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NY Post: For Top Branding Consultant, It Really Is All In A Name

12 Apr 2010

You might say that Jonathan Bell is in the name game.

As a branding consultant, Bell has helped dream up company and product titles that are now household words. Fruitopia, Cingular, Mach 3 razors, Verizon and Sirius radio are all the handiwork of the 42-year-old wordsmith.

Bell got into the branding biz in 1990, when he graduated from Manchester University in England and took a job at the powerhouse New York firm Interbrand. Over the next decade, the quick-witted Brit ascended to a vice presidency as head of Interbrand’s naming group. Then in 1999, he left to start his own firm, WANT Branding. Now he’s got a staff of four at his Union Square office, plus a wife and two kids at home in Chelsea.

GETTING A HANDLE ON IT: Bell has come up company and product names including Verizon, Sirius and Fruitopia.

@Work talked with Bell about why it’s his Dream Job to be the head of his own branding business. Mostly, it’s because he always gets the last word.

OK, be honest. Is it all that hard to come up with a word like “Fruitopia”?

Consider that there are 1 million trademarked names in the United States. There are 180 million URLs for dot-coms. Yet there are only about 200,000 to 300,000 real words in the dictionary. So, that’s much of the challenge. We’re not just generating names. There’s a science to it.

How does branding work? What are the first creative steps?

Our projects last about eight weeks. If we get a call to work on a project, first we blueprint it and break it down into possible categories. Do we want real dictionary words, something like Sprint, or maybe a portmanteau [a combination of words] like Cingular, which is a cross between “single” and “cellular”? Maybe you want it to be named after the founder, like Dell? Before we dig in, we’ll get approval on a direction.

Then you sit around spitballing clever names?

Weeks two through four, it’s a lot of time spent brainstorming, writing names on cocktail napkins, sending my people out to Barnes & Noble to research. After narrowing it down, we also do an audit of existing names to find out what’s already taken or too similar.

How many ideas do you pitch to a client?

We’ll come up with 10 to 15 names to present. It’s important to give the client some sense of perspective to how you named it, what the strategy was.

You must have favorites going in. Do you have any Don Draper-style tricks to steer clients your way?

Here’s one kind of cheeky trick. We’ll actually mock up our favorite name on business cards. Then, at the meeting, we’ll slide them across the table to each executive with their names and titles on it. It presents a more aesthetic, tactile way of seeing the name.

Has there ever been a name you really wanted that was already taken?

Yes, on the Sirius satellite radio project. We all really liked the name Orbital, which suggests satellites orbiting the globe. But there were too many existing uses of that trademark. So, we decided on Sirius, the brightest star in the galaxy.

What name involved the most hand-wringing?

Mach 3 had to be tested and researched to death because we knew different countries would pronounce it differently. In Mexico, it’s “Mach tres.” In Germany, it’s “Mach drei.” So, we did extensive consumer study, and also a linguistic check. There have been examples of companies embarrassing themselves by launching products with inappropriate meanings overseas.

Why do businesses need you? Couldn’t they think of something like Verizon on their own?

One of key things about our job is the legal side. We know names that will get around trademark obstacles. We do trademark screens. We check URLs. In fact, we actually own a few URLs. If we come up with a name we like, even if the client doesn’t want it, we’ll lock it up so we can recycle it.

Does a name really need to mean anything?

Yes and no. Think of a name like Google. How many people know or care that it was derived from a mathematics word, googol? One of our challenges is that clients typically want a name to describe what the business or product does. But if the Google founders had gone with WebZone or SearchThis or something, it’s not as memorable. A hundred years ago, it was all very descriptive, like General Electric or American Motors. Nowadays, it’s all about constructional linguistics.

What’s the best-known brand that you personally thought of?

I came up with Cingular, BellSouth and AT&T’s joint foray into the cellphone business. It’s a portmanteau between “singular” and “cellular.” I was on a team that came up with Verizon, which is cut from the same cloth and suggests notions like verity, truth and a new horizon. It’s not implicit what the service is.

What’s a brand you wish you’d thought of?

Red Bull. It’s such a powerful name. It speaks to the notion of energy. In fact, I’d rather have the trademark than the product itself. You could use it for anything. Would a pickup truck sell if you named it Red Bull? Absolutely.

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Original article available here: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/business/jobs/jonathan_bell_L4ZxzQRMflHHdKfQdAJw2I

POSTED BY: want | IN: Blog
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