Monthly Archives: February 2012

Let us be fishers of names

Tangent: This photo is from Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. It was one of my favourite reads. Will it be one of my favourite movies?

The people who name products, services and enterprises fly-cast into the wide deep pool of language, hoping to hook a big one.

So say Steve Rivkin and Fraser Sutherland in “The Making of a Name.” In their book, they make a thorough exploration of the fascinating craft of naming, which is the applied branch of onomastics—the study of the history and forms of proper names.

Fishing can be an uncertain sport. I recall endless hours in a boat as a child with my Dad plying the small lakes in northern Washington State looking for trout. I don’t recall catching many, although I do recall simply enjoying the scenery and the long quiet chats with my Dad. While I no longer do much fishing, I do like to approach the exercise of naming with rigour, focus and a substantial dollop of patience. The linguistic scenery can be captivating, the conversations illuminating—and  it can’t be rushed.

As with most pursuits, good preparation and the right equipment improve your chances immensely. Here’s my To-Do list when I start with a client on a naming project:

  1. The first question is: Do you need a new name?  Most of my clients are looking for new names for existing products. You need a yes or no answer to this question first of all, but either way,  you’ll also need to articulate the compelling reasons to engage in a naming process—or not. Those reasons create a case for the change which justifies the effort it will take to get to that new name. You’ll need your case for change while plowing through the “messy middle” where people’s spirits and energies flag, and the goal seems impossibly far away.
  2. Craft a positioning statement to frame the exercise   I wrote about positioning statements in a January blog. Do have a look. Why it’s important here is that all the stakeholders involved need to hold the same image and understanding of the entity they are responsible for naming. Often, the compelling reason for changing the name is that it no longer encompasses the full meaning or intent of the entity. Making sure everyone’s onboard with the same understanding at the beginning of this exercise is critical.
  3. Choose the right people to be onboard  We’ll get into the process in a future blog, but for right now, the other foundational  element for a good naming process is to have the right people onboard at the right time. Ideally, you want to restrict the group who will be making the final decision on the name to as small a number as possible. On the other hand, you want to engage as wide a range of stakeholders as necessary to give your decision-makers the right information to work with.

It takes a tiny hook, a deep pool and a practiced arm to snag the big one.

Next week: The responsibilities of a good name

Where to start??

Many non-profit organizations take a shotgun approach to communications, mostly because communications is not often top of the to-do list. Programs have to be set up, staff managed, grants written, crises dealt with. The urgent leaves precious little time for getting the message out.

The question then comes, “Where should we start?” Here are my suggestions:

With the end in mind  Start by taking some time to think through what you want to accomplish with your communications efforts. Set out some tangible and realistic goals that will act as both a baseline measurement and a target.

Understand your audience  Organizations talk to a number of different audiences. List them. Write down what they already know and what they need to know about you. Figure out the best channels for communicating with each one of your audiences.

Articulate your key messages  You have a very limited time to grab people’s attention for the most important information you need them to know and act on. Refine your top level messages and set them as the framework for all you send out.

Implement  This usually means making sure your website is up-to-speed first of all—good design, intuitive flow, interactive and dynamic. It’s the home base for all of your other communication and marketing efforts. Following that, set an editorial calendar and develop content that can be used in other ongoing channels such as print, email and social media.

Live and learn  There are so many ways to monitor and analyze digital channels of communications.  Develop the discipline of looking at them regularly. Compare them with each other and with their own performance over time. The numbers have stories to tell that you’ll want to listen to. Listen carefully.

Then start at the top and do it again …