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Need a New Business Name? Try an Extended Metaphor

Sometimes a business name functions simply as a name, like Constant Contact, the email service that delivers newsletters. Look at their web site and you won't easily find any images or wordplay that take off from the words "constant" or "contact."

On the other hand, Named At Last, my company, uses the idea of storks bringing clients a new name both in the images of storks flying and in phrases like "Head Stork," my title, and "Storklets," for the company's freelance namers. When images and words work together to develop one concept in several different ways, that's an extended metaphor.

Extended metaphors give readers pleasure, make a company more memorable and have unlimited creative potential to help a company stand head and shoulders above the competition.

To understand just how unlimited that potential can be, consider a tech support company, Geek Squad. On 19 pages scattered through a 44-page supplement glued into the August 2006 issue of Wired magazine, this company brilliantly riffed both verbally and pictorially on the theme of its name. You can get a sense of how they do this also at their web site, GeekSquad.com.

In the Wired supplement, extended metaphor techniques that they used to develop the Geek Squad as a techie version of the 1950s FBI include:

* Consistent color scheme (burnt orange, black and white) and retro visual style in fonts, lighting, badges, people's hairdos and uniforms

* Explanation of how the logo harks back to the days when "service stations" gave you a lot more than just gas

* Terminology like "agents" and "force" instead of "staff" or "associates" and "team"

* Sense of humor that's as geeky as the name ("...provide computer support 24/7/365. 366 in leap years.")

* Timelines illustrating not only the company's development but also technical milestones in general, always humorously presented

* Accessories that fit the image: ramen noodles, breath mints and wristwatches accurate to within 10 seconds

* A Latin motto (Latin being a geeky language), "Cura et Celeritas" (roughly, "Care and Speed")

* Games, including "official slug-bug rules" and a crossword puzzle with geeky clues like "Comes after zettabyte"

* Recipes, like one for "Black Hole Upside-Down Cake," and self-rating questionnaires, like "Are you a smasher?" (Have you attempted to reboot your computer with your wingtips?")

* Hobbies of the "agents," such as sci-fi, and an employee motto: "I swear I will always come to your aid even if there's a sci-fi marathon in town and they're playing the episode with the super-creegy alien vampire girl."

* Tech tips, like how to retrieve data by putting a hard drive in the freezer for a certain length of time, and therapeutic advice, like how to calm yourself if you experience a computer catastrophe

* Case studies, such as how Agent #41 keeps the rock group U2 technically going while on the road

* Prices - well, no humor there, although the style and look remain consistent with all the rest

A group of creative aces obviously had a blast generating all these spinoffs of the central metaphor of a squad of geeks. I certainly had great fun consuming their inventiveness, and I don't think I'll soon confuse them with competitor Rent-a-Nerd.

Marcia Yudkin is Head Stork of Named At Last, a company that brainstorms creative business names, product names and tag lines for clients. For a systematic process of coming up with an appealing and effective name or tag line, download a free copy of "19 Steps to the Perfect Company Name, Product Name or Tag Line" at www.namedatlast.com/19steps.htm

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