreneurs who are starting a business. However, many founders take the “do-it-yourself” approach to name development. Sometimes that works for them, but all too often they make a horrible mistake that is easily preventable.

My basis for this conclusion?

Here are a few of the names chosen by startup companies last year (data from CrunchBase.com):

  • Zairge
  • Xwerks
  • Synthorx

I defy you to guess what the business is selling. Go ahead…try…I’ll wait. Can’t do it? I’m not surprised. You won’t get a clue from the name, and unless you already know about these companies you are taking a wild guess.

I’m not picking on these companies for their names because there are many others with similarly confusing names. For the record, Zairge (zairge.com) is a mobile property management system that simplifies and accelerates productivity for the owner, employee and guest. Xwerks (xwerks.com) offers elite nutrition for elite athletes. Synthorx (synthorx.com) is a biotechnology company using synthetic biology to synthesize solutions.

While I have no information about how the names for these companies were developed, I strongly suspect they may have fallen into the “.com conundrum.” Many startup companies I work with insist on having a one word name with one or two syllables that has a .com website available. That virtually guarantees the use of nonsensical clusters of letters that result in a name without relevance. Letting the availability of a .com domain drive your name selection is a huge branding mistake.

Consider these names of these other startup companies from CrunchBase.com:

  • Beep
  • Shout
  • Swish

These three have nice, short, memorable names. They are common words that are easy to pronounce, read and spell. Beep is a startup that sells a device that facilitates synchronized music in every room. Shout builds marketplaces for passionate people. Swish offers mobile payment solutions. In each of these cases, the company has chosen a relevant name that builds a brand around the benefits that their product offers. But because they chose a common word they don’t have the “exact word” .com address.

So which is better: Having a simple, easy-to-pronounce name that has meaning, or having a name that gets you a one word .com address? My 25+ years of branding experience tells me that a name that has meaning is infinitely more important than a name chosen because you can get a single word .com address.

You can ALWAYS get a .com address that makes sense. The websites for Beep, Shout and Swish are: are www.thisisbeep.com, http://useshout.com, and http://swishme.com. The companies have found a clever way to get a meaningful name AND a relevant website.

You can do the same. Add “my” or “the” to the front of your name or add “online” or “world” to the end of it. If you need other ideas give me a shout and I’ll help.

But please don’t pick a name that looks like a random selection from alphabet soup just because you can get a .com domain. You will only create confusion and that is never a good thing.

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

Back in the mid-2000s, A.G. Lafley (during his first tour of duty as CEO of P&G) championed the “First Moment of Truth” which represented the time when people are looking at the store shelf and trying to decide whether to buy the product.

Later, P&G emphasized the “Second Moment of Truth,” which is when people try the product at home, to rationalize why they spend oodles of money on Research & Development.

Google VP-U.S. Sales and Service Jim Lecinski jumped back in time to coin “ZMOT,” for the “Zero Moment of Truth,” which is the time when people research a purchase online before shopping for the product. By the way, if you have not read Jim’s book you must do so. It is a free download.

As a professional name developer I believe there is an even more important moment of truth. I call it the Minus One Moment of Truth™ and I believe it can help guide the choice of a name for your company, product or service.

What is the Minus One Moment of Truth? It is the very first time your prospective target customer hears of your company, product or service. If you are choosing a name for your company, product or service, please do the necessary research to understand the Minus One Moment of Truth for your key target customers, because understanding it will yield a lot of clues for your name choice (and your marketing).

For example, let’s say you are developing a new name for a plumbing service. You have done the research and discovered that the vast majority of new customers hear of your company through recommendations of other satisfied customers. In this case, your Minus One Moment of Truth is the instant that George tells Sam that his plumbing is leaking and Sam tells George that he should call “XYZ Plumbers” because they will do the work fast and won’t charge you an arm and a leg (or whatever your unique points of difference are). The conclusion from this example is your name had better be easy to remember because you are relying on Sam to convey the information to George and for George to remember it until he can contact the plumber.

How can things go wrong in this example? Well, what if George does not remember the exact name but remembers that the plumber was supposed to be inexpensive? He uses Google to search for inexpensive plumbers in his area and finds Affordable Plumbers, Discount Plumbers, Cheapskate Plumbers, and SaveMore Plumbers. Here is where failure in the Minus One Moment of Truth leads to a disaster in the Zero Moment of Truth. If George can’t remember the name from his first encounter with Sam, then XYZ Plumbers loses because Google will provide many alternatives. Clearly XYZ Plumbers needs a name that conveys its unique point of difference in a way that will make the Minus One Moment of Truth a memorable event.

Here is another example. Jenny is an artist who wants to rename her art business. She spends a lot of weekends at art fairs around the country and she also has an Etsy e-commerce store. What is her Minus One Moment of Truth? In looking at her business, she believes the Minus One Moment of Truth happens on her Etsy storefront as the Etsy store is her biggest sales volume generator. So she thinks that she needs a name that will search well and therefore she wants to include keywords that relate to her inventory. I’m not going to argue against that approach, but I will point out that she needs to understand the Minus One Moment of Truth for her business. Do the people who buy her product come from searches on Google or Etsy, or do they come from people who have met her in person at the art fairs? If the former, then yes by all means consider inclusion of relevant keywords. If the latter, keywords may not be that important because the Etsy sales are generated by people who met her in person. These people are likely to get her business card and be driven to her web presence by that connection, so perhaps the new business name can be something memorable about her as an artist.

I’m not suggesting that you should violate the fundamentals of developing a good name (and my “Top 5” fundamentals of name selection are shown below). But I am suggesting that you understand your target market and how they first hear of you and then apply these fundamentals:

Fundamentals of a Good Name:

1.  Is simple and concise (easy to pronounce, read and spell).

2.  Is legally available from a trademark standpoint and has domain name options.

3.  Is differentiated versus competition in the category.

4.  Is easy to remember.

5.  Delivers the idea or concept behind the product or conveys something real and specific about the product.

So don’t name your business, product or service without considering where your target customer first hears the name…the Minus One Moment of Truth!

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

There was an article this summer in the Wall Street Journal called, “Why Startups Are Sporting Increasingly Quirky Names.” The author indicated that this trend was being driven by a “lack of short, recognizable URLs” which “prompts use of misspellings and word mash-ups” in the names of new startups.

One of the entrepreneurs was congratulating himself because he “wrote an algorithm to generate all the pronounceable combinations of letters, three syllables or fewer, whose dot-com addresses weren’t claimed” and he used that approach to come up with the name “Kaggle.”

Now I’m not knocking the success he’s had in raising money for his startup, but I ask you, what does Kaggle mean and how does it relate to the concept of his business?

This is just another example of an entrepreneur using tactics instead of strategy. He was concerned about getting a cheap, clean domain name (tactic) instead of developing a great name for his product/service by following a strategic approach to name development (strategy), then worrying about the domain name (tactic).

Most professional name developers follow a strategic process to develop a name. This process varies depending on the company, but in general there is a competitive analysis, a target consumer exploration, a brand positioning exercise, and other strategic steps that lead to a considered name for a business. There are also numerous rounds of availability checks using trademark experts, and part of this is usually a domain name check.

But starting at the end of the process and letting available domain names drive the name development is letting the tail wag the dog (or insert your favorite saying for “this is dumb”). Getting a clean domain name for around $10 a year is certainly a good thing. But getting the right name for your business is potentially a multi-million dollar decision. Talk about pennywise and pound foolish (again, insert your favorite saying for “this is dumb”)!

As an example, one of the things I try to do for clients is leverage the power of familiarity and fluency in names I develop because customers tend to do a better job of recalling and liking names that are easy to pronounce and that are familiar. This approach has been scientifically proven to work, as evidenced by the results in the article “Predicting short-term stock fluctuations by using processing fluency,” by Adam L. Alter and David Oppenheimer. They proved that fluently named stocks robustly outperformed stocks with disfluent names. Or said in English, people vastly prefer names that are familiar and easy to pronounce and are willing to put their money behind that decision.

If you want more proof that familiar and easy-to-pronounce names will do better, check out the article in Psychological Science: “If It’s Difficult to Pronounce, It Must Be Risky” where authors Hyunjin Song and Norbert Schwarz concluded that “the present results consistently show that people perceive disfluently processed stimuli as riskier than fluently processed stimuli.” In English, if you put out an “alphabet soup” name, you start from a negative position in the minds of consumers.

The other huge reason for not picking the “alphabet soup” names you get when you decide based on available domain names is “top of mind” awareness. If you pick a name that sounds familiar and links to ideas that consumers already have in their head about the product or service you are naming, then you have a significant head start in getting consumers to become aware of and understand your business. Better to get consumers nodding their heads instead of scratching them!

There are ALWAYS options for domain names. If the domain name you want is being used, you can try to buy it. Or, if the domain holder won’t sell it, you can finesse it (e.g., if XYZ.com is, taken you can often get XYZonline.com or BuyXYZ.com). Or you can enhance it by adding a word that contains a selling point for your brand (e.g., XYZstyle.com). Being creative in domain names once you have the name of your business is a solid approach to developing a large and successful business.

If you develop a name that yields a great domain name, but your Target Consumer doesn’t get it, you have failed. The reality is that you need a great name for your business, and while a great domain name is certainly a factor in the success of your business, it should not be the driver!

Entrepreneurs, please stop the nonsense. Develop great names that are based on your Target Consumer and his/her needs and wants. Then worry about things like domain names, SEO, and all the other tactics you can use in your business. But don’t let tactics drive strategy in name development.

Aaron Keller’s keen branding and naming points yesterday — prompted by his recent encounter with a physician by the name of Dr. Cure, are well taken.

Building upon that +5 naming scale theme, with a surname like Trim, especially if it is Will Trim, you might expect a personal trainer at one of the local health clubs, unless of course, that be not his calling:

Then again, Reverend Trim certainly works the upper end of the +5 naming scale, much better than Mr. Trim, especially when it comes to promoting the development of spiritual fitness at the Uptown Assembly of God in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

There must be an infinite number of possible names for someone tasked with re-branding a motel, yet on a recent trip to Iowa City to interview an amazing pool of law students, I captured some photos of what has been — for as long as I can remember — a Motel 6, and is now all “trade-dressed” up as a Super 7, within plain sight of the Super 8, just down the street.

Trademark types, would you have cleared the name and/or look and feel of the Super 7 signage?

It all brings back wonderful memories of a very popular short and sweet blast from the past (with no less than thirteen comments, but whose counting?): Counting By Numbers, or Stripes? A Likelihood of Confusion Tale.

So, what is the fascination with single digit motel names anyway? What do our distinguished professional naming consultants and other creative friends think about the art of motel naming?

Are all the “super” ones already taken, or is the single digit feature a requirement for super-ness?

And, if the motel is owned by Stan, does he need a new plan?