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Lessons in Branding: Naming Can Change Perceptions

by Marcia Yudkin, Head Stork, Named At Last

A few Hollywood movies aside, the field of mathematics doesn't have much glamour or star quality associated with it. And for most people, it doesn't carry the ring of fun, either. "Math Club" sounds more like a refuge for smart misfits than like a gathering that either kids or adults would be clamoring to join.

Karen Treber of Frostburg, Maryland had these sorts of images in mind when she wanted to help boost math scores at her sons' school. "Coming up with a cute name was half of the battle," says Treber. Since most kids love sports and look up to accomplished athletes, she promoted the math events as "Mathletics."

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In keeping with the appealing name, learning activities involved doing things like slicing pizza to understand fractions and measuring the perimeter of the gym with a ruler. Nearly half the student body turned out for the school's first after-hours installment of "Mathletics." Even better, a year later, for the first time, 100% of the school's fourth graders passed the state assessment test in math. The new name had paved the way for a change in image and performance.

If you'd like to transform perceptions of an activity, service or product, first brainstorm the negatives ascribed to it by your target market. Next, brainstorm things that have qualities that would be embraced by your audience. Then look for ways to combine items from the two lists to create a surprising twist or paradox - or a way to bypass the negatives altogether.

For example, tapioca pudding consistently finds its way onto "10 most hated foods" in both the U.K. and the U.S. Probably many people who know only its negative reputation and not its taste could be persuaded to give it a try by renaming it in comparison with something more beloved or more glamorous, such as "vanilla mousse," a "white sundae" or "Thai pudding."

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

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