What Do You Mean?

It is our job to sweat over shades of meaning to find a name, tagline, or headline that sounds nice and carries with it a suitcase of meaning that benefits the organization. When we work through a naming exercise or other brand language we consider three primary types of meaning.

original_apple_computer

Literal

You have to imagine that first day. The paperwork is filed with the Secretary of State. The company is official. Steve Jobs goes out to get a beer to celebrate (no idea if he actually drank beer). The person next to him asks why he is so happy.

Steve: I just started a computer company.
Rude Stranger: Cool. What’s it called?
Steve: Apple.
Rude Stranger: Apple? Like, the fruit?
Steve: Yeah, you know, it’s a metaphor.
R.S.: Uh hmm. Yeah, it’s a fruit. Does the computer help you grow fruit, or something?
Steve: No, we are changing the world.
R.S.: With fruit?

You get the idea. When a company doesn’t have much history our first instinct is to think literally. The name doesn’t have to make sense literally. But, it probably shouldn’t be negative or misleading.

apple_computers_original_logo

Metaphorical

After the first confrontation you may have time to reflect, to consider why a name was chosen. Employing a metaphor can add richness. Again, think of Apple. Do you think of Newton and his apple and his revelation? Do you think of Eve discovering the tree of knowledge? Either one speaks to the culture of the company. Empowering individuals. Powering breakthroughs. Metaphor is an important consideration. What secondary meanings might a name or phrase have for your customers?

apple_technicolor_logo

Associative

But you are unlikely to think of any of that now. Apple is ubiquitous. In a sense, they are post-name. They are an icon that references a host of products. If you go to one of their stores you are likely to call it the Mac Store, a reference to a product, not the company itself. Now, the name has associative meaning. It is the phone in your pocket, your library of music, the tool you use to make a living. It is a certain type of person in a coffee shop. It is a long table with matte silver machines in the pretentious office.

Hopefully this illustrates that meaning changes over time. A good name can give a company a head start. It can cause the pause that is opportunity. Intrigue. But, over time, the name becomes more associated with the wider brand than the word itself.

This is part two in our series Word is Bond, an examination of language as design. Read more here.

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