A centaur walks into a bar. He’s talking on his smartphone; when he finally looks up at the bartender, he orders a Frappuccino. “I’m sorry, sir,” the barkeep says. “We don’t serve coffee here.”
The centaur then orders an Arnold Palmer. “Sorry again, but we don’t have tea,” the bartender apologizes.
“Fine, just give me five screwdrivers,” the centaur mutters.
“Why don’t you just start with one and go from there?” the bartender asks, confused.
“Because I don’t do anything halfway!” the centaur shouts.
The centaur and all his preferred products have one thing in common: They’re hybrids. But you wouldn’t immediately think of any of those items as being half of one and half of another--the smartphone, the Frappuccino, the Arnold Palmer, and the screwdriver have all become such commonplace terms that we accept them as being full-fledged inventions all their own.
But how did we arrive at this point, where smartphones and Frappuccinos are mainstream terms? Brands had to introduce, own, and manage these terms into existence. While the effort and cost expended were likely considerable, so was the payoff: These companies were able to hold conversations within their industries on their own terms, quite literally. And others were forced to follow suit as these businesses got everyone outside the industry speaking their language, too.
Ericsson introduced its Penelope phone as the world’s first smartphone in 1997, laying claim to the term that later became ubiquitous. Though Ericsson wasn’t the first company to combine advanced programming and applications with a telephone--Simon owns that distinction--it was the first to put a name with a product line, leading others to do the same. Ericsson also coined the term “Bluetooth” when it invented the wireless technology in 1994. It’s no surprise, then, that Ericsson was the leader in the telecommunications equipment field as recently as last year.
Creating new terminology transforms a company into an innovator that sets the standard the rest of the field must follow. Coining a new term allows a brand to refocus on a positive aspect, blurring the connection to a competitor’s — or consumers’ — complaint. Best of all, fresh phrasing enables a business to not only improve its own prospects, but to boost those of the entire industry. Once the conversation between the consumer and the salesperson has become one of shared knowledge, the relationship assumes a more intuitive and profitable tone.
A Rose by Any Other Name Wouldn’t Smell as Sweet
Any possible terminology must pass a three-pronged evaluation:
• Does this term serve the industry? If people in your field would find the term useful, they’re much more likely to use it. If it really only serves you, it’s simply a niche term that won’t ever convert.
• Is it easy to explain? If it takes you five minutes to explain the one word you’ve coined, you’ve lost people--and their business. It must be intuitive.
• Can it pass the test? Before you launch a new term into the mainstream consciousness, you have to make sure it will stick. Run focus groups and drop the word into casual conversations to gauge others’ reactions.
You Can Take That to the Bank
That being said, a great phrase will only be as strong as the marketing push behind it. If your company establishes a term that captures a concept and has a major hook, but doesn’t promote it, you can be sure someone else will. That leads to a loss of ownership, revenue, and market share.
The marketing itself can take many forms--video, radio ads, infographics, social media, etc.--but the campaign needs to be as catchy as the term. If you put a budget behind your idea and flesh out a very robust story that consumers find memorable, the concept will take on a life of its own.
Tempur-Pedic: A Case Study
My company tested this when we decided to introduce the “hybrid” term into the bedding industry. Tempur-Pedic was spending hundreds of millions per year convincing consumers that memory foam was not only the best bedding material available, but that innerspring mattresses were truly deficient products. They were propagating the idea of “pressure points,” alarming customers.
Our frustration rested with the challenge of separating low-end mattresses made with innersprings from high-end versions. They were being lumped together, but the truth remained that 80% of mattresses sold were still innersprings--and many were of excellent quality.
]When watching TV, I caught an ad for a hybrid car; the next day, I saw a magazine ad for a hybrid golf club. I realized that that was how we needed to be presenting the innerspring category that contained memory foam cushioning, the best of both worlds--people were already so familiar with the hybrid concept that it wouldn’t take a large leap to understand.
We asked our retail sales associates to try the term out when talking to people in our showrooms. They told us that the new term had 1) enabled them to sell mattresses faster because the consumers immediately “got” the terminology, and 2) had increased their average ticket for buyers who’d come in pursuing lower-priced beds. This social proof validated the idea, but now, we had to make it widespread.
Drop It Like It’s Hot
To introduce the hybrid term to a mainstream audience, we created a hip-hop video  that was outside the bedding industry’s comfort zone. We stuffed the video with hybrids--calculator watches, sweater vests--to normalize the concept, and we pushed the video out through ads, our LinkedIn group, and trade shows.
This campaign redefined the conversation, drawing eyes off the “pressure point” argument and putting them on our new product line, Comfort Core, which was our fastest-growing, with a 35 percent sales increase. Today, it’s still setting sales records. The hybrid concept is now widespread within our industry--Sealy is even launching its own class of hybrid products--and consumers casually refer to hybrid mattresses when shopping. We influenced our industry, and then let the industry influence the consumer.
Many leaders are hesitant to take a risk on repositioning the industry conversation without tangible results, but the proof is in the pudding: Our company enjoyed its most successful product launch, which resulted in more hires and more production. Ericsson and Starbucks aren’t suffering for their great terms, either--they’re reveling in them. If you want to hold conversations on your own terms, do just that. It may revolutionize your industry, and your bottom line.
[Image: Flickr user Pulpolux !!! ]