Transum Strategic Brand Development
April 18, 2014
It’s been said that great brand names come along at just the right time. I don’t disagree. Conversely, it’s also been said (not really---I just made this up) that great times come along with just the right brand name.

Hence, “Miller Time”, the “Paleozoic Era”, “The Good Old Days’, “The Lost Generation”, and “Y2K” as a few weak examples.

And so it is that Transum is offering up, free of charge, a ready-made brand name whose time may have come for the right non-profit organization. The ‘free’ coined name I’m giving away is most suitable for a charitable non-profit organization in the animal (home pets) health and welfare sector seeking to re-brand itself –– or someone planning on opening a non-profit foundation / organization for pets.

I am currently the ‘caretaker’ of this unique coined name, a name that may not be appropriate for any organization other than the group I originally created it for since I designed it based on what I understood to be key strategic objectives of that group.

I like it. It stands out. Makes sense in the context of that particular former-client.

But here’s the conundrum I face. I’m opposed to being involved in name development projects unless I'm able to follow my field-proven Transum process –– even for free in a pro bono project, or is now the situation, as a ‘gift’. And yet, there's a part of me (yes, the ego) that wouldn't mind it if this name gets put to good use. Then again, I won't lose any sleep if it doesn't. The key is that the name has to be a perfect fit. Anything short of that makes no sense at all.

Offering the name (this one or any other) without first conducting a Discovery / Situation Analysis phase goes against the methodology I’ve followed for nearly 30 years in this field.

Offering this name to a deserving organization at this point, while hardly a magnanimous gesture, is a gamble. It carries the same kind of risk that some people don’t mind taking when they go online and invest hundreds or even thousands of dollars for ready-made ‘lists’ of names from a virtual 'branding' company. I'm guessing that has a higher success rate in connecting members with one another than do online companies trying to sell meandering lists of names that are actually available for use and registration. Nothing to base it on; just a guess.

Name development is not a commoditized business process, or at least it shouldn’t be. Successful name development is part of an innovative, strategically driven process geared to the 'long term', whatever that might constitute ––– a process that should never be abbreviated or skipped.

No matter what.

I feel like jumping in the shower to rinse off the pseudo branding slime when I've learned someone has purchased a bulk list of ‘potential’ names from some entity claiming to have name development expertise but which has not integrated name development into any sort of strategic process.

In fact, I’ve landed projects two different times (after the fact) from companies that had already wasted their money on a ready-made list in which NONE of the potential names were available. NONE. They then sought me out to conduct an actual brand naming project in a professional and systematic manner. I’m like the Fram Oil Filter guy in the commercials ––– "...Pay me now or pay me later..."

Back story: Transum was involved in a pro bono project a few years ago. The client organization, a non-profit animal welfare foundation, was considering a name change due to several reasons according to my point of contact, the Executive Director.

At the time this was occurring, there were at least 50 organizations listed on Google using a nearly identical name, sometimes exactly the same, that were operating in the U.S. alone. As of today, I counted over 100 on the first few pages of Google listings and ads. Each was (or is currently) using the same two key words that comprised the first two words in this organization’s name. Some were in animal welfare, while others had nothing to do with that sector.

These two very generic (albeit positive) dictionary-based words had become so diluted from overuse that they could not and cannot serve effectively as a brand name that automatically has distinctive differentiation (in sight and sound) from all the other clones.

As a result, there was (and is) no way for any of these organizations to carve out a compelling brand niche of their own that enhances marketing, advertising, and brand positioning efforts that should increase awareness and interaction.

Back to the pro bono project: I conducted my time-tested strategic process with the Executive Director and a couple of Directors from the Board. They were excited to begin the project. Based on what was shared with me, I was under the impression that the full Board had 'blessed' the project and was just as pumped up.


Big problem arose just after I presented the proposed winning name a few weeks later. It turned out, much to my surprise, that the Executive Director and two other Board members had not discussed a name change with the full Board. Not at all. This all-important initiative was being done secretly, and even with my good intentions, I'd been drawn into something under fuzzy, if not entirely false pretenses highlighted by a rather large 'error of omission'.

Bottom line: Consensus support was not obtained from the full Board before I began work, nor were most of the Board members aware that the Executive Director believed the organization's current name was problematic.

Error of omission on the macro scale. Unforgivable on most any level, but this was all-encompassing. From years of direct interaction with numerous non-profit organizations, this was particularly dangerous.

Calculated or not, my client had skipped a crucial step, probably the most crucial: APPROVAL.

Not surprising, the Board of Directors, in anger, subsequently nixed a name change....then and forever.

While I liked the new proposed name in the context of this specific organization’s mission, I also believe the Board’s response to stop the project was not unreasonable since they had not been included in any discussions pertaining to issues associated with the current name, and certainly not with a name change project, even a ‘free’ one from Transum.

Here’s the scoop about the giveaway:

I’ll transfer / sign over the three [3] URLs, .org, .com, and .net for this giveaway name, FREE OF CHARGE, to an organization I select...and here's the only catch. The organization must be actively involved in the animal welfare community (i.e. a foundation for pets or pet category animals) that operates as a non-profit, ideally with a 501c3 designation from the IRS or that is on its way to obtaining the 501c3 designation.

I can’t guaranty the winner will love the giveaway name, like it at all, or even want it once it’s presented. That’s not something I can control. Heck, it's free. Might not be the right name for the winner. In fact, it probably won't be.

I also can’t give a 100% guaranty that federal trademarking rights can be obtained. Even if I was an attorney, which I am not, that kind of guaranty would impossible to substantiate. However, it looks promising at this juncture based on not finding any direct hits anywhere on Google or Bing even after several years, nor is there evidence of any trademark applications or actual registrations for this term in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's most current records.

On the upside for the next owner of the giveaway name ––– if there is a next owner --- the URL/domain name path is clear. I registered .org, .com., and .net under my name at the request of the Executive Director until such time that the three [3] URLs could be transferred to the organization. That never happened.

If you’re interested in having ‘first shot’ at the name and URLs, the ground rules are:

1. A brief application letter, attached in PDF format, sent to Transum no later than May 30, 2014, via email, stating what it is your non-profit organization is doing to improve the health and welfare of pets....and also indicating why a new name is essential to your efforts. Email address:

2. The letter is limited to a maximum of 261 words, double-spaced, written in English in an easy to read font. Font size should be 12 pt. (Those application letters using a smaller font size that force me to put on my Costco ‘readers’ will not be read and will be deleted immediately.)

3. The applicant’s contact information and that of the organization must appear in the PDF document, along with some proof of the organization’s 501c3 status. If the organization is not yet operational, the letter needs to explain what’s happening.

4. Criteria for subjective judging will be based on my intuition that a particular organization deserves this new name, for free, instead of spending thousands and thousands of dollars if Transum or another branding or corporate identity consultancy was to be hired to do the name development project on a fee basis in a fully professional manner.

5. My goal is to render a final decision no later than June 30, 2014 if all goes well.

6. Once Transum notifies the ‘winning’ applicant that his / her letter merits the awarding of the name –– the actual giveaway name will be divulged to the winner.

As previously indicated, I have no way of knowing if the winner will like the name or even want it. It's iffy. At best it's iffy.

If you (he / she) doesn’t like or want the name, that will conclude the giveaway. No additional pro bono work for this endeavor will be provided by Transum.

(I thought about divulging the name in order for applicants to pre-determine whether the as yet ‘mysterious’ name fits their animal welfare organization’s needs. I decided against it as I'd hate to see someone other than the winner apply for trademarking rights or similar URLs if the name is divulged prematurely. Therefore, there’s no solution other than me sitting on the name for the time being.)

7. If none of the application letters meet my subjective criteria, or the winner I select doesn’t want the free name after I divulge it, I’ll let the URLs expire sometime in 2015 and nobody will be the wiser as this coined name fades into obscurity.

I’ve created hundreds of successful brand identities during my career and have this feeling that there must be a spiritual resting place out there in the cosmos (as well as in my filing cabinet) where unloved, unwanted and unregistered high quality names reside peacefully for eternity.

What I'm driving at in my article is that the entire name development process, including the selection of a new brand name, is serious. Sure, there's often a few positives associated with getting something 'for free' whether it's from me or someone else. 'Free' is worth considering, at least a little. So is 'inexpensive', maybe a little less, but if something seems way underpriced, it probably is and you'll probably get even less than what you bargained for.

'Value' is the key concept to consider. Free and/or inexpensive? Well, you typically get what you pay for in life, and neither free nor inexpensive can eliminate the migraine that almost always results from poor decision making.

Any business organization pursuing brand development or re-branding needs to consider the risks associated with getting a 'freebie' or something that appears to be far too 'inexpensive' that might have no real value or relevance to your brand at all.

I like the giveaway name, honestly, I do. But 'free' cannot overcome irrelevancy to your brand any more than it's likely that a bulk list of names purchased from the Internet will. This is especially true if the bulk list is produced by someone trying to shortcut the process by placing 'quantity over quality' in the shortest possible timeframe.

Caveat emptor.

by Hank Fisher, Transum LLC
© 2014. All rights reserved.

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