Online Marketing

Do great brand names come from skill or luck?

Post-hoc rationalization teaches us nothing beyond the obvious: successful troll is successful. Yet many of us persist in this voodoo irrationality.

In response to “Why TED Works As a Company Name” (which reads like Steve Manning’s work), I post the following question: was the TED name the result of a series of committee meetings? Or merely serendipitous?

(Not a rhetorical question — the TED site says nothing about the origin of the name…)

Based on my experience in the industry, advertising and marketing people can only recognize a great name retroactively — “It totally works, so it must’ve been great THE WHOLE TIME!” This post-hoc rationalization teaches us nothing beyond the obvious: successful troll is successful. Yet many of us persist in this voodoo irrationality.

It’s kind of like A/B testing a new landing page. Create your B variant based on recognized best practices or copy/paste a more successful competitor’s design and you STILL won’t know if it really works until it does, or doesn’t. Post-hoc hand-waving aside, we just don’t know, Dude, we just don’t know.

Aviva Pinchas says this very well:

These practices often come from broad trends observed over many experiments and they highlight what usually and typically works. Often, they’re tapping into a kernel of  persuasion wisdom.

But there’s a problem: just because it usually and typically works, doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Websites have different target audiences, different marketing, positioning, pricing, product selection, seasonality. Your industry may be atypical. Mostly, it’s just all relative…

In other words, we’re paying attention to the symptom of success, not the cause.

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So what’s the cause of success? 


Processes are the means by which we specify a goal, brainstorm techniques to accomplish it, hypothesize their success, and test them in the real world. 

 If you don’t have a *process* guiding your creative effort, all you have is wild guesses and the whimsical magic of the Marketing Loa who sometimes smile but often frown.

But what about hope — that staple of process-free advertising and marketing teams? Let’s be realistic: hope is neither a strategy nor a process.

WTF does this say about TED?

Regardless whether the TED name came about through dumb luck or a cogent process, it works. 

If the TED name didn’t come from a process, it still works — but the odds of the people responsible ever discovering an equally successful name are vanishingly small. 

tl;dr: If you’re doing a thing you ever intend to do again, first get a process

Further reading

Disclaimers: I’m a rabid fanboy of both Steve Manning and Peep Laja and I sacrifice sweat, blood, and buckets of money to the Marketing Loa every day. 

Article first published on LinkedIn

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