User-Friendly is an EA-focussed marketing agency supporting organisations with a wide range of marketing, branding and communications requirements. As such, we come across many misconceptions regarding what the criteria should be for a successful brand and try to mitigate the movement from continuously making the same mistakes.
It is our aim moving forward to not only support organisations with their marketing, branding and communications needs, but to use this platform to bring well-established, robust, industry-standard marketing principles into this space, to ensure that all EA marketing is as impactful as possible.
As the movement rapidly grows, many new organisations are emerging each month, all in need of a distinctive brand and name. I will use this forum entry to highlight some common mistakes when naming an organisation and share key ways to ensure that your chosen name will work for you, not against you.
The number one job of a brand name is to be distinctive, not descriptive.
Think about the biggest and most successful brands out there; Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft - none of which use their name to describe their service or product.
The brand name isn’t a product description, it’s a mark of identification, a decision simplifier, a way of narrowing down the decision field for your target audience in a way that makes sure you’re the one they think of. The Von Restorff Effect (the cognitive bias towards things that stand out) should be considered your best friend when it comes to branding.
Do you know why Apple was named Apple, and not ‘Effective Computer Solutions’?* Because it was a distinct and simplistic choice, far more memorable than anything that may have explained the product. It was also Job’s contention that they would benefit from a company name beginning with ‘A’ as it would appear earlier in the phonebook than a competitor. Overly simplistic right? Maybe not.
*Comically, Apple was actually initially called, ‘Apple Computer Co’, but as the only distinct element - Apple stuck and the rest was binned.
Play where you can own the field
Okay, so you’re starting a new consultancy organisation, why not call it, for example, ‘Effective Consultancy’? I’ll use this example as a springboard to both express why this might not be a good idea, and suggest alternative criteria to consider when choosing a name.
This name is not distinct or memorable
This name will be far less ‘sticky’ than something more distinct. The primary role of a brand is to drive top of mind and support organisations to win against a huge host of competition for the attention of your target audience. Our brains are misers, they like easy decisions, and often, what comes to mind first or easiest is more likely to be chosen (see more on system 1 and 2 thinking). Sure, this name explains the service, but will it be the first thing that comes to mind when I come to needing this service? It is less likely than if the name was more distinct?
As this movement grows, and there are more and more organisations using ‘Effective this’ and ‘Effective that’, the name becomes increasingly muddied, blurred and entangled in a host of very similar sounding names. This is not helpful to either the success of the individual organisation nor the success of the EA movement as a whole.
The name is not ownable
Not only will this organisation struggle to carve out its own unique place in the mind of the target audience, but equally the organisation will see the same challenge within the brands online presence. If all ‘Effective X’s’ try to optimise their SEO and run Google ads (both of which they almost certainly should be doing), they are competing with each other (and competing directly with central EA products such as this forum and effectivealtruism.org). If they bid on their brand name to ensure it ranks well, they are bidding and out bidding other EA orgs cannibalising movement funds.
As the name is descriptive, they also attempt to bid on general, vague and well-used terms such as, in my example ‘consultancy’. There are far bigger beasts, with far greater budgets, bidding on these terms that will outbid this attempt, every time - it’s wasted energy and resource. A quick look on Google ads keyword planner suggests that ranking ‘consultancy’ could cost as high $6 per search.
Even if you’re less convinced that Google ranking and SEO are important to the success of your organisation, it remains a strong indication of the volume of ‘stuff’ already in your space that competes with your top of mind success and this doesn’t just apply to your online presence. Imagine the volume of individuals and new organisations one person typically meets at an EAG. If all organisation names fall into these traps and become muddied and blurred into one, even someone with a great memory would have a hard time finding distinction between your organisation and another.
Chances are, if it’s an expensive search term, it’s not distinct enough to hook into your target’s head within a space you can own. Choosing something that’s ownable relates both to the online presence and within the mind of your target audience.
You’re not (just) marketing to people who need you now
One key principle of good marketing that is often overlooked is the difference between in-market targets and out-market targets. Most of the people that use your service, don’t need you right now - they are out-of-market targets. They might need you in six months, a year, and your branding will do you far more favours if it sticks in the mind beyond the initial exposure and ideally long into the future. It’s only with both short and long term brand building that you will see good growth.
Beware: Initialising Names Can Render Them Meaningless and Even Less Distinct
Second to the prevalence of ‘Effective’, and ‘impact’ as another example, we see a lot of organisations choose a descriptive brand name and then decide to render it meaningless and even less distinct by reducing it to a three (or more!) letter initialism. Or worse, actively determine an initialism and then try and retrofit a name to the letters. Unless this initialism becomes more distinct (say it spells something interesting or surprising as an acronym) and will be used as the actual known brand name, you’re giving yourself a very hard job to implant this brand top of mind.
In my example of ‘Effective Consultancy’, referring to themselves as EC rolls off the tongue okay, it may be quicker for internal communications, it might look okay in a logo, but its likelihood of success compared to something truly distinct and ownable is dramatically diminished.
Another crucial consideration here is that Google will rank your website based partially on the frequency of a term used, therefore, if you use the acronym in your web copy, you’re negatively impacting ranking with your actual brand name. Similarly to the wealth of ‘Effective’ orgs, if we grow the movement with more three letter acronyms, none will be distinctive.
So should I just call my new org ‘Banana’?
No. Probably not. Sure, being distinctive is the number one job for a brand, however a close second is to provide other positive support to the likelihood of success of the brand.
After distinctiveness and ownability you should consider:
- Giving a tone/sensibility cue of the brands positioning (informing who this isn’t for, as well as who it is for will save you time and increase your likelihood of attracting the right audience)
- Consider prestige and credibility of the brand
- How will the name be used in common language, a name that’s too long will always be abbreviated. Our agency is called ‘User-Friendly’ and the amount of times it’s actually used in conversation is a little comical, but does this support cementing our agency front of mind? Possibly.
- Arguably one of the least used and most powerful multipliers to a brands success is creativity, dare to be creative, it’s not unprofessional or non corporate to be creative in order to capture attention.
Yikes, our org is called ‘Effective, Effective, Effective” and we go by EEE, should we re-brand?
Assessing if a rebrand is needed or not is a difficult task. It largely depends on how well you feel the name is serving you, how deeply it is established within your target audience and whether you’re already seeing issues with it. Sometimes sticking with it is the best route, sometimes a change (though scary) can give you a good uplift with a concerted effort to re-communicate who you are.
We’d be more than happy for you to connect with us online or at one of the coming EAGs - we’ll be at both Berlin (Amy) and DC (James).
This is a brief overview of branding and certainly not exhaustive of all the factors that should be considered, but it hopefully goes some of the way to express good thinking processes to follow and what to try and avoid.
It is my hope and aim to support the movement in the application of industry knowledge by writing frequent posts on good marketing principles. If you have any particular areas of interest that you’d like me to cover I’d be happy to add these to my list of topics to cover in future posts.
NB an edit was made changing the fictitious consultancy organisation calling themselves "Effective Operations Consultancy" to "Effective Consultancy" to remove an unintended reference to CEA Ops recently changing their name to EV OPS. As mentioned in the below comment in response to this being raised, I'd expect the founding, central and inward facing components of the movement to use this word, though they still may be impacted by cannibalisation.
haha, thanks for sharing. This did make me laugh.
Thanks for this post! Another reason not to take up "effective altruism" (or other commonly used phrases in this community like "effective", "longtermist", etc) as part of the name is that it might make it harder for others within the community or adjacent to the community to move into the space. For example, if you are an information security expert and there's enough demand for your services for small EA nonprofits that it makes sense for you to be a company, you might be tempted to call your company "Effective Altruism Information Security" or even "Effective Altruism Computing Consultants."
However, in addition to the problems mentioned in the post above, you might be (accidentally) taking up a larger sector of the space than necessary. For example, now people who are looking to do infosec for large AI safety or biosecurity companies, or cybersecurity graduate students thinking of getting EA careers, or people trying to apply infosec to work on AI alignment, might wrongfully believe that you have this space "covered." This to me is a large cost, and often when I'm in a position of authority (e.g. as a funder or advisor to a project), I usually recommend that people drop "effective", "effective altruism" etc in their name initially.
Thanks for commenting Linch, this is a great point. I agree on this viewpoint. There are likely many benefits to meta services like the one you describe being covered by more than one org, not least the diversification of skills, focus, specialisation and resource.
Interesting that this post criticises the choice of name "Effective Operations Consultancy" immediately after CEA Ops announced its change to EV Ops -- a name which breaks your rule because the E stands for Effective.
I don't claim to be expert on this sort of thing, but I would have thought that their name choice is fine?
You say that they should have a distinct or memorable name; how important is that if their target audience is a very small number of orgs in the EA community?
However, even if I haven't quite understood the point made in this post, I'm sure the community will benefit from a marketing agency, so thank you for your work :-)
Hey Sanjay, thanks for your message.
Yes, this is a good point you raise. As you mention, I don't think the same rules apply to every context and given that EV Ops (and any of the CEA brands/sub-brands) are central components to the entire movement, there is little issue with them using 'Effective'. They may still face some issues with cannibalisation, though as you suggest EV Ops is so niche and inward facing that it needn't play by the same rules. My post here is referring to satellite organisations emerging from, surrounding and across the movement, not the central founding components.
I'm going to edit the post to make this clear as my post is not a criticism of this particular use of the term and their recent name change.
FWIW, I have to correct myself every time I read EV Ops that it’s not Expected Value Ops. (That being said, I don’t know anything about marketing; n=1)
Thank you for this post - outfacing EA orgs should definitely seek more branding advice.
By the way - This is exactly why we've started Naming What We Can. We should speak about collaboration.
Top firms routinely pay $$$ for expert help with naming.
The fact that many EA groups neglect the basics of naming is part of a broader failure to take branding seriously. 🤦♂️
Renaming my current project "Effective Banana".
Thanks Peter - I do agree that marketing and communications could do with being more highly prioritised, broadly speaking. I hope to at least provide some of the basic knowledge that might help others stay away from some of the easy traps to fall into.
I love the disagree votes happening here.
FWIW, I would value (for the community) a "how-to" post that describes e.g. branding process more than this type of post which points at various considerations. E.g. something(s) that taught what it means to create a hierarchy of the messages you want to get across, what positioning statements are, etc. and how to create a brand on the basis of those considerations.
Excellent advice! Thank you for linking to additional sources! Your post has already influenced my project for the better by aligning my thinking toward better branding options.
I'd be interested in hearing more about other "common mistakes" that EA orgs may be making, outside of naming.
That's great to hear - thanks for sharing. I'll aim to be writing posts of this style fairly regularly, but do shout if there's a topic you'd particularly like me to cover.
Any tips for Effective Developers? Our website is 2 days old already!
Hey Yonatan, thanks for reaching out! I think we're both at EAG DC over the next few days, let's meet up and chat about this? :)
Just found an old slatestarcodex post and found EEE strangely familiar
Good article... Now I laugh (at me).
I just posted an announcement of a project of mine here just a few days before I found your article (I wish I found it before). Now I can see what a dumb choice to call my project "Effective Drawing". I was suspecting something was wrong...
I think I will have to change it again (laughs)... This time I hope to be the last one, for God sake.
Thanks for sharing good knowledge...