[Podcast] Brand Positioning & Naming with Rob Meyerson

[Podcast] Brand Positioning & Naming with Rob Meyerson

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Tune in to episode 6 of the JUST Branding Podcast and listen to positioning and naming expert, Rob Meyerson, join Jacob Cass & Matt Davies in exploring positioning statements & the best naming practices from the lens of the company, client and consumer, sharing actionable tips and real world examples that will help you build a better brand.

 

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Show Notes

Rob Meyerson is principal and founder of Heirloom, an independent brand strategy and identity firm. His specialties include brand strategy and positioning, naming and messaging, brand architecture, qualitative research, and organizational change. He is also creator and host of the podcast (and blog) How Brands Are Built, a top-20 marketing podcast in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, and 16 other countries (via Chartable), on which he has interviewed over two dozen branding and naming experts, including David Aaker, Marty Neumeier, and Laura Ries. Find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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Show Transcript

Matt Davies:
Hello and welcome to episode six of Just Branding. Today, we’ve got a treat for you. Today we have the fantastic Rob Meyerson with us. If you don’t know Rob, he’s the founder of Heirloom, a coalition of independent-but-aligned members—seasoned brand and marketing pros based in California. And Rob has an amazing background. He’s traveled the world basically helping many brands from small right through to very, very large with their brand strategy. Brands like HP, he’s worked for as strategist as well as agency side in some big global brand agencies like Interbrand. So, it’s a pleasure Rob to have you on the show. One other thing I should mention about Rob is he has a great podcast, which me and Jacob are big fans of. However, it’s not as good as ours but if you were to look it up, you’d find that there’s some absolute legends that Rob has had on his podcast. So, definitely check it out after ours, of course. And it’s called How Brands Are Built. Rob, welcome to Just Branding.

Rob Meyerson:
Thanks so much Matt. Matt, Jacob, thanks for inviting me to be on the show.

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Matt Davies:
Well, one of the things that I find fascinating about you Rob is that looking through your profiles and stuff, and having various conversations with you, you specialize in naming and positioning brands. And what is fantastic about that is that this podcast, this episode, we really like to kind of pick your brains on that subject of positioning brands in the marketplace. And so, we want to grill you about that. Are you open to that?

Rob Meyerson:
Sounds good. Yeah, fire away.

Matt Davies:
Super. Okay. So, first question for you sir, we always like to start with this because branding does have this weird kind of identity problem, like no really knows what it means and everybody has a slight different take on that. So first question to you, can you help us out, how do you kind of define brand and specifically brand positioning?

Rob Meyerson:
Yeah. It’s frustrating how many definitions of brand you can find, isn’t it? The way I think of it is, I guess I have a pretty broad definition that tries to capture a lot of the different, I think, intended meanings of brand. I like to say it’s the ideas that sit behind the identity of and the experience created by a organization, whether that’s a company or it could be a product, whatever it is that you’re creating the brand for. But I like to break it up that way; ideas, identity and experience. I feel like as much as I’d like to make it more succinct than that, that really captures the full gamut of everything that I think of when I think of brand.

Matt Davies:
Fantastic. And in terms of brand positioning, how does that sort of fit into ideas, identity and experiences?

Rob Meyerson:
Yeah. It’s actually interesting the way you’ve asked it. Just sort of comparing it to that definition of brand, it really … I think a lot of it connects to the idea part of the definition of brand and it’s a little bit easier to define positioning. There’s a little bit less diversity in definition. It’s really about owning a conceptual territory in the marketplace or in the mind of your customers, vis-a-vis competition. So, that’s a really important part of it. You can’t position a brand in a vacuum, you have to understand what else is out there, whether that’s direct competitors. Or if you are the first to market in a new industry, you still need to think about positioning against whatever people have done before. So, that’s how I think of positioning and it really … You could think of it as impacting definitely identity even down to visual identity and certainly the experience created by a brand as well, but it’s really at that idea stage where you’re still talking about strategy.

Matt Davies:
Fantastic. Fantastic. In terms of kind of finding that conceptual place in the market, that position, what I’d love and I’m sure the listeners, and Jacob who’s also here by the way listeners. He’s just sitting quietly. He said he’d take a back seat so that’s a problem we’re going to get him in. Don’t worry, you’ll hear from him shortly. But what we’d love to hear about is in terms of all of your experience in the wealth of your career, what would you sort of typically take a client through in terms of process to lead to getting to that place where you’re comfortable as the strategist, that they’re in a good brand position and they also are comfortable with that sort of direction?

Rob Meyerson:
Sure. Well, every project that I’ve ever worked on has to start with discovery or immersion, fact-finding. And so, that’s usually your phase one of a multi-phase project. And the easiest way, it may be an oversimplification, but the easiest way to break down the way that we would approach discovery usually, I think of the three C’s. So, that’s company or client, competition and customer or consumer. We do research on the company itself, if it is building a brand for a company. That might be internal interviews, it might be reading through materials that they’ve created. If it’s a small business, you might just read their business plan or you might talk to the founder about what her or his vision is or was for the business. If it’s a bigger company that’s been around for a while, then you might have a whole bunch of brand guidelines from 20 years ago that you can reference and really start to get a feel for where the brand has been and where it is now.

Rob Meyerson:
Then looking at customers or consumers, you want to understand what’s relevant to them. Who is it that is a buyer or a potential buyer? So, that could be quantitative research. If you’re doing sort of a large-scale project you might have surveys, you might have third-party data that you could rely on. For smaller projects or for more sort of niche brands, you might just get a handful of customers in a room and do a little focus group or something like that.

Rob Meyerson:
And then for competition, you need to, again, get an understanding of how the competitors are positioning themselves, either intentionally or unintentionally. It could be that you look at a competition and realize that they’ve really intentionally positioned themselves in certain parts of the market by the language that they use, the design. When you look at the competition, you’ll notice that they maybe have positioned themselves based on the language that they use. So, we might call that verbal identity or based on their visual identity, or even just based on the ideas that they seem to have built their brands around. A lot of times you’ll look at industries and see that everybody’s basically saying the same thing. The kind of overused phrase for that is a sea of sameness. Everybody looks the same, sound the same. Especially in a B2B space, a lot of times you’ll see things like that but you need to get an understanding of what they’re saying and how they’re perceived.

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Rob Meyerson:
And then based on those three C’s, I often draw that as a Venn diagram with an overlap between those three circles, you want to find something that is true to the brand. You do that by doing that internal discovery that’s relevant to customers. You hopefully achieve that by doing some research with customers and that is differentiating, which is typically referred to as one of the most important aspects of building a strong brand, is that it’s unique or distinctive. And so, that’s impossible unless you have a really solid understanding of how the competition is positioned.

Jacob Cass:
It’s Jacob here. Pleasure to have you on here Rob. On differentiation, I think that is a huge part of this and I’ll be curious to know if you work on differentiation after the fact that you’ve worked on the three C’s that you mentioned. Do you kind of work backwards or how do you go about differentiation?

Rob Meyerson:
I mean, the ideal situation, which of course doesn’t always happen, is that all of these three C’s and therefore the idea of credibility and relevance, and differentiation can all be achieved simultaneously, that you’re searching for one idea or a couple of different options for positioning territories so to speak, that achieve all three of those things at once. In reality, it’s very hard to do and sometimes you find that the positioning or the differentiation comes a little bit further down the road maybe, that it’s more about the brand personality that really makes it distinctive than about strictly speaking a positioning idea. So, there are ways to work with what you’ve got and trying to build a strong brand even if the underlying idea maybe is not as differentiating as you would like it to be. So, there’s sort of that perfect world answer and then the real world answers. Sometimes you find yourself kind of differentiating a little bit at the backend.

Jacob Cass:
Yeah, that’s interesting. I just wanted to go dive a little bit deeper into that. So, there’s a lot of commodities out there or service-based businesses that do have a hard time of differentiating itself. By looking at these three C’s, how do you actually go through that process of finding it? I know you mentioned a few things earlier but let’s go back down to, I don’t know, a dentist for example or something that is commodity-based. How do you do that?

Rob Meyerson:
Yeah. In really well-defined spaces, dentistry is one of those, but just as well we could be talking about laundry detergent or something like that, where it’s pretty clearly delineated, there are a couple of different things you can do. And sort of classic positioning, the way it was originally written about back in the 70s and 80s, one of the concepts in there I don’t think they used this phrase but the phrase you hear a lot now is creating a category.

Rob Meyerson:
And so, even if you’re all dentists, you might be the only blank dentist. You might create a new category by being the dentist that specializes in working with kids. In fact, that’s where I take my kids. I don’t know if everywhere has this all over the world now, but I certainly didn’t get that when I was a kid. I mean, there is pediatric dentistry but the place that I take my kids is clearly really built for kids. They have the TV screens on the ceiling so when the kids lean back in the chair, they can watch a movie. And it’s so good, it’s so well done that my kids like going to the dentist, which I feel kind of defeats the purpose because that was always the threat for me, that, “Brush your teeth or you’ll have to go to the dentist.” If I say that to my kids they’re likely-

Matt Davies:
I have visions of your kids eating sweets deliberately to get to the dentist.

Rob Meyerson:
Exactly. Exactly. They’ve done it too well. But that’s all to say that’s a way of positioning even in that field of Dentistry, which seems like a dentist is a dentist. You could be a dentist for kids, you could specialize in teenagers knowing that a lot of people need braces around that time. And so, it could be age-based, it could be geographically-based. You could be the only dentist in a certain region, it could be you … That’s kind of the exercise, it’s thinking of what are all the different ways to slice and dice this in ways that are relevant to the customer base? So obviously, you could say you’re the only dentist with a red logo or something, which would be a terrible color for a dentist by the way. But nobody’s going to care about that, that’s not relevant. It might be differentiating but it’s not relevant. So, it really is about finding that intersection between ways of looking at the market different, ways of sort of rotating the market to see how the different brands or the different options line up on different axes and then where there’s a gap that you could fill, and that is kind of one of the phrasings in the original positioning book, was about filling a hole. So, finding that hole that you can fill as long as it’s something that’s relevant to your potential customers.

Jacob Cass:
Well said. Thank you. I think differentiation strategies, like you’re touching on, there’s so many different ways to go about it. And like you said, it could be price, it could be niching, it could be your heritage, it could be how you simplify someone’s life, it could be a different purchase experience. There’s all different ways to do it. You could take on a competitor or you could serve an unmet need, you could lighten the mood in different ways. So, there’s a lot of different ways that companies can differentiate so thanks for exploring that. [crosstalk 00:13:55]

Rob Meyerson:
It’s a great point Jacob. And it is interesting to think about and do some research on how other brands in even totally different industries have organized themselves and look at how a brand in a tangential industry maybe has managed to stand apart by focusing on a certain idea. One way of thinking about that range that you just described, is it can go from really tangible or rational things. You can be the cheap option or you could be the expensive option. You could simply sell a different size of the product that nobody else sells. There are these really sort of easy tangible things.

Rob Meyerson:
And I think when you look at really new industries where there just aren’t a lot of players and there hasn’t been that much maturity in the industry yet, that’s how you’ll see brands often kind of segment themselves. It’s based on these really simple understandable things about price or speeds and feeds, ours works better than theirs, faster than theirs. But then as industries mature, it starts to get harder and harder to position in that way, and that’s when you go from the tangible and rational over to the intangible and more emotional side or abstract side of the spectrum. And you start to see brands, like in the world of gasoline, you’ll see brands try to position themselves as being more environmentally-friendly, which is ironic in the oil and gas industry. But that’s where you have BP who certainly missed the mark a little bit in the way that they did this but came out with a green and yellow logo and started talking a lot about environmental friendliness.

Rob Meyerson:
I would say that that’s one that is differentiating and relevant but ultimately lacked that third C of credibility and authenticity. They couldn’t back it up or at least couldn’t back it up credibly in the eyes of customers. But you see that sort of move to, that shift, to the more abstract side of that spectrum over time generally.


Matt Davies:
I love your Venn diagram idea and marrying those three C’s with the three outputs that you have to test against. I think that’s really smart. One of the things you’ve talked about is relevance to the company base. So. let’s say you explore the market and you find a white space that you think, “Hey, nobody is playing in this area, nobody around here is the dentist for kids.” But how do you go about establishing whether or not that is indeed a relevant thing for the market you’re in? How do you sort of outline that market? How do you establish that side of things? Have you got any thoughts to help our audience on in regards to that?

Rob Meyerson:
Yeah. I mean, the simple or kind of quick answer is, again, research or that discovery phase. It just you made me think of a quote from Stephen King, not the horror writer but a famous ad planner who said something along the lines of, “If the only job of the strategist was to find the white space in the market, then you’d look at the coffee space and see that people love hot coffee and people love iced coffee, and you’d sell lukewarm room-temperature coffee and think that you’ve hit it out of the ballpark. But of course, nobody wants that.” And so, you need to figure out whether it’s something that somebody wants. And so, the kind of classic answer, again, is do your research, talk to people, explore whether there are unmet needs, ask the right questions in those one-on-one interviews or in the surveys.

Rob Meyerson:
Research is tough. It’s tough to do right, especially when you sort of don’t know what you’re looking for. And you’ll often hear, whether it’s a myth or not, you’ll hear about Steve Jobs supposedly not really believing in that kind of research that he would tell the consumer what they wanted. He would figure it out based on his own genius intuition. I don’t know how true that is but you still hear people saying that in some cases research can’t tell you what the next really innovative step change in an industry might be because people aren’t ready to really think that way.

Rob Meyerson:
So, there’s a little bit of maybe that way of thinking too, that you just need to have some faith as an entrepreneur in the power of your ideas. But generally I think you’d be wise to think of it as maybe validation research, if you do have an idea that you can share without being worried that somebody’s going to take the idea or find a way to share it. That’s sort of subtle but just gives you a hint of like, “Are people going to want this? Are they going to be willing to pay for it? Are they going to be willing to pay enough for it that I can make money?” With a business like this, I think it would be a good idea to try to tease that out.

Matt Davies:
Fantastic. One of the other things is that … Oh sorry, Jacob. Did you want to segue anything?

Jacob Cass:
Yeah. I was going to loop back to the BP thing you were talking about because BP is like one of my favorite logos. I love logo designs because this is-

Rob Meyerson:
Oh yeah. [crosstalk 00:19:25] 2000.

Jacob Cass:
Yeah, yeah. It’s such a brilliant example of how powerful logo design can be to portray a certain image. Like an oil company using a bright energy flower with green and everything to convey this feel. Completely not authentic but it’s a very strong image, so I just wanted to touch on that. I also want to jump back to the consumer because we’ve talked about, out of your three C’s in the Venn diagram, we’ve talked a lot about the company and the client but what we haven’t talked about is the consumer or who we’re actually targeting. And this is a huge part of position, probably the most important part. I don’t know if you agree with that but it’s about who you’re targeting and how you’re going to target and how you’re going to message them. So, I don’t know if you want to dive into how you go about research, just that bucket of the sea.

Rob Meyerson:
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I think it depends on the size of … A lot of it depends on the size of the client and the nature of the market. Anything from massive B2C organizations, like a Procter & Gamble, down to tiny B2B companies, a mom-and-pop company that is a supplier of widgets for some manufacturing industry. That range will largely determine the best actual tactical way to do that research. But generally speaking, in my experience at least, it’s going to be some combination of interviews, going and talking to actual customers. A lot of times we like to talk to past customers. If possible, past customers who’ve maybe switched to a competitor, to understand why they switched. That can be hard to get them on the phone sometimes but that’s lovely to have that perspective.

Rob Meyerson:
Current customers, prospective customers, maybe that one customer that you’ve been trying to get a sale out of for a year unsuccessfully, let’s talk to them as well. So, getting that kind of cross-section can be useful. And if it’s a small enough business, if it’s sort of a high-touch sale B2B industry, then maybe you talk to a dozen customers and you feel like you get a pretty well-rounded feel for how their customers are thinking. If it’s much larger or consumer-based, you’re probably going to want to look at either a third-party research that’s out in the world, whether you have to purchase that or not from a Nielsen or some other kind of research company, or fielding your own primary research and doing a large-scale survey, which is expensive. So, a lot of clients don’t have the ability to do that necessarily.

Rob Meyerson:
Although, there are some inexpensive tools that you can use now but it gets a little complicated with permissions and regulatory and legal constraints around just not spamming people with surveys and using their data and things like that. But usually, some combination of those two and sometimes focus groups, which get a pretty bad rap but there are definitely projects on which I felt that focus groups have been useful. So usually, it’s some combination of those. I’m sure there are other things. I mean, there are things that you can do around iTracking on websites, social media listening, some of these more, I don’t want to call them new-age because it’s not that new anymore, but these more kind of digital oriented ways of gathering information.

Rob Meyerson:
I think those are usually either supplementary to those more kind of core things of just talking to customers or it would really be dependent on specifically what you’re creating. If you or your client is creating an app, then maybe you do need to do a little more kind of UX research where you’re looking at how people are swiping through your app or other apps to figure out how their behavior is working rather than doing interviews, or in addition to doing interviews.

Matt Davies:
One of the things, Rob, that I know that you are a specialist in and I know for example when you worked for HP, I think you were their naming strategist, and I know you’ve worked globally in naming. So, I wonder if we could just sort of move that into this conversation and ask you about how you would sort of go about either renaming or creating a new name in a brand positioning project like we’re talking about here. How would you sort of attack that?

Rob Meyerson:
Yeah. Great question. And yeah, naming is … I’ve spent a lot of my career doing sort of core brand strategy work of which brand positioning is really a hallmark, I think. And for a long time, naming was sort of subsidiary to that. And then around 2012, at Interbrand, I really shifted full-time into more of a naming and verbal identity role and I carried that through to HP and I still do quite a bit of naming work. So, it’s actually … I think we can make a pretty good segue here from the position conversation to naming. And you did it nicely Matt. But you asked how we start that positioning process and that’s really that discovery and immersion.

Rob Meyerson:
Next step would be the sort of analysis and development of the strategy itself, a lot of which is words. Strategists work in words quite a bit and language, trying to find the right way to capture ideas. Language is one of the best tools we have to capture ideas. Although, visual design can do that well. But trying to capture that idea in something like a positioning statement. A relatively short statement that expresses what the brand is, who it’s for and why it matters, just simply put. That statement, if you’re working on, say building a new brand from scratch, should be one of, if not the core piece of a naming brief that would then go to a naming team or a namer, or the same team depending on who’s doing the work, to serve as a springboard into an unnamed generation phase of work.

Rob Meyerson:
And sometimes you will literally take that positioning statement and find words, circle words within it. I mean, this is one of the kind of, I think, the best and most transparent ways I’ve seen this done, of transitioning from the strategy over to either naming or something like logo design, is to take that strategy work, sit down with a red pen, start circling words and thinking, “How would that word come to life as a name or as a design element?” And it’s partly for the client so that they can see that the strategy is built-in but it really should be partly for you as a strategist or a designer, or a namer, to make sure that you’re staying true to whatever that strategy was once it’s baked. So, that’s how I would think of that transition from positioning to creating a new name.

Rob Meyerson:
For renaming, it could be a little bit different. I think then it really depends on … The first question has to be, why are you renaming? And there are so many things in business and branding I feel like there’s kind of no wrong answers, but I think when you asked why are you renaming, similarly to maybe why are you redesigning your logo or rebranding, there are some wrong answers potentially. It shouldn’t be because you feel like it or you’re tired of your own logo or name, that is a place where it has to be driven by customers first and how they’re thinking. But there are different ways to remain and that might govern how you would approach it.

Matt Davies:
Great. Yeah. I mean, it’s funny you should say that, I was working today, funny enough, with looking at a client not too far away from you. You’re in California, aren’t you? And actually, just to sort of break the podcast up a little bit, Rob I should just say is tuning in at 2:00 PM. Jacob is in Sydney and he’s tuning in at 7:00 AM, and I’m here in the UK and I’m I’m tuning in at 10:00 PM. So, if I come up with some strange stuff … But yeah-


Rob Meyerson:
Yeah. And I got to thank you guys for giving me the only sane time here to speak.

Matt Davies:
No. No. Well, we want to do it because if it was-

Rob Meyerson:
You’re quite kind to your guests.

Matt Davies:
We do what we can. We do what we can. But no, no. Yeah. So not too far away from you, I believe in the San Francisco Bay. And it was funny because we were sort of starting the project and the name was already an acronym right, which I immediately picked up on as a question mark because it was meaningless who … I mean, the full name when it was spread out, it was four words but they immediately started talking about themselves in this acronym and-

Rob Meyerson:
I see. Yeah.

Matt Davies:
So, it just seemed to me, as a strategist, quite early on that you pick up on these things and you’re like, “Is that something that we want to keep?” And obviously, I haven’t said anything, it’s the early stage of the project but it’s in the back of my head like it seems that they want to reposition so it seems like it’s a good time to open up that question around is the name right to land a position in this market, like to really put that forward? What do you think about acronyms as sort of brand names?

Rob Meyerson:
Yeah. No, a lot of good questions in there. And I’ll first say, and I know you don’t need this advice Matt, but for listeners who may find themselves in a similar position, my advice would be to tread lightly. And your instinct clearly was right there. You don’t win many points as a consultant coming in and trashing some of the work that they’ve done in the past or the name, or anything like that. It may well be that they will wholeheartedly agree with you, that it’s time for the name to change but until you know that, you want to kind of dance around the edges of that rather than saying, “Hey, let’s change the name.” Because you could really lose credibility quickly that way. And for all you know, the CEO came up with it themselves or their spouse came up with it and you don’t want to dig yourself a hole before the project has even started.

Matt Davies:
Absolutely. And I don’t know if they’re really well known in the industry and famous for this acronym name but as an outsider, is often we are coming into these spaces, it just seemed really awful. It just-

Rob Meyerson:
Yeah. And that’s one of the big benefits that you provide as a consultant, is being the outsider. There are obvious disadvantages because you don’t know the industry as well but you also are coming at it with a fresh set of eyes. Acronyms, generally speaking, are sort of frowned upon by the community of professional namers. There are times that I think it’s reasonable. There are certainly categories in which it’s become an industry norm, which doesn’t at all mean that it’s right and could certainly mean that there’s a big opportunity to steer clear of that. But there’s some famous brand name or I guess sort of a brand, but NASA for example, it’s actually an acronym and I mean at least in the U.S., it’s so embedded in everybody’s mind. Most people don’t know or think about what it stands for but it just works for some reason.

Rob Meyerson:
I should say that technically speaking, and this is one of these nerdy naming things, an acronym is an abbreviated name that you say out loud as a word, like NASA. Or as IBM, because you say those letters out loud, is technically an initialism. It’s not technically an acronym.

Matt Davies:
I’ll take that virtual slap.

Rob Meyerson:
No, no. Well, I don’t know what the name is of the …

Matt Davies:
Just keep getting Rob for what’s coming. No, that’s true. Thank you for the clarity.

Rob Meyerson:
Yep.

Matt Davies:
Just an example, here in the UK we have a supermarket store with Marks & Spencer, right?

Rob Meyerson:
Yes.

Matt Davies:
And interestingly-

Rob Meyerson:
Marks and Sparks.

Matt Davies:
That’s correct. Marks and Sparks is what it was nicknamed as, but also consumers referred to it as M&S, just instead of saying Marks & Spencer. So, what they actually did when they rebranded, I think about five or six years ago, and they actually adopted the consumers’ language and they called themselves M&S and the brand identity. And so in those instances, I kind of think it makes sense because they’re adopting how people already think of them. And in fact, the consumer in effect makes the decision as to what they’re going to call your brand. You can kind of signal them, “Oh, we want to be called this.” But the consumer will ultimately decide. So, adopting their language was a smart move. So in those instances, I think that’s really clever. But to off the bat go for an acronym, what are your thoughts on that?

Rob Meyerson:
Generally, I think it’s not the strongest-

Matt Davies:
Sorry, not acronym.

Rob Meyerson:
Oh, initialism.

Matt Davies:
Carry on.

Rob Meyerson:
Yeah. Generally, I think it’s not the strongest path forward. I would, generally speaking, try to avoid it. That said, there are cases where maybe there’s an argument to be made for it and so I think it’s best to keep an open mind. But unless there’s that really strong argument for it, I think there are all kinds of challenges with initialisms. They’re harder to remember, generally, especially if you are in an industry where everybody is three letters or if it’s a law firm and it’s all three names, and everyone’s abbreviating to the three letters of those three names. When you’re in that industry and you’re so close to it, it may feel like, “Well, everybody knows the difference between LLS and LPS,” or something like that. But coming in from the outside, and us as consultants but also their customers maybe when they’re new to the industry, it’s so confusing. It’s just alphabet soup. And so, generally speaking, I’d steer clear.

Matt Davies:
Brilliant. Anything else to say on naming? Oh, yep. Jacob you’ve got another question. Go for it.

Jacob Cass:
Yeah, I have another question. So, you said to tread lightly but often as designers, we’ll get clients come to us with a name already chosen. Where it came from, we don’t know and it may not be as strong as we’d wish for it to be. So, what is a process to do it nicely to bring them to actually get them to change the name?

Rob Meyerson:
Yeah. Well, I think it’s a great question. In that situation, I said something about you haven’t gotten the credibility yet or sort of earned the goodwill yet to make that call. And so, I do think part of it, just as a consultant, is about waiting for the right time. If this is a client of yours that you’ve been working with for a decade and they just have some new product that you’re working on and you think the name is a stinker, then maybe you’ve earned the right already to say how you feel about it. But if you’re new, it’s a new relationship, then I do think treading lightly … That said, I certainly wouldn’t advocate the consultants don’t speak their mind. I mean, the reason we’re getting paid is to give that expert advice and to tell our clients what we think they should do. And so, I’m not saying to keep mum because I don’t think you ever want to prioritize ideally the health of your relationship with your client. You don’t want to sacrifice the sort of truth-telling role that you’d have to play as a consultant.

Rob Meyerson:
In the short-term, that may benefit you because you haven’t pissed off your client but in the longterm, it won’t benefit anyone because you’re not giving them that expert advice that they’re paying for. So, I’ve given a long answer here but I think earning some credibility. So, do some good work first maybe or make sure you feel that you’re in a good place where the client is ready to listen to your point of view. Phrase it in the right way. It may just be about couching it, so if you’re really a visual design expert and they respect you for that expertise, maybe you don’t come out and say, “I think this name is junk,” because maybe they don’t think of you as someone who even has the right to question the name. You’re not a namer. But you could say something like, “From a design standpoint, I’m having trouble working with this name. It doesn’t lend itself to some visual applications. And have you thought about other ideas for the name?” Or something like that.

Rob Meyerson:
So, just sort of finding the right way to phrase it, finding the right time to do it. I think just being respectful and even what I just said, or saying, “Look, this is something that you may not want to hear, you may have invested a lot in this name and maybe that you yourself came up with this name, but you’re paying me for my expert advice. And I look at a lot of brand names every day and work with a lot of brands every day and I feel like maybe this name could be improved upon.” Ideally coming with a solution, so not coming in with a different name idea but because that you really shouldn’t.

Rob Meyerson:
I think it’d be irresponsible to do that without having gone through a process, but saying that, “I think the name stinks and you should replace it,” is really just kind of putting a problem in their lap. But saying, “I think the name could be better and I know a great namer that I’ve worked with in the past and I can bring that person on to the project and have them think about alternatives.” At least it feels like you’re presenting them with some options there.

Matt Davies:
Yeah. I think one of the things I would sort of add to that, if I may, is any suggestions for change, as a outsider coming in, I always think you need to be research-informed, like you’ve sort of gone through in your discovery phase. So, if as a strategist I’ve got a little inkling, like for me, the stomach doesn’t ring well with the name, whereas opportunities arise to ask consumers for example, I’d say stuff like, “So when you first entered the industry, did this name stand out to you as something that you should explore? And just from a name, did it have any meaning to you?” And I’d ask questions like that.

Matt Davies:
And then what that means is later on in the process when you are sort of in a place where you’ve earned that trust and you’ve got the credibility, and you’re putting some ideas forward for direction, you can then say, “You know what? One of the things I discovered in the research, I wasn’t … It just came tumbling out and here it is, your name stinks.” No. I wouldn’t put it like that. “Your consumers were initially confused by your name. And considering we’re maybe pivoting to a new place in the market, is this a good time to explore a process to create a new name?” So maybe that’s another way to get consumer insight or customer insight.

Rob Meyerson:
That’s a great point and you just made me think of, Jacob to your original question, I’d said earlier that there probably are right and wrong reasons to change your name. One of the right reasons is if you really are shifting the brand position. So, coming full circle now and talking about positioning again, if there’s a really significant change in the underlying ideas behind the brand or the way that the brand is positioned, then it’s not a reason, in it of itself, to change the name but it’s an inflection point at which, if you’re going to change the name, you should do it so that it syncs up with all those other changes so that the consumer or customer has a rationale, a built in rationale of, “Oh, they’ve completely switched up their positioning or the product mix, or even just the brand personality. It’s a new design or look and feel for the brand, and they’ve changed their name at the same time. It’s a more powerful story, it’s a simpler way to tell the story.”

Rob Meyerson:
So, that’s another thing you could say to your client, is just that, “Hey, while we’re making all these other changes, let’s explore.” Or even just asking them, “If you’ve ever thought about making a change to the name, this would be a good time to do it.” And so, at least that opens, it sort of brooches the subject without you necessarily having to go in and just say, “In my opinion, I think it’s a terrible name.”

Jacob Cass:
Yeah. I think you said it well. It’s about coming in the right angle with not just giving your opinions and asking questions. Like you were saying that as well, just asking questions and digging deeper to actually hear their point of view before coming in with an opinion. I also wanted to loop back to positioning statements because you kind of rolled over that. We haven’t really talked about positioning statements even though it’s a huge part of the exercise. So, do you want to give our listeners an idea of an insight to what a positioning statement is and how you actually go about creating that statement, which is a very difficult thing to do?

Rob Meyerson:
Yeah. It’s another thing. So, we talked about a few definitions at the beginning and this is another one where there’s a little more diversity of perspective on not necessarily what a positioning statement is, but what makes a “good” positioning statement. If you look around online and you look at sort of best practices from business schools or branding books, then a lot of times you’ll see this kind of formulaic approach to positioning statements, which it’s something like for blank, our blank is the only blank that blank. So, for kids, our dentistry office is the only one that makes going to the dentist fun, however you want to kind of put that together.

Rob Meyerson:
I think that that … I always argue that that’s useful as a tool. That’s a useful way to think about how you’re going to write your positioning statement. In practice, for a number of reasons, I find those a little deflating as actual positioning statements, especially for clients if you’re in a consultant role, because it feels so formulaic and it feels sort of anticlimactic, and it often lacks any sort of artfulness in the writing. And so, in reality and I’d love to hear Matt if you have experience along these lines, or Jacob, because a lot of my experience on this comes from working at bigger agencies like Interbrand. So, it’s maybe partly because of how much, frankly, clients are paying, that to then deliver something that feels sort of off-the-shelf just doesn’t feel right, given the price tag.

Rob Meyerson:
And so, a lot of times the actual positioning statement or sometimes we might dub it a brand narrative or something like that, which you could debate whether that’s a different thing or an interchangeable term. It’s often longer than that, it’s often written with a little more emotion in it. So, you might even have an introductory a couple of sentences that kind of set the stage or the context. So, try not to make it too cheesy but almost that sort of that classic movie trailer like in a world type of intro. So, in this industry or in this world where this is happening and this problem that consumers face every day, we’ve brought this solution to market and it’s the only one that does this.

Rob Meyerson:
And then also maybe putting in some of those tangible reasons to believe or proof points, if you want to call them that, so that it’s not just our dentistry office is the only one that makes going to the dentist fun but we have TVs on the ceiling, we give different kinds of toys at the end of the experience, our waiting room was designed by an expert in waiting room design for kids. I don’t know, whatever it is. But putting all of that into the statement and maybe you end up with something that’s actually two or three paragraphs long, which might be too long for some clients. This is another thing where as a consultant, I think you need to partly just get a feel for what your client means when they say positioning statement, what their expectations are, so that you hopefully can over deliver but not give them something that feels like it’s missed the mark in terms of what they’re looking for.

Jacob Cass:
That’s brilliant.

Matt Davies:
Yeah. I mean-

Jacob Cass:
Sorry, go ahead.

Matt Davies:
Yeah, that’s great. In terms of my experience, I think you’re absolutely spot-on. I think different clients are looking for different things. And often I attack it and the listeners will know, I’ve written a book called Storyategy, which uses a lot of story theory in positioning. And so, I sometimes have like a long-form and a shorter, and then a really short form …

Rob Meyerson:
Yes, yes.

Matt Davies:
Narrative is how I’d attack it, where you start in the status quo and then you look at what could be, and the crisis that that could overcome and then you end with happily ever after, the world is now better, kind of system. Beginning, middle, end.

Rob Meyerson:
Yes, yeah. Absolutely.

Matt Davies:
So, there’s loads of ways you can do that but I also use, like you were saying, formulaic ways initially in workshops to kind of help almost … For example, if you’ve got a leadership team and there’s, I don’t know, 10 people in the room and you’ve got to get them aligned somehow. So, those kind of brand positioning statements, there’s a number of them around, they’re quite helpful to say to everybody like, “Come to the workshop with your one that you’re comfortable with and then let’s share them, and then let’s put them in the wall and then let’s pin a vote on which one sort of stands out to us emotionally. And you can’t vote for your own.” That kind of stuff. So, that brings an interesting …

Matt Davies:
And clients love that kind of stuff because you’re listening. They’ve all got a chance to have a say but you’re also then challenging and helping them align around the future and the position that they want to start to think about. So, that’s another probably tactic but then you’ve got to infuse that with market research and you’ve got to kind of make sure, but it’s a good sort of kicker starter I find to kind of figure out where is the room, where is the temperature? What about you Jacob? What are your experience in that?

Jacob Cass:
Yeah. Like you’re saying, there’s a lot of ways about it. And like you, I also like going through that exercise with the client because it kind of gives an idea of what we’re working towards and they can see in the future of what these exercise they’re actually putting up to. So, the [inaudible 00:47:34] owning a statement, I think is a very strong one because it’s extremely difficult to get down to that statement but it’s very powerful once you do. So, I’m totally onboard with both of you there.

Matt Davies:
Yeah. Another one …

Rob Meyerson:
[crosstalk 00:47:47]

Matt Davies:
Sorry, go on Rob.

Rob Meyerson:
Yeah. No. Just one comment to sort of echo something you said Matt. Typically, I would deliver along with that longer form narrative, something much shorter as well. So you said you have kind of a short, medium, long. And it seems like there’s a bit of consensus in the branding community now to call that a brand essence, but typically you do have a two to five-word version. Sometimes I sort of tag that at the end of the longer narrative so that it almost feels like a tagline at the end of an ad or something like that. But I think it’s also partly … Frankly, it’s partly about salesmanship.

Rob Meyerson:
Again, as a consultant, that long-form narrative is often what gets the heads nodding in the board room of like, “Yes, this has captured what we want to say about our brand.” Sometimes the brand essence does that but often the brand essence because it’s so short, only works once you’ve seen that longer narrative and then it’s clear what those three words are trying to sum up. Because it is really hard for any three word phrase to say as much as you want to say.

Rob Meyerson:
So, if you’ve sort of explained it first and then you share it, then you can kind of get an alignment that, “Yeah, that captures it.” And if you’ve really done it well, I’m sure you’ve had this experience too, sometimes even though this is all supposed to be internal strategy work, clients almost can’t help putting it into ad copy or putting some of it onto the website, or even considering trying to trademark that brand essence and say it’s their tagline. My advice is always think of it as internal strategy work but I take it as a compliment if they like it enough to at least consider using it externally as well.

Matt Davies:
That’s fantastic. Well, I kind of wanted to sort of segue just for the final part, just in the next few minutes, we’ve talked about … Into execution just a little bit because we’ve talked about discovery, we’ve talked about capturing the idea as a second phase and we’ve talked about the positioning statement. Where else do you take this? And from a designer’s perspective, like a creative graphic design execution sort of position, which a lot of our listeners I know that’s the space they’re coming from, how do you sort of take some of that stuff … You’ve mentioned the red pen thing but how then do you see it sort of coming out in the graphic design, in the look and feel, in the imagery? What kind of big thoughts and the experience, and tips would you give to designers? And how do you see that working?

Rob Meyerson:
Yeah, sure. I also want to apologize to you guys and your listeners, if you can hear this dog back here snoring. I don’t know if that’s picking up on the mic but it’s very loud in here.

Matt Davies:
I just saw thought it was you to be honest but …

Rob Meyerson:
Yeah. That’s what I didn’t want. That’s why I said it. Now back to your question, well I should say I’m not a designer. I love that a lot of designers, like Jacob, are getting more involved in the strategy world and so increasingly we have these sort of hybrid people out there that are great at both strategy and design. But as much as I like to think I can look at design work and comment intelligently about it, I can’t create that kind of work. And so, it’s a little … I don’t want to misrepresent myself in answering your question but having worked with a lot of great designers, I’d say a couple of things.

Rob Meyerson:
The simplest way to think of it is that that strategy work would then form some kind of brief that would then inform design work. The problem with thinking of it that way is that it sounds very much like a handoff, that there’s no need for strategists and designers to ever talk to each other except through the brief. You can hand it through a hole in the wall and the designer grabs it and never has to talk to the strategist at all. While in reality, at every agency I’ve talked about, I’ve worked at, we’ve always made an effort to ensure that both designers are involved from the get-go, that they can sit in on some interviews in that discovery phase, that …

Rob Meyerson:
And even if we don’t know that there’s going to be a logo redesign or something like that, but just because designers think differently and they’re part of the process, and we want that thought process and style of thinking involved, having them look at the questions that we’re planning on asking and comment on those, having them sit in on probably not every single interview, just from a resource and time standpoint that might not be possible, but a couple of key interviews can be really helpful. And so that they sort of slowly ramp up.

Rob Meyerson:
Also, I know I keep going back to this idea of kind of just being an agency, and I don’t know how many of your listeners are agency people, but it’s good to get your designers or all of your people in front of your clients earlier so that they start to familiarize themselves with them and it doesn’t feel like they’ve been handed off to some entirely new team once they’ve gotten to know the strategy team.

Rob Meyerson:
And then also for the strategist to stay involved until the end. So, even when the designer is going to present logo options certainly, but even further along than that. Once they’re getting into some of the minutiae of just fine-tuning the brand guidelines, it’s great to have a strategist along for that ride to ensure continuity. And because strategists think differently and sometimes they’re better with words and so might be able to do a better job of helping the designer explain why they’re recommending a certain look and feel or something like that. So, having much more of a parallel path of those two team members or ways of thinking, is the best way to go if you can afford to do that.

Matt Davies:
I love that. I love that. I think that’s brilliant. So, what you were kind of, I think, alluding to is kind of getting them a lot more involved, getting designers involved in these conversations early actively, and so it’s not kind of this cold, “Here’s a brief, here’s a sheet of paper. Now make us some pretty pictures.” It’s an integral part the design thinking, the creative thinking in the whole process, which I think is important to sort of say.

Rob Meyerson:
Absolutely. And I think newer and younger agency people or freelancers, I think and hope that they sort of intuitively understand this, that the more that design thinking is talked about, the more that there are designers trying to understand brand strategy and maybe vice versa, hopefully it’s becoming a little more intuitive and so doesn’t even need to be said anymore. But the idea of having there be sort of a handoff point in the middle is pretty old-school at best and at worst never ever worked all that well. And so, I think having everybody along for the ride throughout the project is the way to go.

Matt Davies:
Brilliant. Well, I think we’re coming to the end of our time now. Just before I wrap up, Jacob did you have anything you wanted to kind of add or any kind of final tiny little questions to sort of ping Rob while we’ve got him?

Jacob Cass:
That was the final question for me so I think we’ve touched on a lot of positioning and naming so I really appreciate your time Rob. It’s been brilliant speaking with you. We can ask where we can find you and you can just give a little plug and we’ll give you the mic.

Rob Meyerson:
All right. Well, it’s been my pleasure joining you guys. And Matt, thanks for plugging my podcast as well at the top there. So, I’ll just mention it again, it’s How Brands Are Built. It’s been around for about three years and three seasons. The first season was all about naming, second and third more about positioning and other sort of brand strategy topics, brand experience and things like that. I also do run my agency Heirloom, which you can find at heirloomagency.com. The podcast is at howbrandsarebuilt.com. And other than that, look around on social media and you’ll find handles for me and for those entities as well.

Matt Davies:
Fantastic. It’s been an absolute pleasure, Rob, having you on. Thanks so much for your insights. I’ve absolutely loved all of it from going through your process, to the three C’s. It genuinely has been an absolute pleasure. And so, thank you for your time and good luck in the future and hopefully we might have you back at some stage. What I’ll just say to our listeners is thank you for tuning in today and be sure to kind of comment, like, follow, share the podcast, and we look forward to seeing you next time. Thank you very much.

1 thought on “[Podcast] Brand Positioning & Naming with Rob Meyerson”

  1. Hey Jacob and Matt—thanks again for inviting me to join you on the podcast. Had a great time chatting about brand positioning and naming. Looking forward to future episodes—keep the great branding content coming!

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