Your Brand is Not a Verb

Ever since Digg exploded in popularity, many online companies have tried to turn their brand name into a verb. I don't think people want to  "prop it", "mixx it", "stumble it" or [any brand name here] it.

Few brand names have become synonymous with the product or service they offer. Kleenex, Styrofoam, and Q-Tip are a few off the top of my head. Even fewer have become a verb. Google, Digg, Rollerblade and Xerox are good examples, although I don't remember the last time somebody said "Xerox a document", and I certainly don't HP it.

What does it take to earn a place in common vocabulary? I think there are two main elements. The first is being recognized as the dominant, if not only provider of the product or service. The second is making sense in the spoken vocabulary.

With regards to dominating the market you're in, I don't mean just have a majority market share. You have to seriously own the segment. Your customers can't even know your competition exists, and preferably there isn't any. While I don't know the complete history of the tissue, packaging material, and ear cleaning tool(?) industries, I'll wager Kleenex, Styrofoam and Q-Tip were the first to mass market their respective products. Xerox, Rollerblade and Digg certainly were.

"What do you go rollerblading with? Rollerblades."

Next the brand name needs to flow in spoken dialog and be at least eventually understood by others. Whether you're Xeroxing a document, going rollerblading, filling a box with styrofoam or using a Q-Tip, all brand name uses there sound like common nouns or verbs. They simply flow nicely and don't conflict with existing words.

Digg and Rollerblade need to be highlighted because I feel they had two elements that really contributed to their brand name success. They were the only product that existed at the onset of their market segment. That is because they where the ones to create it. They grew very quickly before future competitors were even thinking about those products. Secondly, their brand names also actually fit in the English language. Digg is a no brainer. "I dig it" is a common term. There's no explanation required to those that are introduced to the site. Contrasting this is, another social bookmarking site. They want you to "Mixx it". That has no meaning in the context they are trying to use it in. When I find a website, do I want to mix it? What does that mean?

On RaceDV's site, we made our vote buttons say just that. "Vote". Its English. Its exactly what you're doing. Voting or promoting. Being a race track videos website, we thought about "Rev it","Floor it" and probably a few other lame verbs, but decided against them. When I speak about it internally though, I use the term "dig it". Why? Digg certainly seeded that use in my brain, but what's the main reason it stuck? Probably because its just English.

Rollerblade isn't as clean cut, but I think the point still applies. They created an activity called rollerblading(inline skating really). What do you go rollerblading with? Rollerblades. Makes sense. Everyone I know that goes inline skating says they're going rollerblading, even when the brand of their inline skates is Bauer or whatever else.

Google seems to be the exception to all of this. Other search engines existed before them and they're name sounds pretty ridiculous. Perhaps you could argue being the first useful search tool is the same as being the first. After all, a hammer that doesn't drive a nail isn't really a hammer is it? Perhaps the brand name overcame its silliness on its way to becoming a verb because it was just that. A silly word. People think its cute.

In the end, all of these companies have one major strategy in common. They weren't trying to force their way into your vocabulary. At least they weren't being obvious about it.  Being the fifth social bookmarking site and trying to get your users to say "mixx it" and "stumble it" just screams "me too". Nobody cares for unoriginality, especially when its clear you're jumping up and down like Donkey on the Shrek DVD menu.

Its time for my morning coffee now. Am I going to Folgers it? Not likely.