Electrolux once marketed its products with the line “nothing sucks like an Electrolux”. The Coors slogan “Turn it loose” became a colloquial term for diarrhoea when translated into Spanish. Clairol launched a curling iron called “Mist Stick” in Germany without realising that “mist” is German slang for manure.
Each of these mistakes highlights a different problem that occurred when a company failed to take linguistic analysis into consideration (and here are some more examples of company naming failures that will have you laughing out loud). Language is powerful and it’s what makes us human, but it also has the potential to backfire if we’re not careful when naming our products and services.
The truth is that taking the time to carry out linguistic analysis is one of those invisible (but important!) jobs that’s designed to protect you. Your customers and other stakeholders won’t even know that you did it, but they will know that you didn’t, if you make a blunder.
Here are just a few of the most important reasons why you’ll want to carry out linguistic analysis on your business, brand, or product name before you launch into the market.
The naming and tagline faux pas that we included at the start of this article are just the ones that are safe for work, but the business world is rife with examples of companies who’ve accidentally used taboo language and curse words in their core brand elements. People will always be people. So you can be sure that if you do make this mistake, people are going to talk about it – and they’re going to have a few laughs at your expense. Remember, not all publicity is good publicity.
Different demographics use language in different ways. You just have to look at how the word ‘wicked’ became a slang term for ‘good’ to see how the way we use words can change over time and how words can mean different things to different people. Some brands even go out of their way to alienate one group of people in order to gain favour with another, such as when Yorkie used the tagline “it’s not for girls”, but this is a risky approach and can backfire. Either way, linguistic analysis will help to reduce the odds of a backlash.
Avoid lost revenue
If you’re unlucky enough to alienate your customers or to send the wrong messages with your brand name, you’re going to pay the price in terms of lost revenue because the demographic that you’ve offended, alienated, or simply embarrassed yourself with is less likely to engage with your company. And this gets worse over time when you start to factor in not just the missing revenue for every individual sale but the overall lifetime value of customers. For service-based businesses with low overall conversion rates but high individual transactions, just one lost opportunity could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Avoid expensive rebrands
If everything does go wrong and your new name falls flat on its face, there’s only one thing you can do. You’re going to have to rebrand, which is an expensive and time-consuming process. Even then, there’s no guarantee that the rebrand will work and that people will forget about your first attempt, which is why it’s better to get it right the first time.
It’s pretty clear that linguistic analysis plays a vital role in the success (or failure) of any new product or initiative, and it can be useful for companies of all sizes. You don’t have to be a massive multinational to make a big linguistics blunder and alienate potential customers.
Ultimately, you carry out research for every other aspect of your business, so why wouldn’t you spend some time looking into language? The name that you pick has more of an impact than almost any other factor when it comes to making a first impression, so you need to get it right.
Linguistic analysis will help you to do just that, and better still it has a low barrier to entry. You can conduct your own analysis easily enough by reaching out to people in your network from a diverse set of backgrounds and asking them for their feedback. If you can find people who fit your target demographic, better still!