JAC& CHATS — Brand naming with Eli Altman
It takes a village to create and grow great brands. In this series of interviews, we’re talking to the people who help do just that. These are people that we admire for the work they put out into the world, and their approach and ethos too. Without further ado, meet our first JAC& CHAT participant, Eli Altman!
Eli grew up drawing and writing in Northern California. He led his first naming project at 16 years old and has been naming ever since. Eli is the author of Don’t Call It That, a naming workbook, Run Studio Run, a guide to managing and growing a small creative studio, and is the co-creator of Go Name Yourself. He has talked naming and branding with The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, and the Guardian. Before joining A Hundred Monkeys, Eli was a brand strategist leading the naming practice at MetaDesign, San Francisco.
Tell us a bit about how you work with brands at A Hundred Monkeys?
All good relationships are two way streets. We want to work with people who are excited to work with us and vice versa. We like to work with brands doing work that benefits plants and animals, including humans. At the very least we want to make sure they aren’t hurting anyone. We look to avoid relationships where we would be classified as a “vendor.”
Our client relationships tend to start with naming. Many of them expand into brand messaging and other forms of writing that hopefully are never called “content.” We’re not big believers in brand archetypes or personas or anything like that. The most important thing to us is doing work that’s useful for our clients.
How does a positive naming experience add value to a brand? Alternatively, if someone doesn’t take it seriously, what evils await them?
Brands only exist in context. A name is never just a name and a logo is never just a logo. The context, environment, and experience always work together to shape perception of a brand. Naming, considering it usually happens so early in the creative process is often hard for people to see in context because the context hasn’t been created yet. For many companies and products the name is the first real concrete statement the brand is making. Your name also happens to be the only element of your brand that can go absolutely everywhere, including conversations. Good names get reactions—smiles, questions, inquisitive glances. Bad names go in one ear and out the other.
Considering a name is such a small element (often a word or two), it can never communicate everything you’re looking to say with your brand. Understanding this, a name is about getting people to come closer and engage with you. It’s an attractor—and if it works, you’re putting people in a position to learn more about you and see if they want to keep you around. The number one misconception people have about brands is that people are going to be as interested in what you’re doing as you are. There’s far too much noise out there for that. You need to give them a reason to stick around. And while you’re at it, try to get them to say something back before you bombard them with newsletters and shit they don’t need. Remember, relationships are two way streets.
Finding the right fit can be hard for clients. Any advice on what they should be looking for when it comes to partnering up with a naming agency?
A lot of our clients are design firms and other creative agencies. In these situations you should just be looking for work you like from people you enjoy talking to. From there you can start to build some trust and an understanding of the best way to work together. For non-creative industry clients it’s really important to have an understanding of, and belief in, the creative process. Yes, you should like the creative output, but every name selected by a client is about their specific needs and situation. Believing in the process gives you the confidence to believe you’ll end up with a great name. Almost forgot to mention budget—probably a good idea to get on the same page about that.
Without divulging your deepest secrets, what % of someone’s budget should be dedicated to naming?
Ah, you read my mind. As far as percentage of your budget it really depends on how big the project is. We typically price based on a few factors like timing, trademark clearance, and number of stakeholders. In my experience naming fees are about on par with logo fees. The most important thing for us is working on interesting projects that make a difference. If that’s what you’re working on, we’ll bend over backwards to make the budget work if that’s what it takes.
Any advice or tips for someone starting a new brand, or growing an existing one?
Trying to appeal to everyone is the fastest way to appeal to no one. Being clear on what your brand isn’t is often as useful as understanding what it is.
Be different in a meaningful way. No tricks or buzzwords—make it very easy for your audience to understand what sets you apart.
Don’t pay too much attention to what your competition is doing brand-wise unless you’re using it to go in the opposite direction. If you pay too much attention you’ll end up looking just like them whether you’re trying to or not.
How much should you invest in your brand?
Brand costing is an incredibly difficult and confusing thing. You can get a logo for $5 or spend upwards of $100k on brand development. We really empathise with new business owners trying to wrap their head around this.
So how do you decide what’s right for you?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer here – sorry – however we think it’s a good idea to start with some simple questions about needs and goals.
Firstly, what do you want (or need) to get out of it? Money is the most logical place to start. If you map out your best and worst case income scenarios, you may gain some clarity on what’s possible with outgoings.
In addition to budget, other value should be considered too. A logo alone will likely be a much cheaper road to take, however you will need to invest ongoing time in educating yourself to build up your brand in a professional way. A brand strategy can give you a purposeful approach from the beginning.
You also want to consider your business lifespan. If this is a brief experiment rather than longterm development, starting lean could be smart. If you’re building something with longevity in mind, you should be thinking differently about investing in your business.
Lastly, what’s expected? Getting to know your peers and competitors is a good idea. There’s nothing wrong with a simple approach to identity, if that aligns with your size and industry. If it doesn’t, you need to consider the repercussions of cutting corners.
When choosing who to work with on your brand, there are a few options. Here’s a very general overview of the landscape:
- Slap a logo on it (DIY or online) – definitely the cheapest option but beware of the hidden costs (time/reputation).
- Freelance designer – perhaps a one man/woman band, someone focussed on aesthetics rather than strategy or business objectives.
- Studio – can range in size, approach and cost. Will likely have a more robust process, strategy and will work collaboratively with you to build your brand to reach business goals.
- Agency – often large, well-resourced and ready/able to take all the work off your hands. Great if you have a big budget but are time poor.
None of these options are right or wrong, but it is important to consider which path is right for your business. We hope this article helps bring some clarity to a very big (and confusing) decision. If you’d like to chat to us about any of the above, or receive a copy of our process and costing booklet, book a 10 minute discovery call here.
How to pivot a hospitality brand in the time of COVID-19.
Our hearts have been heavy watching our peers and clients in hospitality navigate this confusing and challenging time. The uncertainty around whether or not they could, or should, stay open for the public and their staff has been horrendous. We can only empathise with the anxiety they must be feeling.
To offer some help, we’ve put together some thoughts and ideas around how to pivot. These are intended for the hospitality industry, but really apply to most businesses.
Firstly, go back to your brand foundations and reconsider you purpose.
- Why did you start?
- What did you want to achieve?
- Who did you want to help?
Revisiting this is helpful at any stage in business, but particularly in a crisis.
Second, turn your attention to your audience.
- Profile your customers. What are their demographics? Lifestyle? Values?
- What are their current frustrations, or what might they be lacking at the moment?
Next, let’s think about your offer. This is particularly difficult at the moment, given the restrictions on business, but where there’s a will there’s a way.
- Consider what worked about your previous offer. Were you known for your incredible bread? Maybe your fresh local produce?
- Try to connect the dots between audience needs and potential new offers that benefit both parties. For example, if you know your customers loved your bread (and you need some certainty around income), could you start a bread subscription service? If you still have access to fresh local produce, perhaps you could support those producers and the community by starting a weekly produce box for nearby houses?
Lastly, it’s time to get practical. As a hospitality business owner, you’ll likely have the logistics side of things sorted. Taking the idea to market is where things get trickier. Here’s some ideas from our end for that part.
- Keep it simple. The message should be straightforward and clear. This is a time to keep language direct and human.
- Digital marketing is a given, but don’t forget that most people are stuck at home and are bombarded on social media all day. Something like a letterbox drop will go a long way right now, and it’s cost effective.
- Use professionals where you can. While very few businesses have budget right now, the last thing you want to be doing is causing yourself more anxiety trying to build your own e-commerce site. There are plenty of skilled professionals in a similar boat, with excess time on their hands and a willingness to help.
We know you’re hurting financially and while these efforts can’t be expected to make up for the loss of income, it’s important to do something. Not only to generate at least some income, but to stay connected with your audience and reaffirm your brand values.
If you or someone you know is in need of help during this difficult time, reach out. We are offering pro-bono work or reduced rates to those severely impacted by the current situation, and know plenty of others who are doing the same.
Happy Birthday… to us —
To celebrate our 4th birthday, we did our favourite thing – collaborate!
Having just gotten through the festive season, we knew our peers would have plenty of overheard words of wisdom and ridiculousness to share with us.
We teamed up with our excellent client Wild Life to make fortune cookies that house our top 10 collected idioms. Then, for you to laugh at when you should be working, we made a little website with our friends at Cinch to showcase the rest of the pearlers:
We had a heap of fun making this, and hope you have a bit of fun playing with it too. With special thanks to:
The gentleman who built the website
Our favourite bakers, Wild Life
Jill Haapaniemi, our friend with the camera and skills
All the legends who loaned us their words, namely:
- Jac’s family and her Mum’s friends – they really came through on this one!
- Giselle Laming
- Jay Armstrong
- James and Kirtsten of Taylor’d Press
- Steve Gavan
- Max Rabbit Slim
- Patrick Ryan
- Ed Robinson-Beyerle
- Dave Carmody
- The crew at 43 Derby Street
- And many more on the ‘gram too!
Our word for 2020 —
Every year, we choose a word to keep us on track for the year ahead. In 2018 it was calm and in 2019 it was grow. Doing this for a third year in a row has given us great insight into where we’ve been and where we want to go. This year’s word feels like a natural next step.
Our word for 2020 is depth.
2019 was an incredibly busy and exciting year for JAC&, we grew in lots of ways. We hired, launched a new venture and partnered with the most wonderful clients, new and old. The most special way we grew was certainly meeting Rita and Hana (Sara’s beautiful twins).
In 2020, we’re looking forward to going deeper; listening more intently, thinking critically and acting strategically to help both our clients businesses (and our own) be the best they can be. We’re looking forward to a year of learning to better understand ourselves, our clients and the world around us.