Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Picking a name

Truth be told, I've never enjoyed working on naming projects for clients. It's incredibly interesting and a bit of fun, but the results are so unmeasurable and intangible. And the actual selection tends to be very subjective. Yes, going through a proper process helps, but it's almost always a tough go.

Picking my own company's name was not so bad. Actually, it was kind of fun. Perhaps in part because I will win or lose business not because of my company's name, but due to my personal relationships and capabilities. But also because I'm giving identity to something I'm trying to bring to life.

When I went down to the small business office the other day I had to register three names in order of preference. The first word in the names had to be unique and distinctive or, at least, unique when tied to the second word. The second word has to be descriptive of my business. I actually found this more challenging, as "advertising" isn't what I do. Nor is "communications". They're both too limiting. I went with "Marketing", in part because it's broad enough to encompass a lot of things. But I still don't like it for some reason, so I'll probably try to use it as little as possible.

I'll come to my first choice of names in a bit. My second naming option was Angry Salmon Marketing. Why? No reason whatsoever other than that it came to me the other day and I really liked it. It's distinctive, memorable, and pretty west coast. A friend challenged me with the question: "Don't you worry that it brings to mind mutant fish and laser beams? Is that what you want associated with your brand?" Of course the answer to that question is a definitive Yes! I can think of nothing cooler than mutants and laser beams to be associated with my brand. And you can picture the wicked logo.

My third choice of name, which I was sure it wouldn't come to because one of my first two would certainly be available, was Haford Industries. This was a name that my friend Jeff Ford and I used on all of our joint projects in the "special" class we took in high-school. (i.e. Short bus.) Haford = Ha(wes) + Ford. On one project we developed the Haford Transportation system, then demonstrated it on the school field using rockets, a styrofoam aircraft and fishing line. Needless to say, it went horribly wrong, causing danger to all who observed. I recall we got an A.

And, of course, my first choice of name was Blue Ant. What on earth does Blue Ant mean, I hear you cry? Well, it's actually a literary reference to an ad agency featured in two of William Gibson's most recent books, Pattern Recognition and Spook Country. Both fabulous reads. I was particularly enamoured of the description that Mr. Gibson gave to Blue Ant in the first book:

“Relatively tiny in terms of permanent staff, globally distributed, more post-geographic than multinational, the agency has from the beginning billed itself as a high-speed, low-drag life-form in an advertising ecology of lumbering herbivores. Or perhaps as some non-carbon-based life-form, entirely sprung from the smooth and ironic brow of its founder.”

Now, I do unfortunately have a smooth brow, but I'm not sure if it would be called ironic. I'll have to ask Colleen.

That description of the name gives me something to aspire to. So, while for most the name will remain essentially fun and meaningless yet memorable, for me it is a goal. A pretty sweet combination and something that I'll have to keep in mind the next time I take on a naming project for a client.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Old Tech - still very cool

I was down at the provincial small business office the other day, registering my company name. 

It's a very old school process. You fill out a form by hand. You give it to the staff behind the desk, who take your money and give you the "goldenrod" copy. (What's goldenrod?) And then it disappears into the bureaucratic ether. 

But, before they took the document, the very nice woman behind the desk suggested that I ensure that my name was not already registered. I told her that I'd done a Google search and that it looked OK. She suggested that I also check the official registry, on microfiche.

The microfiche machine was tucked into a corner a few feet away. The last time I'd seen one was in college. I was a little intimidated, but it was remarkably easy. You found the piece of plastic that matched the letters you wanted, inserted it into the machine, and moved the lever around to find your section.

Was this an efficient way to search? No, of course not. It would have been so much faster if they'd had it online, where they could have a database that updated in real-time. It could have been a ten second process, rather than five minutes. 

But it was fun. It was fun to see all of the thousands of names possible, all on these few tiny pieces of plastic. It was fun because it gave a sense of tangibility to the process. And it was fun because I got to navigate this giant old machine to find things on my own.

So, I learned a little something about interaction here. Sometimes building a little inefficiency into an customer engagement can be a good thing. Make it unique, make it engaging, and even though it might not be the most economical way, it might still be far superior. 

p.s. The people at the small business office are great. And, ironically, the name was approved within a day and the form e-mailed to me in a PDF.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Political Danger (Warning - Graphic Image)

This will likely be my most popular blog entry, simply due to that warning above.

Check out this injury:

Yeah, I know, pretty weenie.

But wait until I tell you how it happened. I was helping out with my cousin's (actually second cousin, once removed) mayoral campaign last weekend. It was the big nomination meeting, and I was assigned with the task of blowing up balloons. I know, I'm rolling at a pretty high level here.

Anyway, this is a balloon injury. After tying hundreds of balloons, eventually I tore off all the skin. So you see, you've got to be careful of those balloons. They'll get you.

I'm sure I could conclude this essentially pointless entry with a deep and meaningful moral about the power of small things. Very Seussian. But I'm going to pass. It's a little obvious.

Oh. And by the way, my (somewhat distant) cousin won. He's now running for Mayor. Go Peter.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Wireless and Coffee

I'm hanging out at Waves Coffee this morning.

There are 11 poeple in here. All 11 are working on laptops.

This is a somewhat substandard coffee shop. Poor ambiance. OK coffee. The only reason all these people are in here is because it's got free wireless access.

Starbucks doesn't have free internet anywhere around me. I'd frankly rather go there. I like their coffee shops more. But instead of free Internet access, they charge $5 for a connection. And I have a bit of an issue with paying that much for something that is essentially free.

Which is not a big deal. That's a decision that Starbucks has made and I'm sure they've spent a lot of time sitting in boardrooms debating it.

But a related thought occurred to me today. Starbucks is a big supporter of literacy projects. Part of their stated reason is because coffee shops were the original universities and centers of education, centuries ago. But wouldn't you argue that the internet is becoming the centre of education now, and that we should embrace opportunities for learning and interacting via the Internet. And then, if Starbucks truly believes in this objective, shouldn't they be providing free Internet access in their stores to promote literacy, learning and interaction? The $5 charge seems to be counter to their stated aims.

Plus, I'll be most of these 11 people would be in a Starbucks right now, if they had Internet access.

Just a thought.

Kohler - Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

This is a brief tale of renovations gone slightly awry. Anyone who knows me knows that we've been renovating our place for over two years. It's essentially done now, minus a few minor finishing touches.

One spot where we ran into trouble was with our en suite sink. We bought a lovely Kohler sink from En Suite in North Van. Later, we had it installed using the same drain that was included in their display sink. I had always assumed that drains would come with sinks but, silly me, no. That little piece of metal that probably costs $5 max to manufacture retails for $80.

That drain never drained right. It was terribly slow. So slow, in fact, that you couldn't run water for more than 30 seconds without threat of it overflowing. Eventually I figured out the problem, the air in the drain couldn't escape. We got our plumber in, who looked at it and informed us that we needed to get a new drain.

So we went back to En Suite to have a chat with them. They were quite adamant that the drain was fine, placing the blame on how our plumber had installed it. (There's really only one way to install it.) They were sure that it must be fine, after all, that's how they had it in their show room.

In frustration, we called the manufacturer. (The retailer is a licensed seller of the manufacturer's products and trained by the manufacturer, so they should be on the same page.) They let us know that no, the drain we had would not work with our sink. Since we had no overflow, we had to use a different drain. And they would be happy to ship one out to us at no cost to us.

This was a great end result with their customer service. The call was nowhere near as pleasant as I've made it sound above, but we got what we needed. They had taken care of a customer and had still likely retained some terrific margin on drains. Way to go Kohler.

The new drain arrived. Sadly, it was really quite ugly. We realized now why the showroom had used the other one in its display sink, even if it wasn't functional. It just looked better. But so be it, I needed an en suite bathroom, I called the plumber to come in and do the installation.

Upon installing the new drain our plumber took the old one out and installed the new drain. However, the old drain had been slightly larger than the new one, and where the old one had sat the enamel had cracked a bit. I didn't think that this was a big deal until our plumber informed me that it might rust and discolour the sink. So we got back on the phone with Kohler.

Again, Kohler was pretty great. They weren't necessarily cheerful, but they took care of the issue and issued us a letter enabling us to return the sink and get a new one. A few days later, the letter arrived, we exchanged sinks, and we're now about to install the new sink.

But the point of this blog, with this ridiculously long run-up, is Kohler's letter to us. They tried so hard within their customer service area to take care of us. And they really did do a great job. Sure, their people could have been more pleasant, but their policies are terrific. So good that I would happily buy from them again, even after having problems mostly caused by poor retailers. But then the wording of the letter blew this great experience.

I suppose that their lawyers must have gotten ahold of their warranty letters and rewritten them. Instead of saying "We're really sorry that you're not happy with your sink. Here's a replacement one." we got a letter that essentially said "It's not our fault. In fact, it's probably something you did to it. But we're begrudgingly going to replace your sink anyway." It's like insisting on having the last word in an arguement that you already know you're going to lose. You know it's not going to help, but you do it anyway. (Or, at least, I do it sometimes. Always to negative effect.)

I've attached the letter here. Have a read. If you think I'm being unfair, let me know. I've smudged the name at the top because my partner would rather I not post her name in my blog.

Kohler was so close to being great on this service issue. Instead, due to someone's legal needs, they blew it.