This article needs a name...

Picture by Andrius Petrucenia

Picture by Andrius Petrucenia

I’ve been thinking about names a lot lately.  We set so much importance in names.  In the bible Adam was given dominion over the earth and the way in which this was enacted was in his naming of animals and plants.  Expectant parents have the onerous task of coming up with a name for a new person, something which respects their values, doesn’t cause family members to wrinkle up their noses and will not result in the child being bullied in school or seeming infantilised as an adult.  The safest and most popular ones are Jack and Emily, the rich and famous can afford to take greater risks – if your Dad is Jamie Oliver you can probably cope with being called Petal Blossom Rainbow, Daisy Boo Pamela, River Rocket, Buddy Bear or Poppy Honey Rosie.  They can always follow the example of Zowie Bowie by changing their names to something a little more mundane, like Duncan Jones.

For businesses of all sizes, coming up with a name to represent your brand is as important as naming your child.  After all, your business is your baby!  As well as reflecting where your brand and company are now you want a name that will suit your future aspirations for your business. Trying to strike the right note between humour and seriousness may depend on what your company does and where you plan to trade.  We’ve all heard the apocaphryl stories of companies who have mistranslated their names or slogans when moving into new marketplaces.  On the other hand you don’t want a name that is so bland that it’s instantly forgettable.

Some things can’t be predicted of course.  A few years ago Marks and Spencer’s had a popular perfume range called Isis. What seemed like a safe choice, naming a perfume range after an Egyptian goddess, turned out to have unfortunate consequences when the name began to have less positive associations.  The range has since been rebranded as “Aqua”.  Even poor old Isis the dog in Downton Abbey was written out of the series – a case of “give a dog a bad name” if ever there was one.

Aside from reputational damage, choosing the wrong name can end up in the courts.  MMA fighter, Conor McGregor is in a legal battle at the moment because he wants to trademark “Mystic Mac”.  Multinational make-up brand Mac and a jeans company Mac Jeans are opposing him.  He doesn’t seem to be having much luck with his other trade mark applications either which have resulted in objections from companies as diverse as a Swiss retailer, Carlow Brewing Company, Dutch fashion company, US manufacturer of football cleats and Champion Sports.   

Who could forget Boaty McBoatface?  But you may have missed its Australian sequel, Ferry McFerryface, which resulted in a minor political scandal.   Even roadgritters have names. I recently discovered that you can live-track Scottish roadgritters (thank you twitter).  Each of them has an individual gritter name, mostly pun-based.  Introducing Sir Salter Scott, Nitty Gritty, McGrittie. And Fred.  Hats off to Fred for resisting the trend towards fun names, after all keeping the roads open in a cold spell is a serious business.  Going against the mainstream is one way to stand out in a crowded, snow-covered, field.

So how do you come up with a name for your business?  The Onym website has some great resources for generating names as well as a monthly newsletter on names and rebranding. The podcast Start Up, from Gimlet Media has an episode exploring how they came to be called Gimlet along with the names they rejected. Part of the reason I’ve been so preoccupied with names lately is because I’m helping client to come up with a name for her brand.  I love naming things, I don’t have kids or pets* so helping companies come up with names might be the only chance I have to have dominion over the world.  I wonder if she’d go for “Meadhbh Junior,” or “Meadhbhy McMeadhbhface”?

*I plan to get a dog some day and call her Countess Barkievicz

Blogging for the Bewildered

This is not an article about why you should blog. Or how long your blog post should be. Or how frequent. There are plenty of those on the internet already. This is about some of the reasons it can be so difficult to sit at your keyboard and put words on the page. 

Reason one: Procrastination

We all do it especially when it comes to things we know we should be doing. Something about the word “should” triggers our inner toddler and we will do anything to avoid dealing with the should in question. It was a family joke that everyone knew when I had a deadline coming up in college because there would be a pot of homemade soup simmering, my bedroom would be tidier than it had ever been and I would decide I urgently need to do some ironing. Something about a looming deadline unleashes my Domestic Goddess who is conspicuously absent the rest of the time! Clearly this was pre-Facebook and Twitter which have made my current procrastination more likely to take place at my desk than in the kitchen. One way in which I dealt with this was to stop using the words “should” and “have to” and replaced them with “want to” and “choose to.” That way writing felt less like drudgery, something I was forced to do against my will, and became a choice. For days when I really can’t resist the pull of the internet I use an internet blocking tool called Freedom. I don’t think I would have made it through my PhD without it.

Reason two: Inner Critic

Your inner critic is that little voice inside your head telling you that every word you try to put on the page is rubbish. S/he is the reason that you sit at your laptop typing and deleting, typing and deleting, typing and deleting without actually finishing a sentence, let alone a paragraph. Some people can put a face and a name on their inner critic. Mine is a scary teacher I had in primary school. I’ve spoken to business people who stopped blogging after an unhelpful comment from a friend, or can’t write because of something a parent said when they were in their teens. Getting past this inner critic is challenging but not impossible. If you have the time and discipline to follow Julia Cameron’s 12 week programme, “The Artist’s Way” I highly recommend doing so. Even if you don’t complete the 12 week course following her advice to write “morning pages” first thing every day can help to get over the fear of writing and move past your harsh self-judgment. Don’t edit your work as you write. Get words on the page, walk away and edit them later. 

Reason three: Who cares?

I’ve been reflecting recently on how easily we dismiss our own talents and knowledge. We fail to recognise and value what we know because it comes more easily to us than to others. One of the things I love about working with different professions is hearing about their chosen field. Often they casually mention some piece of knowledge they assume everyone knows but which is news to me. Do other people know what you know about your professional area? Why not? If you’re not sure if anyone would care about what you’re writing about then write about something that interests you. That way even if no-one else cares about what’s in your blog post at least one person will find it fascinating – you.

Reason four: Pictures not words

Some people are visual communicators rather than verbal. They gesticulate when they’re talking, use flip charts and props – think of that friend who uses the sugar bowl and coffee cups to explain what happened on their way to meet you. If you are more comfortable communicating visually all is not lost.  You might just need a little help translating your ideas from pictures into words. You could ask a friend or colleague for help with translating your ideas into words. But be careful about who you ask – see reason two above. Try writing the way you talk, or finding images that express what you’re trying to say. Maybe blogging doesn’t play to your strengths but Twitter or Instagram might.

Confession

This is a classic case of “do as I say, not as I do”. I have been meaning to write this blog post for weeks. It is so much easier for me to write for other people than under my own name. So how did I finally write this? I set the timer on Freedom for 25 minutes, put my phone on airplane mode and just wrote without editing, without second-guessing, without thinking about anything except getting words from my head onto the page. In hindsight 25 minutes was not long enough, because as soon as the timer finished I went straight back to checking email and looking at LinkedIn. When I sat down anything longer than 25 minutes seemed too daunting. After my short-internet break I didn’t feel the need to reset the timer, I had enough momentum to want to finish this. Nearly 900 words later it’s time for lunch. Homemade soup is not on the menu today. 

This is not just food: how good copywriting can increase your customers' appetites

This month a description of food from an inflight menu on Icelandair went viral on Twitter.  I can’t remember the last time I more than glanced at the photos on the snack menu, before raising an eyebrow at the prices and returning the menu to the seat pocket.  But the genius copywriter behind the Icelandair menu managed to give the menu personality which prompted a passenger to photograph and tweet it.  Which led to 3,478 retweets and 8,429 likes.  When you consider that the passenger may have had to wait until the plane landed for internet access* and that the menu included such mundane items as a packet of Pringles, glass of wine, cake or headphones it is all the more remarkable. 

How would you describe Pringles or wine in such a clever way that a customer would feel the urge to photograph and retweet it?  Well, you probably wouldn’t unless you’re a professional copywriter.  While lots of people enjoy writing, unless it is your core business you probably don’t have the time or inclination to do it as often as you should, or as well as someone else could.  Part of the menu’s appeal was its tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment of how familiar the items would be to the traveller.  Wine was described as “Red like a rose, white like snow, or sparkling like an Elvis Presley suit.”  Of course Icelandair is not in the food-selling business, but the personality that comes across through the menu fits in with that of their brand –  warm, fresh and unique.

The Icelandair menu reminded me of the much parodied but highly effective Marks and Spencer’s food advertising campaign from 2005.  Icelandair’s food descriptions, while witty, are pIain and understated.  The M&S food advertising is at the opposite end, over the top, unapologetic “food pornography,” as it was dubbed.  I have to admit that I had forgotten that the original ad included “not just” chocolate pudding but also broccoli, chicken and roast potatoes. It’s the chocolate pudding that most of us remember, not just (ahem) because of the visuals and sexy voiceover from Dervla Kirwan but because of the words – “melt in the middle, Belgian chocolate pudding.” Pudding sales reportedly increased by 3,500%.  Marks and Spencer’s shareholders were happy.  Belgian chocolatiers probably were too.

*depending on the route and whether they were travelling in economy or business class