By Parija Kavilanz | CNN Business
Have you ever wondered how the BlackBerry smartphone got its name? Or how about the Swiffer mop, or the Impossible burger?
Just ask David Placek. For three decades, his company, Lexicon Branding, has been hired by the likes of Intel, Apple, Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola, to help name hundreds of products and launch corporate rebranding campaigns.
The Sausalito, California-based firm is behind the name for Intels Pentium brand of processors, Apples PowerBook, Coca-Colas Dasani bottled water and many other recognizable brands.
The story behind BlackBerrys name is one of Placeks favorites.
In 1998, Waterloo, Canada-based Research in Motion had reached out to Placek for help naming their new smartphone.
“They had this little rectangular device and were trying to name it for weeks. They were frustrated,” he recalled.
Placek had his team do some field research.
“There was a Starbucks around the corner from us. We held up a sign near it that said we wanted to speak to people who used email regularly. We would pay them with a $10 coupon for five minutes of their time,” he said.
After the team spoke with nearly two dozen people, Placek was able to offer RIMs executives a key insight: “We told them the product name shouldnt stress or elevate their blood pressure, but do the exact opposite and be calming,” he said. “Like a summer vacation or a long walk, or fresh fruit.”
Placek and his team wrote a variety of words on a big sheet of butcher paper. Someone wrote “strawberry.” Another wrote “blackberry.” It caught his attention.
“So I flew to Waterloo and presented the name BlackBerry. The executives thought I was crazy,” he said. “I said it would work because none of their competitors would have had the courage to use BlackBerry as a name.”
The rest is history. RIM officially changed the company name to BlackBerry in 2013.
The value of a good name
The naming process, according to Placek, typically takes around eight weeks and can involve as many as 10 to 12 people working on the creative process and trademark research. Clients pay anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000, depending on the project.
In 2015, Melinda Gates investment and incubation firm, Pivotal Ventures, turned to Placek seeking help.
“Lexicon Branding had a very impressive record of clients,” said Catherine St-Laurent, director of brand and special initiatives with Pivotal Ventures.
“The challenge was to capture Melindas goal for the organization to be a force for positive change, to do important work, and to get results,” recalled Placek. His team began brainstorming on names in September 2014 and by the following February, they presented Pivotal Ventures. “The definition of pivotal, meaning of vital or critical importance, was what made us all excited about the name.”
“In the end, Pivotal was the perfect solution.”
The hidden power of “B” and “V”
Back in college, Placek was more of a political junkie than a wordsmith, majoring in political science at the University of California, Los Angeles. “But I did enjoy writing,” he said.
He went to graduate school at Georgetown University. He then took a job in Washington DC, working as a staff member for the US Senate Commerce Committee. After that, he moved to Missouri to write speeches and handle communications for the campaign of a candidate running for Senate.
When that candidate lost, Placek decided to return to California. But instead of politics, he jumped into the advertising industry. “I did ad writing and helped with new product development for clients,” he said.
The advertising experience gave him the idea to launch a business centered exclusively around linguistics that would help companies create names for new products.
“That was our niche.”
Placek launched Lexicon Branding in 1982, self-funding it with $45,000 from his savings and credit cards. Today, his firm is profitable and generates about $8 million in annual revenue.
While Placek himself wasnt an expert in linguistics, he made sure to hire people who were. Among his first employees was Will Leben, a linguistics professor at Stanford University who now oversees the firms in-house linguistics team and network of 90 linguist partners globally. Another early hire, Bob Cohen, helped develop the firms linguistics-based model.
Cohen and Leben helped Placek research the science behind effective names and what makes one name perform better than another in the marketplace. Together, they formulated a three-step creative process to engineer brand names. It involved an area of linguistics called “sound symbolism” — or how the mind processes certain words — and an analysis of letter structures and patterns.
“We always begin with… [identifying] a specific role for the name,” said Placek. A good name, he said, should be easy to process, highly noticeable in its [product] category, and noteworthy. From there, his team conducts preliminary trademark research on a subset of brand name candidates.
A linguistic evaluation of the name follows. Placek said Lexicons network of global linguists complete an initial research evaluation of each brand name and ensure tRead More – Source