It is the question that has plagued man throughout the ages. That perennial question: what came first, the chicken or the egg? Wait . . . don’t stop reading—I am not going to bore you with some exploratory discourse that ponders the existential continuum of chickens, or the eggs from which all chickens emerge. Instead, the question that I really want to ponder is: what came first, the brand or the name?
At a glance, or first thought this query might seem a bit esoteric, but believe you me—it is not! The ordering of things that touch, and concern this issue is quite important in the nameosphere—where all good names experience a sort of cosmic metamorphosis, and transcend to lexicon heaven after becoming an almost ethereal designator of something good, if not great. Yet, to answer the real question posed above, I believe that one has to answer two other burning inquiries. The first inquiry seeks to answer the question: what is a name; and the second inquiry seeks to know what qualifies as a brand.
Everyday millions of people around the world ponder the question of whether or not to pursue their lifelong dreams—that burning idea that emerges from their epiphanic light-bulb moment, or that is stumbled upon, or born out of the necessity, or the insatiable desire to create, and launch something tantamount to a mythical white horse with a horn protruding from its head—I believe that homo sapiens refer to this unnaturally occurring phenomenon as a unicorn . . . and as you know, almost everyone dreams of having their own unicorn one day.
Yet, before we can reach or fulfill our individual or group start-up dreams or endeavors—we have to arrive at that place where we engage in the inevitable process of calling our next great whatever something, right? Unfortunately, we can’t all slap the name “Unicorn” on our big idea . . . . because that name is already taken, and even more would probably not make the best name because today it is viewed as more of an exclusive status given to those start-ups that yield 10X returns on Investments made by those people that go by the nomenclature Venture Capitalists or VCs—you know the ones.
Nevertheless, struck by the very grim reality of not being able to name your company, Unicorn, may seem a very dire circumstance at first, but don’t fret—over the years many a start-up founder, co-founder and their respective teams have been able to circumnavigate the lexiconal dimensions of this world in which we live that is comprised by varying lexiconal degrees. Start-ups such as these have been able to successfully identify, or find that one moniker that does the absolute best job in summing up their venture in two words or less—that name that would stand the test of time—that people would find memorable, and would associate with their start-up or company’s product or service.
So, then my friends, I ask you again—what came first, the brand or the name? Of course this is a rhetorical question because we all know that in this world of words—the name always precedes the brand.
So, What Exactly Is A Name?
According to Merriam-Webster, a name has multiple meanings, but you probably already know that. Merriam-Webster in its first entry defines the word name as:
“a word of phrase that constitutes the distinctive designation of a person or thing.”
However, Merriam-Webster’s second entry also defines a name as:
“a word or symbol used in logic to designate an entity,” and its third entry defines a name as an:
“illustrious record, or a person or thing with a record.”
Hey! I don’t know about you, but the third entry sounds a lot like a name after it has evolved into more . . . let’s say—a brand. At a glance, the untrained mind might view a name in the same manner as the second entry, and while I am cool with that definition in general—in more specific terms, the second entry really sounds a lot like a Trademark or Servicemark or even a logo. Even though many people mistakenly think that Trademarks and Servicemarks are brands—they are not; only if life could be so simple. Despite the fact that Trademarks and Servicemarks serve as corporate indicia that designate the origin of a product or service . . . a brand is a whole lot more.
So, where are we with the definitions? The first entry is OK; however, it just doesn’t have the same meaning or effect as the third entry to me. The third entry definition which states that: a name is an “illustrious record, or a person or thing with a record” is nice, and simple and it definitely sounds more like a name that is on a personal sojourn, walkabout or should I say, brandabout in its transformation from mere name to brand.
So, What Exactly Constitutes A Brand?
I am glad that I asked this question. Many entrepreneurs, and aspiring entrepreneurs equivocate a name to a brand. Over the years, I have often heard people say the phrase, “my brand” or “our brand” when referring to the name of their startup, business or product. I have also heard this descriptor used when referring to their personal brand as well, i.e., “my brand” or “I need to protect my brand.” However, a brand is what a name isn’t. A brand is not a synonym for the word “name”—it is more than a word that merely serves to describe one’s business or personal identity.
More to the point, in the branding world it is a known fact that a product or service doesn’t transcend to brand status until something happens to move the aspiring brand nomenclature from a state of anonymity to recognizability or better yet—memorability. This metamorphosis is not a naturally occurring event like say a caterpillar cocooning, and emerging from its chrysalis so many days later as a beautiful orange and black Monarch, or Yellow Swallowtail butterfly. To the contrary, the transcendence of a name to the status of a brand requires far more effort on the part of many a startup founder, corporate advertisers, marketing or branding executives. You see, what moves a mere name from the state of merely being a name is the buoyancy or propensity of the name to be remembered by the people who purchased the product or service that the name represents. When the people who purchase goods, and services begin to associate the name of Startup X with a specific product or service—the name of that product of service becomes memorable to the purchasers (who we will refer to as customers for the duration of this post). The important point here is that in order for the name of one’s business to actually become a brand it has to be remembered by one’s customers, or exist in your customers’ minds. Names that have truly ascended the brand continuum are monikers that are identified as a source of value, or indicia from which high-quality goods, products or services flow. In other words, the name has risen to a level at which customers associate their experience with the product or service with the name, and remember that name the next time they need more of the previously purchased product, or service. When this type of transactional good will occurs—the name of the product or service takes on a new meaning, and becomes known for great quality or customer service similar to start-ups like Zappos, or becomes known as the start-up or company that provides quality products to its customers for a great price like Amazon.
Let’s use a personal branding scenario as an example, using arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan. When Michael Jordan first entered the NBA, he had name recognition because of his exploits while a player at the University of North Carolina. However, Michael Jordan’s name did not become a brand his first-year in the NBA with the then mediocre Chicago Bulls. Michael Jordan’s name didn’t not migrate from the sphere of mere names to the realm of brands until people, and/or fans began to remember his name, and associate it with gravity-defying dunks, and a super octane-level of play displayed by Michael Jordan during his tenure as a player in the NBA. Jordan’s high-flying, and electrifying dunks, and moves, catalyzed Michael Jordan’s feats in that special realm of sports lore, and Jordan became known for those things. Such recognition by Jordan’s fans who became loyal customers, quickly evolved Michael Jordan to Jordan, and M.J. Similarly, this transformation, also catapulted Jordan and Nike’s basketball shoe line, “Air Jordan” and subsequently, Jordan’s own lifestyle company “The Jordan Brand” into unforgettable brands, and to sales that soared into the billions. Due to his extraordinary play on the court, Michael Jordan’s name transcended the League of Merely Descriptive, Ordinary Names, and became legendary—a brand.
In other words, in the realm of mere mortals that are tagged by mere names, some names patiently wait, and endure their own incubation process, as they work, and wait to ascend to new heights on the brand continuum—to evolve, and emerge as highly memorable brands. As was the case with Michael Jordan, some brands navigate or scale the brand continuum much faster than others as they try to crack their respective shells of name anonymity, and spring forward as brand hatchlings—new to the world marketplace. It seems to all depend on the brand universe—where all strong brands exist in the constellation like bright stars, or not so bright stars that have seen their best days on the brand life cycle.
Quite simply, a brand that is ripe or fully developed stands on its own in the minds of the people who enjoy the product or service that the brand represents. In other words, whenever customers remember a certain product or service as source of high-quality or value—that product or service is no longer merely a name, but is transcending or has transcended to the status of a brand as it becomes a household name, and takes root in the minds of the customers who have developed an affinity for the product or service. So my friends, a brand is about so much more than an apropos or slick moniker that is affixed to a company’s website, product or service. A brand is about the qualitative experience of the customer when interacting with the brand; an experience that is so good that brand loyalty is created, and the customer affords the brand the continued opportunity to serve or fill the customer’s future purchasing needs or desires.