Transum Strategic Brand Development
May 7, 2014
The first thing that came to your mind when you saw the title of this article? Don’t overthink your response. Times up.

Just a hunch, but you might have thought SEMINAL EXIGENCY was either….

1.) A male reproductive system condition associated with diminished testosterone levels advertised on sports talk radio that can be treated by a pharma product like AndroGel, Cialis or Viagra; 2.) The title of an avant-garde European movie being screened at this year’s Denver Film Festival; 3.) Reminiscent of a tongue-in-cheek comedy sketch written by a 20th Century word alchemist / humorist such as George Carlin, Norm Crosby, or Dr. Irwin Corey?; 4.) The title to a parody version of Marvin Gaye’s immortal song, Sexual Healing; 5.) Or it has something to do with the after effects from a session in the ‘Orgasmatron’ featured in Woody Allen’s classic film, “Sleeper”.

Nope, none of the above.

Actually, a colleague presented these two words as proposed ‘new’ name recommendations during a client meeting I participated in many years ago. The project was an all-inclusive corporate identity program that included a name change for the healthcare system.

The meeting began with my presentation of the Brand Platform and Name Screening Criteria –– documents that served as the foundational pieces guiding our firm's name development effort. My colleague then began the name presentation.

The first name he introduced (along with supporting rationales) was his favored recommendation –– EXIGENCY. An awkward silence filled the room. Neither the CEO nor his minion moved a muscle. Undeterred, my colleague then presented his second favorite contender –– SEMINAL. A thunderous roar of silence followed.

Prior to this meeting, we had disagreed about including these two words....words that he absolutely loved. Made no sense to me to even consider these as actual brand names, but since he signed my paycheck every pay period, I relented graciously and he added them to the presentation.

My prediction was that the client would respond negatively to both words based on several key factors, not the least of which was the secondary definition of SEMINAL that my colleague pooh-pooh’d because he was so enamored with 'his' word. He was the senior-most member of the consulting firm and exerted 'executive prerogative'. As a result, his ego outweighed my due diligence (i.e. the background research and multiple meetings with the client). In other words, he ignored my input.

More importantly, neither of these proposed names aligned with the strategic objectives defined during the weeks leading up to this final meeting. SEMINAL and EXIGENCY really had very little to do with the client’s vision for its future, let alone its legacy.....although the primary definition of 'seminal' has very positive meanings....but the secondary definition relates to 'semen'. That speaks for itself, especially when renaming a major health system.

Simply put –– they were recommendations that were wrong for this client. Neither word could ever transition into a viable brand name for this healthcare system.

Following my colleague’s introduction of EXIGENCY, the healthcare system's CEO stared at him before responding sarcastically, “…..Seminal Exigency? Seminal Exigency? Sounds like a medical term our IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) researchers would use. Tell me you're kidding. Aren’t you? I hope you’ve brought us some serious names to consider…..”.

In case you’re not a New York Times crossword puzzle aficionado or never took a semantics class that enabled you to participate in a local or national spelling bee as a middle school / junior high student, you might not be familiar with SEMINAL or EXIGENCY and their definitions.

SEMINAL: sem·i·nal. adjective 1. (of a work, event, moment, or figure) strongly influencing later developments."his seminal work on chaos theory”. synonyms: influential, formative, groundbreaking, pioneering, original, innovative; 2. of, relating to, or denoting semen.

EXIGENCY: ex·i·gen·cy. noun 1. an urgent need or demand. "women worked long hours when the exigencies of the family economy demanded it”. synonyms: need, demand, requirement, necessity.

EXIGENCY and SEMINAL were doomed from the get-go. As should be evident, regardless of one’s education or hobbies, it takes more than thumbing through a dictionary, the Synonym Finder or Roget’s Thesaurus to develop viable brand names.

It's unusual to create a final list of recommended names (coined or from a dictionary) that doesn't include at least one or two that initially trigger an expressionless tilted head response from someone on the consulting team or the client team. The best way to prevent this is to conduct thorough research on each favored recommendation and/or their roots and stems if you're recommending a coined word –- and review ALL definitions, primary or obscure (even in foreign languages) with a fine tooth comb. This is especially necessary for those words you or someone on your team “falls in love with” because love is blind in branding matters as well as romantic matters

I was hopeful that once the initial reactions to EXIGENCY and SEMINAL subsided, the CEO would gravitate to one of the recommended names I had created for this project, INOVA, an acronym for ‘In Northern Virginia’ that also connoted ‘innovative’ healthcare services; both perfect for this specific health system.

In what was not a surprise, the CEO selected INOVA. Now, approximately 25 years later, it remains the brand identifier for this highly regarded healthcare system.

There’s often more ‘art’, intuition, and pure instinct than there is ‘science’ in name development. What we really should be trying to do as brand development consultants is listen –– ask –– listen more –– ask more ––and try our utmost to understand the client’s actual needs. Everything flows from creating strategies geared to each client’s specific needs.

Another preventative measure for eliminating the emotional stains from such a “seminal” faux pas is to understand that effective consulting hinges upon understanding the landscape within the client’s universe and field of expertise. Know and learn their language, what I call the ‘administrivia’ of the client’s business, industry or sector. Not just the words, but the topography of the operational structure.

Just as important is the consensus building that should begin during the fact finding and discovery phase at the front-end of the project. This typically goes a long way in building support for ensuing recommendations while simultaneously silencing the nabobs of negativity waiting to lash out like a cobras escaping from a basket.

The final piece in every branding jigsaw puzzle is to ensure the new ‘empty vessel’ name (INOVA in this project) is distinctive enough to provide the client team with a powerful tool to strengthen the institution’s marketplace position.

With a shelf life thus far of over 25 years, INOVA certainly met and exceeded the project’s overall strategic parameters.

It’s possible that I’ve presented some boner names of this magnitude to clients at some point in my career, though none come to mind. Bottom line is that SEMINAL and EXIGENCY never should have been presented to the client. They were laughable at the time of the meeting……and remain so.

By the way, I apologize if there’s an actual medical condition called ‘Seminal Exigency’ that I failed to uncover in online research. I want to make it clear that while I specialize in a hands-on approach to brand development, I will forever take a hands-off approach to Seminal Exigency.

by Hank Fisher, Transum LLC
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