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Naming Contests: Why It's Foolish to Put
Your Branding to a Vote

by Marcia Yudkin, Head Stork, Named At Last

Don't turn your search for the perfect company name, product name or tag line into a popularity contest! It's tempting to assume that whichever branding element gets the most votes in a public contest will be a winner in the real world. This belief couldn't be more wrong.

I often see people creating and publicizing polls on what to call their next book. "Which title do you like the best?" asks the poll. That's unwise, because what people say they like in a book title:

  • Doesn't necessarily distinguish the book from others.

  • Isn't necessarily clear, spellable and free of negative connotations.

  • Doesn't mean those who are the best audience for the book will "get it."

  • May not accurately reflect the contents of the book.

  • Isn't always easy to remember and repeat.

  • May not perform well in search engines.

In addition, if all the options in the poll are weak and lackluster, the winner of the voting proves absolutely nothing.  You can see this point borne out in a vote held by the state of New Jersey regarding its prospective new tourism slogan. The winning entry, "New Jersey: Come See for Yourself" received just a few more votes than "New Jersey: The Best Kept Secret."

Both the winning and the runner-up New Jersey slogans flunk an elementary test for the effectiveness of a tag line or slogan: It should distinguish the company, or in this case the state, from most or all others. Try this out yourself by plugging in names of other states besides New Jersey - most of the time, the slogan becomes no more and no less applicable. This means the slogan does not make a case for the Garden State. To be blunt, it's mainly hot air.

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The New Jersey contest had another serious flaw. To be eligible to vote on the best slogan, you had to be a New Jersey resident. While residents do have the greatest stake in improving the reputation of their state, they by definition don't belong to the target market of the tourism slogan. To understand what would appeal most to non-New Jerseyians, don't look to New Jerseyians! Many will be clueless about this and get it upside-down. Outsiders are the ones who need to understand the slogan and respond.

I'll never forget an ad for a Great Plains software company that obviously assumed that a photo of a flat-to-the-horizon landscape without trees was an appealing image. For me, a die-hard New Englander accustomed to heavily wooded hills, this picture had the opposite effect - it filled me with horror.

Of course, someone who lives in New Jersey or North Dakota may be perfectly capable of portraying their region appealingly to outsiders. Instead of asking any group to vote on a winning name or tag line, however, set up your contest so that people can merely submit suggestions. Then have either one person or a committee cull the entries according to a list of criteria drawn up beforehand - and come up with their own ideas as well in case entrants submit nothing but duds.

By selecting and judging rather than mass voting, you're most likely to end up with a name or slogan that wins over your audience.

Copyright 2014 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved.

Stuck on thinking up or choosing your new company or product name?  Get help generating a snappy business name or catchy brand name.

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