In fleshing out our brand standards, my colleagues combusted into a short, fiery debate on the use of possessive versus non-possessive brand names. When the ash settled, the line was drawn. Unless unavoidable (in the same way an earthquake is unavoidable), brand names, trademarks and trade names should be referenced in a non-possessive state.
The Lexmark professional services team delivered on the customer’s every expectation.
Visit our website for Lexmark career opportunities.
This Lexmark campus is smoke-free.
The possessive state should be used only when necessary for clarity or common sense. Often, this is in describing something the brand is pursuing, or the where there is intention. Best represented in examples:
Lexmark’s commitment to diversity has created a more collaborative workplace. (It sounds pompous to write “The Lexmark commitment …”)
The new EBC is a big step forward in Lexmark’s initiative to update office communication technology.
The acquisition will contribute to Lexmark’s growth strategy.
Why is this important?
In a nutshell, it’s the difference between owning something and being something.
When a name is linked to a common noun (“Lexmark software”), the words inextricably bond together. The common noun is elevated into something unique, official and branded. The whole becomes more valuable than the sum of the parts.
In a state of possession (“Lexmark’s software”), the brand or trademark becomes a passive owner. It lacks permanence, authority and singularity. Possessive draws a border between the words.
Frankly, dropping the possessive also just sounds better.
Does anyone else take this seriously?
Apple excels at this. The page for MacBook uses phrases like “Apple notebooks”. Read carefully how they give first-name status to products. Meaning Apple never writes “the iPhone is available in two colors”, but rather “iPhone is available in two colors” in the same tone as “Bob is available in two colors”. They are masters at using language to further the humanism and brand integrity of their products.
In Adobe’s corporate brand guidelines (page 50), specific examples are given to use Adobe as a “trademark” and Adobe as a “trade name” without possessive. Microsoft specifically warns against using its trademarks in the possessive or plural form. A New York Timesarticle from 2009 references Google policy stating “Use the trademark only as an adjective, never as a noun or verb, and never in the plural or possessive form. Use a generic term following the trademark, for example: Google search engine, Google search, Google Web search.” (This page seems to have been removed from Google.com, sadly.)
It’s a subtle thing, but most facets of brand-building are.
This week saw no brand news bigger than the announcement of Alphabet, a new holding company for Google, which will also house Nest, Calico and others, including venture capital firms. From the press release, this is the salient quote about branding:
We liked the name Alphabet because it means a collection of letters that represent language, one of humanity’s most important innovations, and is the core of how we index with Google search! We also like that it means alpha?bet (Alpha is investment return above benchmark), which we strive for! I should add that we are not intending for this to be a big consumer brand with related products—the whole point is that Alphabet companies should have independence and develop their own brands.
In one paragraph, we have insight into the genesis of the brand name, and its intended application. (If only others could be as concise.) And, of course, we have the Alphabet logo:
Three snap judgements
Dissociating from “don’t be evil”
Since the mid-00s, Google has accrued a nasty stain to their once impeccable “don’t be evil” brand. Destructive privacy issues, the insidious and exhausting pattern of ad insertion, opening and closing new services without warning, Android interoperability, and the diminishing uniqueness of its search engine all create massive drag.
Despite blunt force brilliance in engineering (Gmail, Chrome, Google Maps, YouTube) and sensational R&D in big new ideas (self-driving cars), the damage is done. Google is seen for what it is. A technical powerhouse that will sell your information to the highest bidder. Literally. (As far back as 2005, the term “omnigooglization” has been used to describe American technical imperialism.)
This new holding company allows for so-far-untainted companies like Nest and Calico to safely dissociate from Google brand baggage. Which they, and their respective brand promises, deserve.
The brand name evokes childhood
I like Larry’s above quote about the brand name, and its multi-layered meaning. But what I like most about the name is that it’s a single, approachable, real word instead of a fussy invented thing like “Altria” or “Allegis”. It’s a humble word we associate with our childhood, a thing of great importance that we learn so we can build even greater things. In a nutshell: brilliant.
The design is beautifully boring
Simple, clean, unadorned. Exactly what’s needed. Good color, purposefully bland type with just a whiff of playfulness (love that lowercase “a”). Wired ran a breathless article interviewing Important People over the design and strategy, which feels a bit overkill, but hey — it’s all snap judgements lately.
It’s not quite like merging Facebook and Google, but the Kraft and Heinz merger is a $46 capital-B billion big deal that now comprises the fifth largest food company in the world and represents 13 well-known food brands. The press release has more hyperbole if you’re interested.
The new logo, however, is inevitably unfortunate:
Crushing logostogether without muchthought looksterrible, but we all know it was literally the only solution. Imagine the creative brief:
You know those two logos we have? Put them together. No, don’t modify anything to make it fit better except just cut off the “t” but keep the colors and also try not to make it look any more awkward than is already inevitable. Oh, and we need it this afternoon.
From an aesthetic standpoint, it lacks any originality or creativity. From a brand management standpoint, it’s total and crass corruption of heritage icons. But from a design standpoint, one of solving an actual problem, it’s wildly successful: this signals, with blunt-force clarity, two brands merging. This logo sucks, but it could not look any other way.
PS — As a friendly reminder, there are really only ten companies that control everything you buy:
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