The Most Expensive Word In All Of Branding

When speaking with potential clients about their naming and branding needs, one word in particular raises the proverbial red flag higher than any other — and it might surprise you.

That word is “educate.”

Yes, you read it correctly, educate, as in “We just need to educate the public that we provide xzy products and services.” In other words, it’s the silly public out there that doesn’t understand. It’s not us, or our lack of clarity, or our ambiguous and conflicted messages. It’s the public, our consumers,  who “just don’t get it.” Here are a few variations on the theme…

“We’ve been here for nearly twenty years, and people still think we just sell ______.”

“We’re the best kept secret in the entire county/city/state.”

“What people really need to know is that we __________.”

The unanimous agreement after commiserating, is the need to “educate” the consumer. This usually takes the form of adding on to the phone message, taking out more ads, doing more speaking engagements, adding additional tag lines, adding bullet points to existing ads and signage. Education is inherently expensive, both in time and money. It takes 13 years just to get a basic public education. Do you have 13 years to inform and educate your audience? Instead of educating, what if you spent that time on clarifying? By clarifying, I don’t mean making your name, tag line and copy all 100% literal, such as Toys R Us and Linens & Things. I mean clarifying as in creating a clear, concise, and compelling message and identity that will have customers leaning in and asking for more. Ideally, the name should naturally segue into a deeper conversation about the company.

 A great example of this is a New York based fitness chain called Crunch. Crunch conjures up all things work out related… abdominal crunch, six pack abs, fitness, exercise, etc. and yet it doesn’t commit the brand to a physical location or set of activities.

 The flip side of that is a company in Florida I worked with called The Exercise Experience. They were not a gym. They sold very high end fitness equipment to high income individuals in their 40’s and 50s. The name proved terribly misleading and our job as an ad agency back then, was to “educate” the public about who they really were. This took up about half of the commercial air time, singing a jingle, explaining the equipment was for sale, mentioning price points. Still we had people walking into the stores with gym bags in hand, asking how much for a membership. Eventually the chain went under.

That’s the high price of education.

One of the reasons I shifted to naming and branding was to help business owners get clear on their message and avoid the costly mistakes I had seen made again and again. If you find yourself wanting to correct, inform, or worse yet, educate your customers, it might be time to look at your brand image. Take an honest look at your name, logo, tag line, web site, collateral. Does it speak for itself? Does it convey the right image, feeling, attributes, industry? Or does it take additional, in-person explanation? Are you the “best kept secret?” Then it might be time to quit spending on education and start investing in clarity.


About the author: With over twenty-five years of company naming and branding expertise, Tungsten founder Phil Davis is a marketing and advertising veteran, having personally named over 250 companies, products and services worldwide. As a sought after branding expert, Phil has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Inc.com, Businessweek, Entrepreneur, and Newsday.

BY Phil Davis

Brand Naming Expert

With over twenty-five years of company naming and branding expertise, Tungsten founder Phil Davis is a marketing and advertising veteran, having personally named over 250 companies, products and services worldwide. As a sought-after naming expert, Phil has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Inc.com, Businessweek, Entrepreneur, and Newsday.

Looking to find your company’s pivot point? We can help.