We Uber, we Skype, we Google.
In a nutshell
- Brands as verbs speaks to a paradigm shift in the last decade about how people feel about brands, seeing what brands do as useful in people’s lives.
- For a brand's purpose to be authentic it needs to translate into how the brand behaves – not what it says, but what it does.
- Being a brand leader has significant advantages for growth and being top of mind is the most important quality a brand can own.
Why do some brands naturally become verbs, and is it a desirable status?
In the last English language update 1000 new words appeared – a meagre number compared to the 1700 words that Shakespeare introduced into the language. And not only did the Bard invent entirely new words and well turned out phrases he was a serial verbifyer (‘to champion’ and ‘to lapse’, both valuable additions to the marketing lexicon, were both penned by him).
Language is important to not just convey commonly understood facts and ideas, but it also frames up how we see the world and what is important to us. (That Eskimos have 50 words for snow is somewhat over quoted, but serves to demonstrate the point). So when we turn a word into a verb – a ‘doing word’ as you were taught in school - we are describing what it does and therefore its role in our lives.
Brands have typically been nouns not verbs. Traditionally companies put their brands on a pedestal and broadcast a message of product differentiation and attractive imagery. It’s not surprising that brands were objectified, the hope was that we would worship them. The exception was genuinely new products – products that did something new. So people used to ‘Hoover’ their carpets until lots of other brands appeared and vacuuming became the verb of choice.
Xerox was another innovation that became verbified – we Xerox-ed we didn’t photocopy, not until there were many other brands to choose from. You’d expect that Xerox would have been delighted by this appropriation of their name, but on the contrary they tried to stop it, fearing that it would generic-ify (not a word but why should Shakespeare get a monopoly on making up words) their brand. Knowing what we know today about the importance of brand salience, of the power of mental availability and the effect of being the brand leader, you would wonder if they would feel the same way today.
Back to the twenty first century and along comes a verbified brand, Google. So now we Google, we don’t think “I’ll use a search engine”. And, to Google has come to mean so much more than using a search engine. It means to seek out, to validate, to inform, to entertain with knowledge, to save me time, to prove myself right – or you wrong, its become an extension of our memory. It does things and has a role in people’s lives, deserving its verb status. What’s more, it generally does actually mean to Google – not to Bing or to Yahoo.