Last Friday night, after a long week of shuttling between soccer games and music classes, we decided to skip cooking at home and took our kids to a small, local, family friendly hamburger restaurant called Magoo’s. We ordered four Goo Goo’s with goo sauce.
Magoo’s offers a four-ounce and a six-ounce hamburger. The Goo Goo is the smaller version. Goo sauce is Magoo’s name for its own mayonnaise.
Different names sometimes make consumers believe the products are unique, which makes people willing to pay a little extra for them. If your business can charge slightly more than its competitors, there will be extra money to invest in things such as marketing and staff, which in turn can help you grow more quickly, and a virtuous cycle begins: better gross margins provides more money for growth begets a more powerful differentiated brand equals a more valuable company.
Language can differentiate your business — and make it more valuable in the eyes of a potential acquirer — in four ways:
Become a verb
Google is worth roughly $150 billion in part because it has used its dominance in search as a platform to grow. And when we search for something online, most of us now say, “I Googled it,” regardless of which search engine we used or which we prefer. When Lance Armstrong discovers a new saddle cream to ward off the nastiest of bike riding ailments, he doesn’t send a message to his fans, he “tweets” his “followers.”
Create your own adjectives
I get a long and resigned eye roll when I order a “grande” at the Second Cup.
Reposition an existing noun
Facebook has taken the word “friend” out of the playground and given it a new meaning to describe a person to whom you are connected through its social network platform. For some, “friending” has also become a generic verb to describe the process of connecting with someone over any social network, including competitive sites such as LinkedIn. No wonder Microsoft paid $240 million to own 1.6 per cent of Facebook.
Your brand name becomes the category name
A Phillips screwdriver refers to one with a star configuration even if it is manufactured by Stanley.
As valuable as it can be to own the language around your company, it is not something you can force onto your customers. Last year Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told The New York Times that he liked the name Bing for his new search engine because it would easily “verb up,” by which he meant that people would start saying “I’ll Bing it” instead of “I’ll Google it.” I’m not holding my breath.
Yellow Pages has become a generic term most of us use to refer to a telephone directory, but despite a splashy advertising campaign, Yellow Pages Group failed to get us to refer to its online directory as a “find engine.”
So without being able to control how your customers refer to your company and its products, what do you do? My suggestion is to brand as much as you can — from your product names to the adjectives used to describe them — in the hopes your customers judge one of your products to be so good that they bestow on it the honour of becoming a new verb, adjective or category killer.
Special to The Globe and Mail
John Warrillow is the author of Built To Sell : Turn Your Business Into One You Can Sell. Throughout his career as an entrepreneur, Mr. Warrillow has started and exited four companies. Most recently he transformed Warrillow & Co. from a boutique consultancy into a recurring revenue model subscription business, which he sold to The Corporate Executive Board in 2008. He is the author of Drilling for Gold and in 2008 was recognized by BtoB Magazine’s “Who’s Who” list as one of America’s most influential business-to-business marketers.