naming feature

Naming – A Misunderstood Art

Naming is very important. Name a trend, you own the trend. Name the product right and you own the genre (think of Hoover, Coke, Elastoplast). A colloquial or unofficial name is likely to be much more memorable and influential than a sensible, formal name. Weird or fun names also have more traction. A few recognisable examples: would you have approved any of these if you had never heard them before?

Naming: would your marketing department have approved these?


Google – who would have thought of that!

Here is a whole article from TechCrunch about how tech start-ups use super weird names.  It is not just business or products names. It’s categories or phenomena or ideas.  Millennials, Generation X, Generation Z, Boomers. Nudge psychology, greenhouse gases. It’s unlikely these would ever have been adopted if it had been left to the traditional voices in large businesses.

In my experience marketing departments or branding teams, often have a lot to say about names. In my view, it is almost always wrong. They insist on sensible long and quasi descriptive names. Rather than fun, random ones. Or more interesting: names that have to be explained.

[I previously wrote about this nearly four years ago – with lots more examples.]

JDART and the power of a clumsy acronym

This week we had an amazing example of how important it can be to name something in a non-standard way, in order to create – well something more powerful.


Elon Musk, CEO Tesla

Elon Musk, a notable tech entrepreneur, won a defamation case bought by the British caver who led the rescue of the 12 boys trapped in a Thai cave. In a spat on Twitter, Musk called Vernon Unsworth a ‘pedo guy’.


My sympathies were all with Mr Unsworth, but the interesting thing to me was the use by the clever and presumably expensive defence, of a made-up word posing as an acronym: ‘JDART’.

I will leave it to someone called Elizabeth Lopatto writing on website The Verge to explain. (You need to know the clever lawyer in question was someone called Alex Spiro).

“Spiro then coined the worst acronym I’ve heard in years, and I edit stories about aerospace so I know from bad acronyms. It is: JDART, for joking, deleted, apologized-for, responsive tweets.”

However ridiculous that reads, this was a very clever and successful move. It gave life to the idea that one has to be allowed to make an error of judgement on Twitter and apologise – without being sued for millions.

Here is what the BBC’s North America Technology reporter wrote:

“One of the smartest moves by Elon Musk’s defence was in introducing the concept of “JDart”, an acronym to describe their client’s conduct on Twitter in relation to the infamous “pedo guy” tweet.

It’s clumsy, for sure, but it meant Mr Spiro could offer the jury here a degree of structure around what before seemed senseless: Mr Musk may have acted foolishly with the J, but he soon “darted”, which is how you know he wasn’t being serious about the allegation. Expect the JDart “standard” to be applied again and again. “

I am always suggesting clients push for better names for great ideas or projects. It really doesn’t have to have a meaning – you can call a piece of software Shirley, or Crowsnest or Porridge for no reason other than fun. Or it can be a crazy acronym like JDART which has to be carefully explained. Either way, you will give your idea or product a life of its own. And that is good for business.

Photo credits:

Google building image – Flickr: Luis Villa del Campo
Elon Musk – Wikipedia
Cave rescue headline – BBC screengrab.

neuropsychology feature

Persuasion and a little neuropsychology

Neuropsychology – the science of how the brain works – is experiencing a huge growth spurt. We are now really learning how we make decisions, why we make decisions and why habits and behaviour change is hard but can be hacked.

I mentioned in my newsletter a book I was reading written by a digital marketeer, Constantin Singureanu; by the way, he picked up an award (for a business he is working with) at the UK Business Awards. I was a judge in his category, which is how I came across him. (He is the one in the middle).


In his book, Digital Marketing Made Simple, Singureanu summarises a lot of disparate research about how people make buying decisions online. But so much of what he writes about is equally as relevant for message building, media interviews and presentations.

So here is my summary of the neuropsychology outlined in Digital Marketing Made Simple – and how I see it’s relevance to my work as a media and presentation trainer.

  • Psychologists refer to the human bias towards noticing and remembering the unusual as the Von Restorff effect. This is interpreted by marketing guru Seth Godin as ‘Boring always leads to failure. Boring is the riskiest strategy’. This is true in marketing but also of messaging. I believe if you are trying to get cut-through for an idea – in a media interview or a presentation -boring is never going to work.
  • First impressions matter. Here Singureanu refers to a Harvard experiment where students were presented with a two-second silent clip of a teacher they had never seen before and were asked to rate his effectiveness. The ratings were compared with the ratings of students who actually studied with the teacher for one term. The findings: the two sets of scores were identical. The belief is that we all make judgements about people and things within a split second and then we filter out information that contradicts the opinion we then hold. Common sense suggests there must be some other factors that will be taken into account over the long term, but it is a stunning reminder that in an interview or presentation we have got to give a great impression right from the start. In messaging it means you must capture the essence of an argument with an interesting phrase right from the start. And of course, the performance also matters here. How you look or sound.
  • Last impressions also count … if there wasn’t a strong first impression then the last impression will be influential. So a good hotel visit with a bad check out experience may well mean the customer does not return. For presentations and interviews, this means – end with a bang.


  • Availability bias is another really stunning bit of neuropsychology. Simply put, people make up their mind about something based on the most readily available information, rather than the more logical approach of reviewing all the evidence. For example, after a plane crash, the number of people travelling by plane will dip even though statistics show that more people die in car accidents than plane crashes. It sounds obvious put like that but big budgets and important business decisions are influenced by what’s making the news, what people see online and read on their way home. What their husband or daughter is saying. What this means for anyone in the business of persuasion is that you have to get out there and repeatedly.
  • Social proof is hugely influential. If you are selling online this is all about reviews. But if you apply this to messaging I would interpret as meaning ‘mention what others say about you’. Of course, this is not as strong as others saying it themselves but it is often quite easy to build ‘third party endorsement’ into your messaging. E.g. ‘I spoke to one CEO last week who said this had been the best fifteen hundred quid he had ever spent.’ If you think that seems lame ask yourself why canned laughter still works.


The next chapter of Singureanu’s book is all about the importance of feelings. Spin doctors and marketeers deliberately provoke feelings – whether that is fear (fear of Brexit, fear of immigration) or warm fuzzy feelings. So many inexperienced public speakers shy away from either sharing their own feelings or deliberately provoking feelings in their audience. How daft is that!

So to summarise: make your messages interesting, start with a bang, finish with a bang, keep repeating and don’t forget to mention what others think. And finally, decision making is all about feelings and emotions. You are unlikely to influence another person without evoking some feeling in them.

marketing basics ignored

The marketing basic that most serious execs ignore

Storm Imogen is grabbing headlines in the UK this week, following storm Henry last week and reminding us all of the experiment being run by the UK and Irish Met Office to name storms. It began in September last year and since then we have had eight named storms including Abigail, Desmond and Gertrude. The reason given for the experiment is the belief that the naming helps efficient communication and means ‘the public will be better placed to keep themselves, their property and their businesses safe’. In doing this the two Met Offices are clearly following a system that began in 1953 in the US, and has named all hurricanes since then.

Basic communication tool

Giving memorable and easily identifiable names to something is a basic communication tool which we all use at home when we name our children and pets, give nicknames to our neighbours or name our boats and cars. So why do senior executives, particularly in software, tech and financial services companies wilfully chose not to do this?

Leonard Nimoy Spock 1967

Spock in 1967 StarTrek. Naming a product after a well loved character makes it memorable.

So let’s take a hypothetical example. Imagine we have a new bit of software, aimed at the small business market and called SME Payroll Overpayments Corrector. The name is a mouthful but call it SPOCK (S-P-O-C (k)) instead and suddenly we have something memorable and easy to talk about. It doesn’t have to be an acronym, that is just one easy way of doing it. But you could call this widget Pegasus or Humphrey or Matilda without any justification, or name it after the inventor or the Saints Day of the launch. Whatever is chosen will be more memorable than SME Payroll Overpayments Corrector. 

Too frivolous

The funny thing is, and I have seen this many times, when PR or marketing professionals suggest to serious executives that they deploy this simple trick, the idea is rejected as being ‘too frivolous’ or ‘out of line with the group branding’.

In one dismissive stroke of ‘group think’ one of the most basic marketing tricks of all is dismissed. And sadly it will be these same executives who are likely to later complain that the brilliant new product or widget has not had the recognition, traction or media coverage they would have liked.

Cats and Apple 

Naming blog useable pic

Apple are now naming their operating systems after Californian landmarks

The tech company Apple is much admired as a well-run business. Why do we think they chose to name their operating systems after cats (Cheetah, Puma, Jaguar etc.)? Because it made them memorable and easier to talk about. Of course for the geeks, all these also had numbers such as 10.3 and 10.4 etc. But the cat name was given prominence. Recently Apple ran out of cats and has moved to naming operating systems after well-known Californian locations: Mavericks, Yosemite etc. Here is a fuller explanation from Business Insider.

Brics and Ticks

The naming trick has also been deployed with great effect in economics and investment circles, many, many times. Think of bulls and bears for example.  Jim O’Neill is a British Economist once chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management. He is best known for coining the acronym BRICs in the early 2000’s. As all my bankers will know this stands for Brazil, Russia, India and China but the acronym is used in the context of the (once) fastest growing emerging economies. Recently the FT was arguing that BRICs have now been superseded by TICKs – Taiwan, India, China and South Korea, the new darlings of emerging market investors.

And just in case you are still thinking this is all too silly, let’s remember the genius who in 1993, rather late in a crowded market of new mobile phone companies (many of which subsequently fell by the wayside) decided to call his company Orange. Who would have thought that would work!


From marketing material to stories: mistakes to avoid

Who should decide what counts as ‘news’?

An interesting piece in this weekend’s FT highlighted the challenge that ‘corporate news’ now poses to traditional journalism. By which I mean the trend for companies not only to bypass the media by self-publishing PR stories, blogs or video clips, but also to create their own community news portals in which they present their stories as impartial news.

Some examples are given in the FT piece, which I strongly recommend reading.

Now, I am all for companies telling the best possible version of their story but I am squeamish about them sponsoring community websites which mix only positive corporate PR stories in with other kinds of ‘news’ (which presumably is not so positive). It’s clever and I am probably naive. But as someone who is a former journalist and works with a lot of PRs I’m not convinced this kind of approach won’t backfire in the longer term because it seeks to control the terms of the conversation rather than genuinely expanding it. And that runs counter to the supposedly transparent, inclusive principles, which underpin the digital age we now live in.

That said, companies are doing a sensible thing by taking a more journalistic approach to telling their stories, not least because many of them have been their own worst enemy when it comes to humanising what they do and the broader social benefits they bring.

So, if you are going to do more storytelling for your company or client, here are few tips.


Turning marketing puff into good stories is not easy

1. Sell the benefits not the product

People working on these stories are frequently only given marketing literature or press releases to draft from. These inevitably focus on what is particularly cool or new about the product rather than emphasising the particular social need it meets. So, for example, if you or your client manufactures a type of handbag that is made from 100% recycled material and still looks good and lasts a long time then you need to tell the bigger story of dwindling resources, saving the planet while looking good etc. Very few people who might read this story will care about the product or its qualities in their own right. But if you appeal to their values, they might.

2. Don’t believe the hype

This also means you need to challenge the cliches which pervade marketing literature but look lazy or over-sold in stories. Usual suspects include ‘innovative’, ‘experience’, ‘unique’, ‘transformative’ and ‘exceptional’. They succeed only in being simultaneously bland yet hyperbolic (and usually unsubstantiated). After all, we are still talking about a cup of coffee or a pair of headphones. Keep your language grounded and make a point of showing (using facts and examples and independent evidence) not telling. If you don’t have enough information, go back to your client or your colleagues and ask for more. This is an iterative process so don’t worry if you think your first effort is a bit thin.

This is a personal gripe but you should also limit your use of compound nouns. Used sparingly they are fine but when I read lots of references to ‘meat-eaters’, ‘coffee-lovers’, ‘tech-aficionados’ etc I can’t help feeling that is a lazy way to try and create a movement around something that doesn’t really exist. Now, I know this is a marketing technique but it doesn’t work for stories, particularly if used too often. I am all for making language interesting but this doesn’t do it.

Here are a couple of traps to avoid. If you have any other suggestions I’d love to hear them.