Brand Naming Lesson From The NCAA’s March Madness

The last few weeks have seen the annual "March Madness" surrounding the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, with the conclusion only days away.

While the competition is fun to follow, especially if your favorite team or alma mater is still in the running, I’d like to draw your attention to some factors in play, hidden in plain sight if you will, that add to the excitement:

While there are countless multi-round tournaments in any number of sports, only the NCAA has evolved a truly outstanding "portfolio" of brand names surrounding the tournamant and its stages, each of which make use of the principles of good brand names (first discussed here), foremost of the principle of "rhythm, rhyme, and speakability" including by way of alliteration:

First there is the already mentioned "March Madness" to describe the entire procedure. Then there are the named tournament rounds, the "Sweet Sixteen" (what is sometimes called a 1/8 final), the "Elite Eight" quarter-final, and the lastly the "Final Four" semi-final.

Note that in large part due to the alliterations, the NCAA terms roll of the tongue much more so than the traditional, generic terms.

Now you may be saying, "why does this matter so much, I don’t even care about basketball…"

It matters because enjoyment derived from saying a brand name is a strong predictor of the both the viral success as well as the depth of imprint in the consumer’s mental real estate of that name. Making it enjoyable to repeat, to say or think more often, will accelerate the spread of a meme through a population, and embed it more thoroughly in the individual.

Rhythm and rhyme, including alliteration (which you could see as a form of front-loaded rhyme), are pleasant and also more memorable to our unconscious minds (that is the reason why you still remember most advertising jingles to this day).

It doesn’t hurt that each NCAA "brand name" is reasonably short, while also still being sufficiently descriptive/evocative of the things they are referring to.

In fact, they even take out some of the complexity of having to think of the somewhat confusing traditional "quarter-final", asf. terminology (number of teams left devided by 2), in favor of simply counting the number of teams still in the tournament. Simplicity is typically good. Simplicity wins.

Yet none of the names are too generic to hurt differentiation in your mental real estate. And they all are easily understood, requiring no spelling out (unlike this massive brand name failure). But the alliterations providing a certain rhythm and rhyme are ultimately the most important drivers in this case.

The end result is, more people talk about March Madness and its rounds, more often.

It is very likely that you were already familiar with these NCAA Tournament "brand names" EVEN IF you’re not particularly following basketball. Now that’s strong branding. You would do well to apply these powerful principles to your own brand naming.

If you can’t get all of them lined up for a given name, apply as many as you can. One thing we do know is, "March Madness" is a winner…

Assorted Robert Scoble Posts Prove: Simplicity Wins

Robert Scoble, self-styled "Tech Geek Blogger" and one of the main users and evangelists of Web 2.0 services Twitter and FriendFeed in 2008 (Robert supposedly spent about 2,500 hours  participanting on those services, prompting calls for an intervention from TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington – the post and its comment thread, on which I participated quite a bit, are a textbook lesson in "Nothing Sells Like Controversy" by the way), writes about almost anything tech, but always with a uniquely personal and questioning style that I view as more of a true expression of blogging then the rapid-fire news blogs that are now punched out by small armies of bloggers at TechCrunch, AlleyInsider, Gawker Media, asf.

Love him or hate him, no one could accuse him of not getting his hands dirty with actually using Web 2.0, including in the service of the creation of countless interview videos with both start-up and established players in the Tech Industry which he posts over on His above mentioned participation actually does appear to border on the super-human, and he seems to at times be simultaneously asking, AND himself be a guinea-pig for, the question of where all of this technology usage might lead us next.

An astute commenter over on the aforementioned TechCrunch "Intervention Post" stopped to

wonder if 10 000 years from now, just one month’s worth of all Twitter content, if preserved, could provide an interesting historical clue to future generations of how life on earth was….like a Pompeii or Rosetta Stone unlocked secrets of past civilizations and languages. And who could blame them upon discovering such a treasure for thinking Robert Scoble the God of the Twitterverse?

Given all of this frantic Web 2.0 activity and the constant exponential expansion of information and information processing in all of its forms, I found it instructive that several of Robert’s recent posts appeared to confirm a theme that I usually try to drive home with many of my coaching clients: Simplicity wins. Or at least tends to confer an unfair advantage to those companies and entrepreneurs practicing it.

First, his post on his personal discovery of the joys of the dead-simple and low cost "Flip" video camera ("The best gadget I stole in 2008") – the one with the fold-out USB plug arm obviating the need for an extra cable, and one of the gadget sales hits of 2008 – reminds us that users want things to just work, without having to first navigate a dizzying array of menus, settings and options. "Do one thing and do it well" (enough), without requiring training just to do the average use case of that one thing, is the operative mantra.

The Flip starts and stops video recording with one large/obvious button, and records in formats that are immediately uploadable to YouTube et al. without further video processing. I opted for similar simplicity this past Christmas when I selected a Casio Exilim digital camera for its one-button video function and YouTube friendly formats over other possibly more feature-laden, but more complex offerings. Simplicity wins.

Next, Robert wrote on what he sees as the promise of rapid growth in 2009 for ("Tumblr’s lead dev: Scoble doesn’t know what he’s talking about"), a Web 2.0 "micro-blogging" service (really I consider it "medium blogging") that thrives on a simple posting mechanism (via browser bookmarklet that simply works, and fast) for clipping and reblogging Web content, as well as reblogging the "Tumble blog posts" of other Tumblr users one follows – all with automatic attribution. Tumblr may well be the currently fastest way for a complete novice to get a simple blog up and running, and then actually post to it frequently because it can be fast, easy, and fun.

Notable competitor pursues a similar strategy by making simple email-based submission and intelligent/automatic media handling its main mechanism. I hope both services continue to push/copy each other’s innovations, add a few more useful features, and above all, keep things simple. Because if they do, they are very likely to win (Tumblr’s bookmarklet post submission already prompted the addition of a PressThis! feature in WordPress blogging software for example).

Last, Robert did a half-in-jest-fully-in-earnest piece on the comparison of the Twitter and FriendFeed services mentioned above ("10 Reasons why Twitter is for you and FriendFeed is not"). Despite having been one of Twitter’s heavy users with tens of thousands of followers, he had started to really kick things into high gear on FriendFeed since about Q2 of 2008, and may have almost single-handedly driven early adoption of this startup aggregator service conceived by a handful of ex-Googlers.

But while FriendFeed has just won the Crunchies for Best 2008 Startup, Robert makes the case that it has features sufficiently complex that they may prove a turn-off for non-techy users, and could prevent wide-spread mainstream adoption of the kind that Twitter is now experiencing (besides nightly mention and some crowd-sourcing uses by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, the likes of Shaq, Lance Armstrong, Hodgman of the Daily Show and Mc vs. PC ads fame, and ex-Saturday Night Liver Jimmy Fallon have recently adopted Twitter to communicate with their fans).

Whether or not sophisticated users like Robert feel that FriendFeed’s advanced features are useful or not is besides the point: What counts is that Twitter’s single-minded focus on 140 character "micro-blog" updates makes it immediately accessible and understandable, whether or not a prospective user ultimately decides that they find the service useful or not (I had previously described how Twitter’s branding also aides in people rapidly "getting it"). This has also made Twitter somewhat of the "Swiss Army Knife of the Internet", prompting hundreds of third-party services, extensions, and uses based on its simple infrastructure in often ingenious ways.

So, three different examples of simplicity wins, all just from one blogger’s posts. I hope they have you convinced that simplicity indeed provides a competitive edge, and that with each additional layer of complexity (each additional step in the use of your product or service), you tend to lose say 50% of your residual audience, prospects, or users. You can do the math as well as I can: You want to keep the number of those additional steps to a miminum. Less really can be more after all.

So my prescription for you, your business, or your new product launches in 2009 obviously is: Keep it simple!

Microsoft and Complexity

A report from CNN serves as yet another reminder that my observations about Microsoft from a recent post are correct: Microsoft can’t buy a winner no matter how much money they trow at it (and their maintenance diet of oft-delayed Windows and Office upgrades doesn’t count).

The XBox 360 and other devices division (think Zune, etc.) is hemorrhaging money and just had to take another $1 Billion charge due to extensive hardware problems with the XBox. You’ll love this: “… the Xbox 360 return problem was getting so severe that the company was running out of ‘coffins,’ or special return-shipping boxes Microsoft provides to gamers with dead consoles.”

That’s on top of the fact that no one cares about their Zune MP3 player and iPod “competitor”, and that the Nintendo Wii and its disruptive innovation approach is running circles around the XBox and Sony Playstation.

Why am I bothering to highlight this for you? Two reasons: 1) There is a law of complexity that in essence states that complexity in an organization is directly related to its size. 2) Even mighty Microsoft cannot escape the logic of said law, regardless of how much money they throw at a problem.

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