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Branding as Nouns and Verbs
[August 11, 2006]

Branding as Nouns and Verbs

In the previous column, I took a look at some of the “big picture” themes that were highlighted at the “2006 Innovative Marketing Conference” that was held at Columbia University’s Business School in New York.  Although there was much discussion about whether the old rules of marketing have collapsed and what will replace them in the 21st century, there wasn’t any discussion – either formally or informally -- about how the art and science of marketing has very singularly affected how Americans talk about brands. (And that discussion can be in either a positive or negative light.)

What prompted me to think further about this further was a brief article in a recent issue of Business Week.  It was called, simply enough, “Brand Babble” and behind that clever title were some revealing facts, including that “the average American mentions specific brands 56 times a week in conversation.”  (Now that would be average of eight times a day or once nearly every two waking hours.)

This fascinating tidbit ties directly into one of my favorite taglines about the importance of strategic communications: “Gain Mindshare, Win Market Share.”  (In case you haven’t seen or heard it, it’s from my own company.)  In other words, the more your key audiences at first recognize your company name and then know about what your company does, the more likely they are to buy products and services from you, rather than from any of your real (or imagined) competitors.  That is what “gain mindshare” is all about. 
These increased sales will then translate into more market share for your company as you “take” sales away from other companies that are not communicating as clearly or as consistently with their key customer (and other) audiences as you are.  That’s the “win market share” part of the equation.
Brand Dropping
Getting back to “Brand Babble,” this amazing fact about the frequency of conversational “brand dropping” (rather than “name dropping”) comes from a continuing online survey by the Keller Fay Group, a market research company.  The research methodology involves asking 100 different people (from ages 13 to 69) to remember specific brands that they mention in conversations with family, friends and co-workers.  These results are then translated into “talk share,” which is then measured against market share.  The key take-away here is that the higher the “talk share,” then the higher the market share for each brand.
Now let’s discount that some of this “talk share” may only be on the periphery of what we are getting at here.  For example, if someone in the survey is having trouble with their car running smoothly, they may likely say: “I need to get the Ford (or BMW or Toyota) fixed this week.”  They could just have easily said” “I need to get the car fixed this week.” 
One could argue that this type of conversation does increase brand recognition, but I would argue that it only moves the “brand meter” very, very slightly.
What is more significant is the steady, repetitive use of a brand name as a substitute for a generic term.  This repetition can in turn evolve that brand name into an essential part of the American language (and maybe even a definition in the dictionary).  Now, this may upset the lawyers who are so zealously guarding trademark infringements, but it does happen.
In The House
While it may not be an everyday occurrence, there are a select few brands that have become everyday expressions:
·        Coke (not Pepsi) has become a noun, replacing a “cola soda” or “cola drink” when we need something to drink
·        Kleenex has become a noun, replacing “facial tissue” when we need to keep our nose clean
·        Xerox has become a verb, replacing “make a copy” or “make a photocopy”
·        FedEx has become a verb, replacing “ship via an overnight service” when a package positively has to get to its destination the next day
·        Google (News - Alert) has become a verb, creating a new term for “search” or “find out information about someone or something,” such as “Google Savicky” to find out background information on the author of this column
None of these companies set out to achieve this status, but reached this unique place in the American language by creating a product that worked (at whatever level – from taste to ease of use) and by clearly, concisely and consistently delivering its key messages to all of its key audiences – from customers and employees to stakeholders and the media.
Through that long-term effort, this select group of companies made that leap from being a just a business to becoming a noun or a verb.  I will never forget the speech by one of the early FedEx vice presidents who so proudly noted (and I must paraphrase here) “that we started out with a grand total of 12 boxes to be delivered when all of the plans landed in Memphis that first night and built a company that became a verb.”
Is there any better way to measure business and marketing success?
Randy Savicky is President of Strategy + Communications, LLC (, a consulting firm that helps companies reach their business goals faster and more easily by improving their communications to their key audiences – customers, business partners, stakeholders, employees and the

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