Do you remember a few years ago there was a lot of buzz about a new mode of personal transportation (code-named IT or Ginger) that was going to change the world?

Dan Kamen, who also invented the first portable insulin pump, proudly premeired his creation in December of 2001. What did he call his gyroscope-based electric scooter?

Segway.

I can only guess this was intended to be a play on the word “segue” which means “leads to what’s next.”

Kamen had high hopes that people would use this two-wheeled, stand-up human transporter to get around town, lessening the need for and dependence on cars which would lead to reduced pollution, traffic congestion, etc.

The problem? Many people aren’t familiar with the word “segue.” They don’t use it, much less know how to spell it. Uh oh. A prescription for disaster. This pioneering product was given a name that elicited the deadly “huh?” response.

That’s a cautionary tale of what can happen when you fail to give your product an easy-to-understand name. This invention never really caught on, except as a novelty. I think it’s partially due to the fact it doesn’t have a fun-to-say, easy-to-remember name such as Google, Yahoo or Roomba.

There’s an interesting twist to this story. An entrepreneur in Washington DC realized that tourists visiting the national monuments, U.S. Capitol Building and Smithsonian got tired of walking from place to place.

Hmmm. Why not offer tours with Segways so people could visit more places in less time?

What to call this business? By playing off the title of a popular TV sitcom, he come up with a clever name that’s generated tons of free press and earned him a spot on my 2007 POP! Hall of Fame.

The winning brand? Segs in the City.

Do people “get” the name of your business, brand, or book? Do they look at you with blank eyes or do their eyes light up? If their eyebrows go up, congratulations! It means you got your idea’s foot in their mental door. If their eyebrows knit or furrow, it’s back to the drawing board.

Want to learn how to create a brand that people get and want? Go to http://www.SamHorn.com to purchase a copy of POP! Stand Out in Any Crowd. Edelman Sr. VP Marilynn Mobley says, “If you liked Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, you’ll love Sam Horn’s POP!”

Or, attend my POP! presentation at the INC Grow Your Business conference in Savannah, Georgia on March 11.

They’re One of Many

“It’s not enough to be the best at what you do,
you must be perceived as the only one who does what you do.” – Jerry Garcia

The hotel had a problem. No one was coming to their happy hours.

Why? There were dozens of restaurant/bars in their area hosting happy hours.

No wonder they weren’t making any money; they were blending in. And blending in is for Cuisinarts, not for businesses.

If you want to lose money, do what everyone else is doing. If you want to make money, figure out how to lead your crowd, not follow it.

In my ten years helping individuals and organizations develop one-of-a-kind identities and approaches so they can break out, I’ve met a lot of business owners who have spent a lot of money developing brands, business names and slogans that didn’t work. In fact, bad brands can cost you customers, income, momentum and market-share.

I’ve kept track of the worst branding mistakes businesses make. I share them in these posts so you can do the opposite of these errors and develop a Purposeful, Original and Profitable brand that POP’s out and gets you noticed . . . for all the right reasons.

The enterprising manager of that hotel with the unsuccessful happy hours kept looking for a way to be one-of-a-kind instead of one-of-many.

One day, he noticed that one of their loyal patrons tied his dog up outside when he came in for a cold one after work.

Light-bulb moment. Why not offer a special happy hour for people who wanted to bring their poor pooches who had been cooped up all day while their owner was away? The staff could put out water bowls, hand out dog biscuits and offer a discount on beer so it was a win for everyone.

What to call this? Well, use a POP! technique called Alphabetizing in which you talk your key word through the alphabet, “Appy Hour, Bappy Hour, Cappy Hour, Dappy Hour” . . . and you eventually get to Yappy Hour!

You may be thinking, “Big deal, so it’s a clever name.”

You bet it’s a big deal. The Washington Post wrote about the throngs of people showing up for the restaurant’s wildly popular (and profitable) Yappy Hour. That article was picked up by a hundred newspapers across the U.S. Now, millions of people know about the Alexandria, VA Holiday Inn’s one-of-a-kind Yappy Hour . . . all because the manager wasn’t content to be common.

Craig Wilson of USA Today is my favorite columnist because he has his finger on the pulse of pop culture. In today’s issue, he quotes trend-spotting ad agency JWT as saying, “”Custom-made and one-of-a-kind will rise about the mass-produced din of ‘now.'”

He’s right. People are yearning for something they haven’t seen, heard or experienced before.

If your business is not making as much money as it could or should; chances are you’re offering the same services and products as everyone else. Keep your antennae up for what customers want and can’t find . . . and offer that. It’s a way to stand out from the crowd instead of get lost in the crowd.

Their Brand is Too Bland

“Only dead fish swim with the stream all the time.” – Linda Ellerbee

People are bored with same old, same old. If you pleasantly surprise them with something they haven’t seen or heard before, they’ll reward you with their business. How can you turn a “yawner” into somethng eye-opening?

By doing the opposite, not the obvious. Here are several ways to introduce something that is unique instead of duplicating what’s already available.

* Go where your competitors aren’t. Enterprise wanted to enter the car rental business but Hertz and Avis dominated the market. So, Enterprise asked themselves, “What do our competitors all have in common?” Well, they’re all situated by airports. Instead of competing with established locations, Enterprise put their rental centers in neighborhoods where they had the territory all to themselves.

* Offer a service your competitors don’t. What didn’t the other rental car agencies provide? No pick up or drop off service – so Enterprise was the first to offer to pick you up and drop you off at your hotel or workplace. This above-and-beyound service has resulted in Enterprise becoming one of the top three agencies in that multi-billion dollar industry because they successfully identified two specific P.O.D.’s – Points of Distinction.

* Turn your industry on its head. After 40 years of pounding our palms against the bottom of catsup bottles in a futile effort to get the slow-moving condiment out, Heinz had a “Duh” moment and turned its bottles upside down so they now rest on the cap (and let gravity work its magic.) Target did something similar with an upside-down Christmas tree with the pointy part on the bottom. Their reasoning? More room for presents! This novel product generated tons of press and be-the-first-on-your-block-to-have-one sales.

* Be an UN. Ask yourself, “How are all my competitors alike? How can I be UN-like them?” This is what 7-Up did. Instead of going head to head with Coca-Cola and Pepsi, it offered an alternative to all the dark soda pops and became the UN-Cola.

* Reverse an industry norm. In the 60’s, Detroit auto-makers were turning out large, luxury automobiles. So, Volkswagon went small. They figured there were consumers who didn’t want or need a station-wagon or a four door, so they introduced the “Bug,” a two-door for budget-minded people (e.g., college students and young adults).

Volkswagon didn’t stop there. They capitalized on their P.O.D. in self-deprecating ads that turned their small size into a proud, viable option to gas-guzzlers. One full –page ad featured 75% blank space with a tiny Volkswagon Beetle in the center with a one-sentence caption that said, “It makes your house look bigger.” Kudos.

They’re Content with a Common Name

“When you can do a common thing in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.” – George Washington Carver

Sure, you can call your business The Nail Place — or you can call it Texas Chainsaw Manicure. Guess which salon attracts clients from around the world because people read about it in a magazine or saw it featured on TV?

In the hyper-competitive meeting industry, Convention Visitor Bureaus have the daunting task of trying to convince corporations and associations to bring their meetings to their city . . . .when there are hundreds of other cities to choose from.

I had a chance to speak for MPI (Meeting Planners International), and met the Convention Sales Manager for Seattle’s CVB office in Washington DC. Stephanie told me Seattle hit the jackpot by coining an original brand – Metro-Natural -that’s generated a billion dollars (yes, that’s a b) in buzz and free publicity. That attention-grabbing term (what I call a Half & Half Brand in my book POP!) cleverly captures the dual nature of the city’s cosmopolitan yet park-like setting. Well done.

Want another example of the power of giving your business an uncommon name?

Jay Sorenson saw what everyone else saw – those cardboard insulating sleeves you put around your cup of coffee so you don’t burn your fingers– and turned them into a 15 million dollar a year business.

How? By giving a generic product a genius name – Java Jacket. Sorenson said, “That trademarked brand is worth more than our patents. It has such a dominant market awareness that people who meant to call our competitors call us instead.” That’s the power of giving a common product a catchy name that gets it noticed, remembered . . . and bought.

Their Brand Name is Nonsensical

“The soul never thinks without a mental picture.” – Aristotle

Brand names that don’t make sense are off-putting. If your name consists of a string of letters that are meaningful only to you, it’ll be tough to grasp and ever tougher to relate to. And if people can’t relate to your company or product name, why would they want it?

My master mind buddy, Marilynn Mobley, Senior Vice President of Edelman, the #1 rated PR agency in the United States, told me about a startling study that was done with preschoolers that illustrates the power of making your brand name visual. Researchers asked these youngsters what sounds barn-yard animals make.

When asked, “What sound do sheep make?” they said, “Baa.”

When asked, “What sound do cows make?” they said, “Moo.”

When asked, “What sound do ducks make?” the kids said, “AFLAC!”

Wow. That’s branding.

AFLAC, the huge insurance giant, had a branding challenge. People were reluctant to entrust ALFAC with something as important as their life insurance because they didn’t know what the name “stood for.”

So, in an effort to make their name more “relatable,” they asked themselves, “What does AFLAC sound like, look like in the real world?” Well, with a little stretch, it looks and sounds like a duck who quacks. This was the genesis of their popular ads featuring a lovable duck quacking “AFLAC.”

GEICO (Government Employees Insurance Company) achieved a similar success by using a friendly gecko as their visual icon and “spokesperson” (spokes-lizard?)

It’s a mistake to keep a brand name consumers don’t understand, relate to or want. Follow AFLAC and GEICO’s example and create a visual identiy people associate with you so they “get the picture.”

Connect your company’s name to something in the concrete world people can touch, feel, see, smell or taste. As soon as you do, something obscure becomes clear. Instead of going “Huh?!” people will say, “Oh, I see now” or “I get it.” And when they get it, chances are you’ll get their business.

They Can’t Explain Their Brand in 15 Seconds or Less

“My grandfather actually invented Cliff Notes. It was in 1952, and he was . . .
well, to make a long story short.” – Steven Wright

Remember when Andy Warhol said everyone would get 15 minutes of fame? In today’s rush-rush world, we don’t have that long to get people’s attention. We have about 15 seconds.

If you can’t quickly explain your brand in a way people get it and want it, they will move on. They are simply too busy to give us “the time of their day” unless we can quickly convince them we’re worth their valuable attention.

That’s why it’s crucial to “Cliff Note” your brand’s story into a concise, compelling Elevator Speech that captures interest in what you have to offer . . . in under 15 seconds.

Sound like an impossible dream? Not if you link your unfamiliar brand to something with which people are familiar and fond.

The secret is not to try to explain your brand. The more you try to explain what your brand does, the more confused potential customers will become. Instead, ask yourself, “What is my brand like . . . that my target audience already likes?’

I learned the power of this concept while in Denver for a speaking engagement with my teen-aged sons. We had a night free, so we went downstairs to the hotel concierge and asked if he had any suggestions for a fun night out.

He took one look at Tom and Andrew and said, “You’ve got to go to D & B’s.”

We were from Maui at the time and had no idea what he was talking about. We asked, “What’s D & B’s.”

He did NOT try to explain what D & B’s was. Imagine if he had said, “Well, it’s kind of like a restaurant, but it’s also a sports bar and they’ve got video games and TV’s and sometimes guys go there to watch football or play pool. But families go there too to play carnival games, kind of like an indoor amusement park.”

We would have looked at him in consternation and said, “Huh?” It’s just TMI (Too Much Information.) The longer he talked, the more baffled we would have become.

Instead, he thought about it for a moment and then smiled and said simply, “It’s like a . . . Chuck E. Cheese for adults.”

Perfect. Eight words and we knew exactly what it was and wanted to go there. By comparing D & B’s (something new) to Chuck E. Cheese (something we knew), he “told and sold” their brand in one succinct sentence. They should have put him on commission.

Do you have an elevator speech for your brand?

Remember, don’t try to explain it. Ask yourself, “What is my brand like – that these potential customers like?” If you compare your idea, company, product or service to something with which they’re familiar and fond, the light will go on in their eyes and their eyebrows will rise. That’s the way to win buy-in in 15 seconds or less.

Want to know the other 4 branding mistakes organizations make — and how to avoid them? Keep checking this blog and I’ll share them in the days ahead.

Into instant gratification? Email us at info@SamHorn.com with “8 Biggest Branding Mistakes” in the subject heading and we’ll email you the entire article you can use in your organization’s newsletter.

Is your business not as successful as it could be? Not as profitable as you’d like?

Perhaps your company is committing one of the 8 Cardinal Sins of Branding.

#1 Branding Mistake Businesses Make:

Marketing Messages are Way Too L-O-N-G

Did you know the top ten marketing slogans (as selected by Advertising Age magazine) of the last fifty years are ALL under 7 words long?

Why? The mind can only keep 7 bits of information in short term memory.

If your marketing slogan is longer than that, chances are people can’t remember it. And if people can’t remember your name and slogan, why will they hire you, how will they find you, recommend you?

Follow the example of winners Nike (“Just do it”), Avis (“We try harder”) and Wheaties “(Breakfast of Champions”) and keep it brief so people don’t give you grief.

Comedian Jonathan Winters said, “I have a photographic memory. I just haven’t developed it yet.”

Most people don’t have a photographic memory. If you want your branding message to stick, develop a marketing message that’s easy to remember . . . which means keeping it under seven words.

Check back in two days and I’ll post #2 Branding Mistake Businesses Make.

Kudos to Dallas-based colleague Vince Poscente for his USA Today business bestseller The Age of Speed.

It’s a perfect example of a savvy Authorpreneur who is staying “on brand” with his message.

If you’ve attended a corporate event or association meeting in the past 10 years, you may have had the pleasure and privilege of seeing Vince in action.

Poscente, a business consultant who’s been honored as a member of the Speaker Hall of Fame (along with such respected orators as Art Linkletter, Og Mandino and Ronald Reagan), reached the gold medal round of the Olympic speed-skiing competition in Albertville, France.

What’s perhaps most intriguing and unique about this achievement is that Vince started with NO racing experience and accomplished this feat in an unheard-of four years. How? By strategically accessing the top masters in every aspect of the sport to expedite his acquisition of this daring skill.

When Vince speaks, he gets up on a chair and assumes the “skiers’ crouch” to demonstrate the aerodynamic shape necessary to acheive top speeds. He keeps audiences on the edge of their seats with his thrilling re-living of his death-defying run down the hill at speeds in excess of 100 mph. One slip would mean disaster.

Vince is known for his focus on how individuals and organizations can accomplish big goals in the shortest time possible. That’s his brand.

Which is why it was so smart of him to make sure his newest book has the word “Speed” in its title. That’s what people associate with Vince, that’s what they want to hear from him, that’s what they’ll buy, that’s what cements and perpetuates the perception that he is THE go-to expert on the topic of achieving and accelerating results, FAST.

Even his Table of Contents features speed-related titles such as A More-Faster-Now Revolution, The Big Blur and Racing Across a Tightrope.

Look at your business activities. Are they “on brand?” Are they centered around what customers expect, need and want from you? Does the language in your newsletters, reports and marketing material emphasize the words that are associated with your strength – what you’re known for?

If so, good for you. If not, buy a copy of Vince Poscente’s book The Age of Speed and learn from a master how to stay “on brand.”