September 1, 2000

6 Min Read
What's in a Name?

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What's in a Name?

By Harley Rolfe

Me? Scared of the dark? At times. Most people's hearts race a bit when they go intounknown or strange territory. And "most people" includes those who are lookingto rent a self-storage unit for the first time. Not many customers are repeats. Most arerookies, and they are wary of their own amateur status. That unease is an available hookfor savvy marketers. A first step in breaking down a prospect's caution is to createfamiliarity. A known name--a brand name--helps disarm them.

First Thought?

When operators begin to feel the pinch of competition and thoughts of marketing beginto swirl, the first thing that many want to do is establish a brand name. That's not whereI would start, but it can be done without much additional knowledge or change. One problemis that the name they want to establish is the one they now have, which may not be thebest choice. Most existing names were conceived under commodity circumstances. But withmore market stress, you may be dealing with a name that may not work as well in the newmarket conditions.

What's in a Name?

Perhaps a reference to the genesis of brands might help. You know of their use inWestern films to identify cattle on the range. Back then, brands were used to identifywhich cows belonged to whom--quickly and from horseback. They needed to be indelible andimpervious to modification. While things have calmed down since those Wild West days, manyof the qualities of good brand design carry forward.

Can you think of a successful product that doesn't have a strong, well-known brandname? That's the primary way we identify a product. Sometimes the brand name is the mostvaluable part of a company's offering. Chevrolet the brand goes on and on, whileindividual models come and go under that Chevy banner. Think also to the hospitalityindustry where names like Holiday Inn, Hilton, etc., endure by offering franchiseesinstant recognition among prospective guests. So strong is that influence that financesources often will not finance a new lodging facility without an affiliation. A good brandname may be so desired that it can be rented out and used to give instant recognition toother product lines. Often, heavy-duty lawsuits are filed to protect the owner's rights toa certain name. (Be sure to register yours in your state.)

Your name should be transferable. Some day you will sell your facility--the new ownerdoesn't want to inherit your surname, nor does he want to undergo the cost of establishinga new title. He will pay you for an established name that he can use. And well he should,because you have labored to have that name ingrained in everyone's mind and reinforcedwith a good reputation. It's part of the going business value and is one reason why anoperating business is dearer than the sum of its physical parts.

Keep in mind that familiar things are more valuable than those that are not. A Sunkistorange is more valuable than a no-name orange. That increased value either takes the formof being preferred or commanding a price premium, sometimes both. Your brand name has ahigh-energy job. It will convey a core message succinctly. To do so, it must use all thetricks of the copywriter's trade--graphics and the selection of arresting words. Theingredients are pretty straightforward:

1. Graphics or logo: You've heard it before: One picture is worth athousand words. It is the quickest route to something memorable. It illustrates theessence of your offering. It is also the least precise. While the logo is the centerpieceof the brand, it must be supplemented to convey a meaningful message. This is the"music" of our message.

2. Slogan: With a few choice words, we put "lyrics" to thatmusic. It translates the graphic into a meaning that is specifically useful to you. Astand-alone graphic is usually not significant to a viewer until it's linked to youroffering. The viewer must be led to the relevance of the graphic.

3. Name: You cannot communicate via the logo alone. The logo needs thename to convey the identity of the offering. When a prospect uses the name, he is reallythinking about the logo, made appealing to him by the slogan.

You can just invent a name--like "Kodak," for example. Drug companies do itevery time they come out with a new compound. The advantage is uniqueness and absoluteproprietary rights. Also, it only means what the company wants it to--no baggage. Thedisadvantage is the necessity--through media--to give it meaning and to popularize it.

A clever name is good as long as it isn't maudlin or silly. It should entertain andmake the name memorable. There is liberal use of double entendres, for example, "Webring good things to life," by General Electric, or "A cut above," theslogan of a beauty shop in my home area.

The brand name and its supporting cast (logo and slogan) should convey a theme benefitof the facility. Terms such as "mini-storage" and "self-storage" aredescriptive but don't carry a benefit. The name "U-Save Storage" contains abenefit and uses a price appeal, while "Westside Storage" offers information.(With any luck, the operator is the only one on the "West side.")

As critical as a good brand name is, there are many who try to design one on their own.Don't. Find a good graphic artist who understands the subtle techniques needed to do itwell. Case in point: A familiar word (those in your reading vocabulary) actually operatesas a graphic. When it is misspelled, for example, you detect instantly there is somethingwrong with it. You aren't processing the individual letters, but have registered the wholeword as one piece. That word has gained the status of a graphic in your mind. It is thischaracteristic that permits you to read fast. By stylizing the letters of the word,however, you can make it "yours." In so doing, you merge the graphic and nameinto one entity. This sort of thing is what graphic artists are able to do. You must bemindful of the message and the mood you are trying to convey. The artist cannot and shouldnot invent your message, but he can usually execute it better than you can.

The creation of a brand name is not a casual enterprise. It uses a combination of artand science, and it must be featured in every venue possible. When done well, it is asymphony with several dynamic parts causing the viewer to regard your business as an oldfriend--despite the fact he may not actually know you from Adam. Brand names are powerful.We shouldn't--and don't usually--take them lightly.

Missed some previous issues? Check the web at

Harley Rolfe is a semi-retired marketing specialist whose career includesexecutive-level marketing positions with General Electric and AT&T. He also ownedlodging and office facilities for more than 20 years. Mr. Rolfe holds a bachelor's degreein economics from Wabash College and a master's degree in business administration from theUniversity of Indiana. He can be reached at his home in Nampa, Idaho, at (208) 463-9039.Further information can also be found in Mr. Harley's book, Hard-Nosed Marketing forSelf-Storage.

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