Brands: Accurate vs. Sexy

by Noel Bagwell
for ExecutiveLP®

December 12, 2016

In my work as a business attorney who has helped a lot of people start new businesses, I tend to get a lot of questions about branding–specifically about choosing brand names. One specific question that tends to give people a hard time is whether their business name should be appealing or whether it needs to accurately reflect key concepts of the business.

SPOILER ALERT! I don’t think there is any right or wrong answer to this question. There are about a bajillion brands out there. Wait, that’s not accurate. Still, you knew what I meant, didn’t you? Clearly, I meant there are a lot.

A “bajillion” isn’t a real number, but it still communicates the concept I was trying to get across. That’s part of what a good brand does. Think about a consulting company that provides professional tasting services to high-end producers of coffee, whiskey, tea, etc.  What if such a consulting company wanted to name their company “5 Senses Consulting”? We’re all pretty familiar with the five senses, right? Well, it might surprise you to learn that humans have more than the commonly cited five senses. The number of senses in various categorizations ranges from 5 to more than 20. (Citation)

We learn a lot of “junk” information–stuff that just isn’t true, but sounds so good that it gets repeated a lot. Sometimes, there is value in a common idea, even if that idea isn’t 100% correct, factually or scientifically speaking. For example, a map of the human tongue showing zones which taste “bitter”, “sour”, “salty”, and “sweet” has shown up in textbooks for years, but, in reality, all zones of the tongue can sense all tastes. Still, there is value even in the incorrect map of the tongue; it has helped people learn the four basic kinds of taste (there are other kinds of tastes, too, by the way).

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In order to succeed, a good brand needs to be appealing to the people in the brand’s target market. It also needs to have some conceptual relation to the values of the company behind the brand, to its products or services, to its history or its founders, or some combination of these or other meaningful details that will help draw connections in the minds of consumers between what they’re buying and the source of those goods or services. Balancing being accurate with being appealing isn’t always easy. Sometimes, brands are really abstract (e.g. Edgar, a social media marketing company). Other times, the brand’s name tells you exactly what the company is selling (e.g. Coca-Cola sells cola).

You’re going to need to strike a balance between being accurate and being appealing. Which one is more important to you or your company depends on your branding strategy. To help you make a decision at the margins, we’ve created a fun one-question poll (feel free to participate). This poll asks the question, “Which is more important to a brand: being accurate or being appealing?”

I hope this article and the above poll help you make the right decision for your brand. For more insights or a legal consultation about your intellectual property needs, please contact ExecutiveLP®. We look forward to speaking with you.

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