Category Archives: Branding

Bathroom humor hits the spot for a utilitarian B2B brand

How do you boost a utilitarian brand like SurveyMonkey? Most marketers would be thinking about “what it is and what it does.” Functional, pedestrian, and boring. Eli Schwartz thinks bigger with this clever release about — well, about what cell phone users do in the bathroom.


This is genius marketing because it:

  • Highlights a skillful use of a survey, using SurveyMonkey’s Audience tool.
  • Is an attention grabber with high viral potential.
  • It’s relatable and tells a story (one more than a few readers will relate to).
  • Is one of very few quality uses of an infographic.
  • Made me LOL. And made me think about SurveyMonkey. And made me pass the word!

The execution is great, too, with bright, humorous graphics.


(Disclaimer: I know Eli and spotted this because I follow him on LinkedIn.)

Tell me a story

I was afraid. Standing at a lectern in downtown Manhattan before a room full of experts, I was easily the youngest person there. I was sure they could see me sweating. I prayed for the end before I said my first word. But then, I closed my eyes, took a breath, and began to talk about the future, a day in the automated office, when computers were connected. And when I was done, people came up to ask questions about our office automation architecture. The 20-something budding marketer from HP with the soaking wet collar had connected.

tell a storyCredit: Wikipedia

Is there anything more viscerally connecting than a story? It’s how humans have expressed themselves, convinced, controlled, enrolled, sold, and created value for millenia.

And yet, in marketing materials, we keep seeing, “The GM-X is an innovative solution for enterprise-ready network service stacks that ensures rapid deployment, cost savings, and the infinite connectivity of a cloud-based architecture.”

In the New York Times, “Storytelling Your Way to a Better Job or a Stronger Start-Up” reminds us that stories persuade. They also generate a happy hormone, oxytocin, in the brain. Researchers diagrammed Super Bowl commercials based on storytelling elements and successfully predicted their outcome. The key elements? It’s what we learned in high school:

It probably sounds familiar from middle-school English class: Act 1, scene setting; Act 2, rising action; Act 3, the turning point; Act 4, the falling action; and Act 5, the denouement or release. Variations of this include fewer or more stages, but they all follow the same pattern.

In business writing, especially in email and on the web, we don’t have much time to get the reader’s attention. But then, neither does a Super Bowl commercial. The Times article cites Hemingway’s six-word story: ““For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” So we really have no excuses.

How do we tell a story? We have to remember the basics, then practice the ancient art.

Most important, I think is to tell the story, rather than telling about the story. We tend to judge, categorize, summarize but a judgment ends the narrative and kills the tension.

We also shy away from feelings, when feelings are the best way to connect, establish trust, and build empathy.

It doesn’t come naturally, at least for me. I find I have to remind myself to connect. The way that young, sweaty kid from HP did in New York.

The benefit of benefits

features and benefits Copyright 2014 Moe Rubenzahl

Features and benefits: People tend to talk about that as if it’s easy. It’s not. But it’s super-important. When you really reach the benefits, you’re really reaching the customer and distinguishing yourself from all the poor marketing out there. 

Here are some tips to find the benefits, and a link to a really great — and free — book.

But the very first thing I want you to know is:

Writing benefits is hard!

Even with years of practice, I have to ask myself if what I just wrote is truly a customer benefit. Often, it’s a feature masquerading as a benefit.

A feature is what it does and how well it does it. A benefit is why the feature matters — how it solves the customer’s problem or delights the customer. Benefits are “what’s in it for me?”


The reason it’s hard is that we think we are logical and sensible, that we want features. But we don’t — features tell but invariably, benefits sell.

benefits-featuresCopyright 2014 Moe Rubenzahl

Features and benefits: Here's what our product can do; here's what YOU can do with our product.

How to find the benefits

A great way to find the benefit is to ask:

So what?

When you’re looking at a feature or benefit, ask, from the user’s perspective, “So what?” Why does the customer care? Then when you answer the “so what” question, ask it again. Continue until there is no answer. 


You have a portable medical gadget and the product manager tells you it uses less power than any other. Here’s the dialog:

Feature: Lower power

So what?

Uses less battery

So what?

You have to charge less often

So what?

Goes all day without recharging!

Another example

This time, you have a portable exercise monitor. Again, the product manager tells you it uses less power than any other. But the dialog goes differently:

Lower power

So what?

Uses less battery

So what?

Batteries are smaller

So what?

Lighter weight

So what?

Our exercise monitor fits in your shirt pocket — you will forget it’s there!

Same feature, different context means different benefits

Notice how the same feature might be a completely different benefit. In all cases, benefits are what connect with customers. 

Learn more

Writing with benefits is not easy and for most of us, not automatic. It’s a discipline. Want to master it? Here’s a quick read:

and download the free book, “Write Benefits to Seduce Buyers” offered there.


It’s an easy read, just a dozen pages, and it will make you a better marketing writer. Your writing reach customers better and need less editing. That will make you and your team more productive. (See what I did there?)

Nobody Cares About You

“The hard truth is that nobody is interested in you, your company, or your products. Because people are only interested in themselves.”

— Henneke Duistermaat


When talking or writing about products and services, one of the hardest challenges is to focus on benefits rather than features, on solving the customer’s problems. It seems to be especially difficult for technical people. But it is critically important because it is how we matter to customers and prospects.


I found an excellent, free article on this topic — and you can read it in about 10 minutes. It talks about customer focus and a great way to get from features to benefits every time, using the “so what” method.

Even if you already understand features and benefits, we all need to remind ourselves, over and over. Because every day, we’re focused on us: our company, what we do, what we sell. We tend to describe products and services, talk about features, tell everyone how great it all is. Customers don’t care about all that! They don’t care about us, they care about themselves. They want to know that we can solve their problems.

Biggest Content Marketing Issue: You’re Not Doing It!


You know content marketing is hot. You’ve known it forever.

Even before it was everywhere, before it was in the Wall Street Journal, before it even had a name, you already knew content marketing was a good idea. And you probably already know it will produce results for you. You’re probably doing some — you have some web articles here, a Twitter post there, some PDFs tucked in the corner. But you have no strategy, no procedures, no one with performance goals for producing content, no metrics. Is that you?

b2b-content-Documented-StrategyIt’s most of us. Despite being convinced it works, less than half of marketers have a documented strategy1. 93 percent of marketers use content marketing, but just 42 percent of B2B marketers consider themselves effective at it2. Another source claims 77% Of B2C marketers use content marketing, but 21% fail to track its ROI3.

93-pct-B2B-use-CMIt’s not because a proper content marketing program is hard work — it is, but difficulty doesn’t stop us, does it? I think that most enterprises aren’t there yet because content marketing requires the whole enterprise. You can’t do it on your own by convincing the CEO to write a check, by bringing in a consultant, or by buying something from Oracle.

Why don’t we just do it?

You need the whole company. You need sales and marketing to develop messages, personas, taglines and elevator pitches, unique value propositions, and buyers’ journeys. You need material, which means stealing time from some of the best technical people in the company. You need high-level editing, which probably means hiring. You need databases and infrastructure from the web team and from IT. You need the search marketing team and analytics support.

So, how do you get started?

Strategy first: If you can afford the time and think you can sell it, start with a strategy. Then sell it and execute. As you begin, come up with the measures that will prove the program, and measure a baseline. That may make it easier to resell the strategy when resources are pulled back (and since you’re tapping resources in many departments, pull-back is inevitable).

Tactics first: Strategy-first is a wonderful plan but many organizations lack the discipline. So pick up the ball and run! Begin with what you have and can do now. But as with the strategy-first plan, establish metrics first and take a baseline. Eventually, someone will notice what you are doing and if you can’t show results, you’re content marketing program will be instant toast.

See: Content marketing: Getting started.

The good news is that you will find allies everywhere because we all know that in the 21st century, content serves customers and supports business goals. So it’s a question of finding a way to do something we all agree is a good idea.


144 percent of B2B marketers and 39 percent of B2C have a documented strategy.



Any Business Can Use Amazon’s Four Pillars of Success

In Amazon’s Performance Secrets, Bryan Eisenberg posts Amazon’s four pillars of success. He says, “What we most admire…is that it is duplicable by just about every other business.”


Bryan Eisenberg’s notes on Amazon’s Four Pillars of Success

Not complicated:

  1. Customer Centricity
  2. Continuous Optimization
  3. Culture of Innovation
  4. Corporate Agility

(P.S. Don’t you love Bryan’s notes? Way better than an infographic.)

Bold Branding for B2B

A couple of years ago, I was part of a rebrand for Maxim Integrated, which we called “a 2.5 billion dollar company no one has ever heard of.” I was also at Hewlett-Packard when they ran their first television ads in the 1980s. It’s not easy. It takes a ton of money, or imagination and innovation. 

Check out AdAge’s article on Arrow Electronics’ campaign, developed by Olgivy.

Arrow Electronics is looking to ditch its self-proclaimed “biggest electronics company you never heard of” label. One year after its first national TV campaign brought down its corporate website, it’s using animated digital ads to help tell the story of what the company does.

In this phase of its rebranding effort, Arrow sales staff have been showing off the YouTube animated shorts on their iPads for the past few weeks — with the latest incarnation set to release this week. The 30-to 60-second pieces are part of Arrow’s “Five Year Olds on Five Years Out” campaign, which highlights the company’s various services as told through the mind of a five-year old.

Don’t believe it? Leonardo DaVinci wouldn’t lie:

Content and the Big Idea

Great essay on Rebecca Lieb’s blog today about focusing content on One Big Idea.

The best way to draw quality, valuable traffic and move it toward a profitable end is content marketing. It’s also expensive, so it needs to be done well. By “well,” I mean it has to be driven by a focused and cohesive strategy. How to do that? The “Big Idea.” Rebecca uses IBM and GE as examples. If companies as diverse as IBM and GE can focus their messages, surely we all can, too.

It’s not easy to do but once you have your Big Idea, it makes everything else much easier. But getting there is the hardest marketing challenge for any business because in order to focus on One Big Idea, a dozen ideas become sidebars. And they are your precious babies! But the truth is that when we try to make a dozen great points, we end up successfully making none. We need to trust that when all our ideas report to one, the harmony amplifies all our precious points.

My own business is a good example. What does “marketing consultant” mean? Not much, given all the marketing specialties. Over the course of the past year, I’ve focused more and more on the offering prospects and clients are most responding to: Straightforward Marketing, taking the mystery and opinion out of deciding what marketing tactics make sense for each client.

Does your business have a single identity and a singular focus?



The Most Fundamental Marketing Mistake


I was at a large tradeshow today (Dreamforce). I’ll bet I asked at 30 booths: “What do you do?” I wasn’t trying to be a smart aleck — in each case, I really wanted to know.

Booth after booth had the company name and some clever slogan that said not much, or a complex set of bullet points that only made sense to people who knew the product category well. Some used insider terms like “Document Management” that mean little to new prospects. Even when the booth said what they did, there often were no benefits and no hint at how the products solve customer problems.

After a while, I started asking a followup question, “Do you get that question a lot?” They would laugh and agree, not realizing they were staring a huge problem in the eye. After they told me what the company did, I asked some of them why the signage didn’t say that. (OK, now I was being a smart aleck.) Mostly blank stares. A few said something about “the marketing guys.”

You know your product or service. You live with it every day. But prospects may not even know the basic terms your industry uses. They certainly won’t know why they should be interested in you, unless you tell them. Look at all your materials through a novice’s eye and ask yourself if your most attractive prospect will find it enticing enough to ask a question more useful than, “What do you do?”.

Naming a Product or Company


“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.”

— Shakespeare

Naming your product or company can be tricky. You want the name to tell customers something about why they need what you do. The name has to be unique enough to be protectable while not stepping on someone else’s name. The web has complicated the job — with 250-some-odd million domain names reserved, what’s left?

“Naming is one of the hardest things.”
— Lara Merriken, founder of LÄRABAR

The usual approach is to think about the product or service and develop descriptive names. But descriptive words are usually the worst choice because they are inherently difficult to trademark and most likely to have already been used.

“Naming is the worst. It’s the hardest thing.”
— Alex Blumberg, founder of Gimlet Media


Here are some tips.

KleenexBest: suggestive marks

Invented names that evoke a mental image of a product’s chief benefit or unique selling proposition are the coveted prize. For example, Kleenex says nothing about tissues or paper products. It’s aimed at the primary benefit: a sanitary way to handle messy noses. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) calls these “suggestive” marks.

yelp-ios-app-iconAbstract names

Next best are completely abstract names: Exxon, Accenture, Yelp. The PTO calls these “fanciful” names.

The online eyeglasses retailer Warby-Parker considered 2000 names before settling on two characters from Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, Warby Pepper and Zack Parker.

Invented names

A common solution is to twist the meaning of words or combine them to create uniqueness. E.g. RealAudio. “Real” evokes an image of fidelity or up-to-date-ness.

Companies often modify words by adding a suffix, a prefix, or extra letters; or deleting a few: Spotify, Abilify, Optimizely, Flickr, Tumblr, Digg, Roomba.

Generic and descriptive names

Unique, catchy names are not always needed. “Generic and descriptive” names are literal names that simply describe the product with little uniqueness, e.g. “ListManager” or “Fast Pizza.” They have the advantage that they need no explanation but they are very difficult to protect and difficult or impossible to trademark.

A name can become generic if the owner fails to protect its overuse. Escalator used be a trademark but is now generic, as are linoleum, aspirin, and thermos.

Brand + generic + finesse

Sometimes, a good name is beyond the reach of the amount of time and attention you have. A straightforward solution is to use a generic name paired with an existing brand. Adobe Illustrator is an example. In this case, the two names are always used together.

Once you do this and gain extended marketplace presence, you can develop some standing and can likely defend against encroachment.

When I worked at Videonics, a small ($30M annual revenue) video editing equipment maker, we had a product called TitleMaker. The PTO refused a trademark, saying it was generic and descriptive, since the product made titles. We trademarked “Videonics TitleMaker.” In practical use, we often used the TitleMaker name by itself but the fine print on the piece always said “Videonics TitleMaker is a registered trademark….” That was enough. One company tried to use TitleMaker but stopped when we sent a letter. Had they pressed the issue, we might have had a messy fight on our hands but in our specialized market, we were able to prevail.

Personalized names


Sometimes, we just name the product after ourselves. Shortly before she was to place her MANABAR energy bar in stores, Lara Merriken discovered a similar name was already in use by Manna Breads. A scramble to rename the product was resolved in the first person when she named it LÄRABAR (adding the umlaut because she thought it sounded cool).

But don’t assume that your name can be yours just because, well, it’s yours. You don’t necessarily have a trademarkable right to the name you were born with. McDonald’s became a powerful mark only after investment in the name and even if I were Moe McDonald, I could not sell McDonald’s Cookies. Rubenzahl’s Fine Cookies would be easier (unless I have a baking cousin I don’t know).

Some countries do not allow surnames to be trademarked. Geographic marks (Vermont Ice Cream) can be problematic as well, especially internationally.

Good vs. good enough

Your name is front and center. Everyone wants a mighty name: catchy, clever, instantly understandable, sophisticated, and unique enough to bear be protectable. But names like that take inspiration, time, work, and cash. You can succeed with a name that’s merely “good enough.”

Don’t be afraid of names that lack immediate magic. Big names are generally not found — they are grown. “Amazon” was just a river until they grew their brand. Paola Norambuena of Interbrand said, “A great name can’t fix a bad product. A great product can fix a bad name.”

Designer John McWade says “For all of the time we put into coming up with just the right ‘target-market’ sort of name … I get the feeling that we’re over-thinking things.” He points out examples — how Mercedes was the name of the founder’s daughter, Taurus was the sign of two executive wives, and “Pepsi was named for the digestive enzyme pepsin.” Here are hundreds more.

4QLogoLIt is important to guard against troublesome names. The biggest problem is that inside the echo chamber of your own company, it’s easy to lose objectivity. I know a company whose market research product is based on four questions, so they named it “4Q.” Great idea but not so great when said aloud. I met the founder a few years ago and asked about the name. They had no idea.

The only way to know is test. If you have customers already, a simple survey can do the job. The trick is to compare one proposed name against another for various attributes to find one that floats to the top. (I can do this for you.) Finally, when you have a few good possibilities, you need to move forward. Avoid paralysis. “Perfect is the enemy of the good.”

Even the most troublesome name can be overcome. Witness Schiit Audio, which uses humor to make an outrageous name work for a serious product line.

What do you do if “good enough” is not good enough? If you have (or hope to have) a big brand in busy markets, that’s the time to turn to a “namer” — a naming professional. See the references at the end of this article.

The process

  1. Assemble your naming committee, choosing people who have a knack for names and strong imaginations. These are not necessarily your subject matter experts!
  2. Have your committee learn the theory by going over the topics in this article so they understand the differences between suggestive, generic and descriptive, etc.Review the ideas of “Start with Why” and benefits. In particular, the name should speak to why someone wants this and not what it is.
  3. Have everyone write down ideas, working by themselves.
  4. Then brainstorm together. Don’t march through eveyone’s list — instead, start with one idea, and brainstorm and let participants add names to the process organically.
  5. Then, and only then, pick a few names that evoke the desired sentiment.
  6. Test them as necessary for trademark, domain availability. Depending on how important the name is, you may need to enlist the aid of an attorney experienced in trademark work.
  7. If the name is a valuable commodity, test using a sentiment survey. Sample size can be very small.

Qualifying names

white board with names

So you pulled out the white board and came up with some good names. Now what?

Next step is to see if they are available. In general, the web is a good way to find problems. If no search engine finds your proposed name the chances are pretty good it’s not being used — but it’s not a guarantee. A name might be used locally.

Be careful about similar spellings. For instance, if you want to call your company Aextra and there is a company out there using Axtra in a related product area, you could be in trouble. You cannot respell someone’s trademark and use it — I could not sell Mr. Feld’s Cookies, given the existence of Mrs. Field’s cookies (even if my last name were Feld).

Trademarks are examined by industry classification. Just as I could not sell Mr. Feld’s cookies, I could not sell Mr. Feld’s potato chips, because chips and cookies share a class. But I could probably open Mr. Feld’s Quick Oil Change (because it’s a completely different industry class). As a mark gathers investment, its scope widens: I could not sell Exxon Cookies or Exxon Carpets because Exxon’s massive investment in the mark gives it authority in other industry classes.

For a small business, a web search may be enough confidence but if you are planning a larger brand, you need to go further. Start with the free US Patent and Trademark database (Tess), online at Then get a proper international search. Most intellectual property attorneys will do a quick search for a few hundred dollars before doing a detailed legal search.

Registering the name

You do not have to register a trademark to use it but it’s a good way to establish your claim and a wise move if you invest in the mark by building a business or promoting products using the name. Register the trademark by applying to the PTO. They evaluate and do their own search, publish for public objection, then issue the mark.

If you are a small firm, you can do all of this without an attorney. But if you’re investing in a mark and changing your name a few years from now would be a big problem, then it is wise to hire an intellectual property attorney at the outset.

If the business may go international, consider registering outside the U.S.


Here’s a wonderful real-life story from Alex Blumberg’s StartUp about how they named his fledgling Gimlet Media. He encounters and explains all the typical challenges and along the way reports, in a very honest way, the missteps, discoveries, and musings. (Be warned, there is a very obscene South Park clip; no worries, he gives ample warning.)

Who would have thought the arcane world of naming would be appropriate for the New York Times? Apparently, the New York Times did. A must-read for anyone with a naming project, it provides great details on the process and techniques.

For a deep dive into naming, see the Operative Words blog from naming guru Anthony Shore. Wow.

To understand what you can and can’t trademark and what constitutes a strong brand, start with the Patent and Trademark Office’s article, and then Nolo press:

For high-caliber help in naming, the companies below are the experts.

  • Operative Words (Anthony Shore, @operativewords)
  • Landor
  • Interbrand
  • Catchword
  • A Hundred Monkeys
  • Namebase
  • Zinzin

Some creative tools (from the Times article):

  • shows how words work with other words
  • combs texts and concordances, flags parts of speech and shows how a specific word appears in billions of words of text
  • finds words that rhyme