What’s in a name? How name change works

ASTD has announced that it is changing its name to ATD: “The Association for Talent Development”. Having started my working career in the international branding agency Nomen, I was particularly interested in the news and reactions by members. To be immediately clear on my opinion, I think it is a good change and hope it will be as best executed as possible over the coming period.


The process for a name change is lengthy, costly and massively important to any business organisation. The name must reflect the brand and achieve whatever business goals necessary.


It all starts with a good naming brief

The first step is to create a well structured briefing that outlines the brand (image) that the name must communicate. In the case of A(S)TD, I assume there were two major requirements in order to enlarge the scope of the association: Remove the “American” and reduce the immediate and exclusive focus on “Training”. In the case of A(S)TD, these 2 requirements seem very sensible to me. As our industry has evolved, we all understand that learning is more than training. Given the international scope of the organisation (as proven by the 9000+ international attendees at this year’s conference) it also seems natural to want to reflect that in the brand. The other semantic requirements are unknown to me, but may include things like “performance driven”, “giving a sense of prestige”, “connected and collaborative”, “focussing on human potential”, “focused on results” etc etc..

Today I have heard from various conference attendees the new name does not say what it ought to. More on this later.


There are other considerations that must be included in the briefing that are common to all name creation including who must understand the brand, specific language or length requirements, where and how it will be used, fit with other names in the brand portfolio, differentiation from competitors etc… It is important the right people are involved in creating the naming brief, in order that the name does what it must across the business. Involvement can also help with adoption of the new name and smoothing the change process.

Today I have heard complaints that the focus on “talent” does not fit with other A(S)TD brands related to “workforce development” and “training design and delivery”. I also heard disappointment that other people were not consulted, to illicit their opinion. As I understood it, the board, communications and marketing departments worked in close collaboration with the branding agency.


Name creation is an art in itself

The creative phase for name creation begins with a team of people who look for different possible ways to evoke the brand in words. Normally, this phase is not initially restricted by specific conditions like type or length of name. A creative team is charged with looking for descriptions and associations that can communicate what was laid out in the brief, then turning them into names. At this point, various creation strategies can be considered, including use of patronymics (“Johnson and Johnson”) and 4 other specific types of name structure:


A(S)TD has chosen to use descriptive dictionary terms for the name. The biggest value of (staying with) this choice is in search-engine optimisation and comprehension across international languages. In principle, given the choice to stay with a simple English name, most languages will at least understand the name and it will yield search results. People in our profession do not search for random associative made-up terms. They search for terms that mean something to them, eg “association”, “learning”, “talent”, “training”, “development”.


In a more creative brainstorming activity, the focus is first on associations and analogy, looking for other ways to say what must be communicated. A variety of creative techniques are used. Out of this creative phase, many names are created that will be immediately filtered out in the selection phase, as they obviously do not fit to the briefing requirements.

Suggestions made in the conference backchannel today range from “The Intergalactic Association of Doing Everything” to “Global Performance Insititute”.


Not every name you create actually works

In the first selection phase, some clients immediately fall in love with a name; others see a direction that they like that must be further elaborated by the creative team.

When arriving at a shortlist of names, the second selection phase begins. Here, names are subjected to consideration by a panel of native-speaking people from the target languages to ensure they are understood as required, can be sufficiently pronounced, do not give the wrong “feeling” and do not say something bad for other language speakers.

Some years ago, Toyota famously created the brand name “MR2”. When pronounced in French, this can be heard as either “merde” (shit) or emmerdeur (someone who makes things difficult or “stirs shit”). When I heard the name for our organisation, I could imagine that all 3 words were reasonably international, translating well in terms of core meaning.


Although the order of filtering activities may differ, a cost-conscious branding agency will now conduct a domain-name availability search to see if the name (or acceptable iterations) are available for use with required root domains (.com .org etc). Until the release of “creative root domains” this exercise restricted choices enormously. Almost anything you can think of in the descriptive dictionary category of names is almost always gone or else it is far too long. It is amazing to me that A(S)TD was able to secure TD.org as the chances of even getting a 2,3,4 letter word are almost impossible. Its a shame that ATD.org was not available.

At this point, having ruled out names that cannot work, it is time for final elaboration of what is left, if anything. Here, the actual target audience is shown the name and market research is conducted to see if the name really works or not.

When I heard the name, I was extremely pleased that the scope of our activities had been enlarged to the level of “talent”. In continental Europe, many HR Directors were some years ago rebranded as “Talent Directors”; HR itself became “Talent Management”. Speaking with many American colleagues, I was surprised by their reaction. They told me that “talent” evokes for them the idea of fickle Hollywood movie stars. I also heard many people saying the focus should not have been on the people, but on the business results (“performance”). And finally, people complained that their opinion was not solicited.


Even when it works, you may not be able to use it

When the final shortlist of names has been chosen, legal and trademarking issues need to be considered. The aim of trademark registration is to protect the brand name from unfair use by other organisations.

A first search is done to see if any other organisations in relevant sectors or geographic regions are using the name itself or any close resemblance. “Resemblance” includes partially comparable words and even synonyms. This search is difficult, lengthy and costly, and must be done by legal professionals to ensure that no subsequent legal action will be taken against the company using the new name. The basic argument is: You cannot use a name that is the same as or too close to another that has been sufficiently used (or registered) by another similar company in the region you want to register your name in. If you did, you would unfairly profit from the brand-loyalty and goodwill built-up for that name by the other company. Business names can be registered in multiple domains and regions and the cost is relative to the level of protection requested.

In the case of A(S)TD, it must have been costly and difficult to find, research and protect the new name. The chances of your name NOT being used in a similar way is much lower when you are using descriptive dictionary words. These chances are further reduced when the name must be registered across multiple geographical regions.




..and when you have a name, you have a change process to do

All change is likely to causes problems, and take time and expertise. The same is true for a name, particularly so because names carry a strong sense of identity and precedence. Imagine if you had to change your own name..

Without considering logo and design issues (by the way, I love the logo… ask me why!) the name change process requires a massive amount of communication and administration. Marketing collateral like websites, print and merchandising will need to be changed and a choice must be made between replacing all iterations of the old name, removing all old-name content, or doing nothing. People need to be informed and the transition needs to be managed, from email signatures to letterheads and PPT templates.


But the hardest part of the change is getting people to adopt the new name and love it.

I have heard concerns about the financial implications of the rebrand for the chapters, as well as uncertainty about timings and process. Although people have been told that that information will arrive very quickly, I also heard complaints that it was not provided in advance to more people; people most directly affected.


In any change, some people will love it quickly and some will hate it forever. Some people will try it out immediately and others will need more time. The longer the history with “what was the case”, the less likely people will love what is new. Much has been written and taught about change management with regard to this phenomenon. And the ASTD name has a rich history! There are always complaints when a strong brand changes identity and any complaints today are therefore credit to the strength of the A(S)TD brand.

Complaints here include those who say that many opportunities were missed to announce the change to a limited group of early-adopters or influential people outside of the A(S)TD central offices. This could have helped to ease the pain of transition and could have created a bigger pool of supporters to promote the new name to others, following the full-on official announcement.


But whatever happens next, the new name is here to stay

Like a new-born arriving in a family, everything can go a little crazy. People can get moody or excited, and everyone needs support to adapt. Complaints like those noted above happen every time. But as the transition takes place over time, if the staff at A(S)TD help those affected to see the value, administrate the change and use the name well, in some time everyone will forget there was ever another name.

And whatever you think, it is there and we all have a choice to be positive or negative.

Welcome to ATD!


Thanks for reading,

ps Is someone going to refund the ASTD t-shirt I bought on Sunday?



37 easy Twitter tips for new users to get started

So, you’ve been on Twitter but you’re not sure of the best way to proceed. You thought about buying “The Twitter Book” but don’t have 20 euros to spend before Christmas/the end of the world/your next paycheque (choose appropriate). You can’t seem to find the free downloadable introduction to “Twitter Power” by Joel Comm.

Never mind.. just read on and follow these instructions for a great start to using Twitter. If you have questions, Tweet Me!


Choose a good Twitter handle

Take a little bit of time to choose your Twitter name (“handle”) well. Although you can change how your actual real name looks on your profile, you won’t be able to change your handle. Chances are your actual real name doesn’t exist anymore, so what can you do?

  • Beware the addition of cheap numbers after your name. Who wants to be @johnSmith6875? If you can find a creative way to use numbers, go for it…
  • If you are on Twitter to sell a product or service on Twitter, use your Twitter handle to reinforce your brand(name) – example @babybrussels
  • If you are tweeting for or from your place of employment, be careful to not badly use their name in your Twitter handle
  • Creative name creation is great. I use @BoyTurnsTurtle for non work-related tweeting and nobody said you actually have to use real words
  • Be careful with other wierd characters – you may want to communicate your Twitter handle orally, so don’t use odd characters – I think my own handle @dan_steer is about as non-letter/number as you might want to go
  • Make sure it is not too long. Twitter is limited to 140 characters and if you want people to “mention” you, you don’t want your long Twitter handle eating into their tweets – this will only annoy them


Take the time to make your profile good and complete

Along with your tweets, your bio is one of the first things people will see. Spend a moment on this…

  • Write something about yourself in the bio and make sure to Be FAB to Be Heard
  • Be consistent with other platforms – my original Twitter Bio is in line with my professional slogan: “I help people get better at stuff by creating and facilitating infinite learning opportunities”.
  • Include a URL to your website, LinkedIn profile, book etc..
  • If you are working on something specific or mid/long-term, you can consider having your bio as a kind-of static tweet. At the moment, mine is about the conference I will speak at in May 2013 – this will not change for a month or so

Background, colours etc..


Use your Twitter photo

  • Not having a photo/logo just looks sad – don’t be the guy with the wierd default Twitter egg. Fix it.
  • If you use a personal photo, make sure we can actually see you. People like faces. But you can still do something a little different like I did.
  • If you have a product or company logo that can look good as a Twitter logo, go for it
  • Be consistent with other branding


Create 1 or 2 first tweets before you do any more

Its a chicken and egg thing: Should you start tweeting first or start following first? If you tweet first, no-one is following you, so its pointless. But the first reaction of many people you follow will be to look at your profile to see who you are and what you share. If there is nothing there they might not find you interesting and not follow. So, write 1 or 2 tweets before you follow people.

  • Its OK to write something that announces your arrival on Twitter, but please don’t write the classic “So, this is Twitter. What is all the fuss about?” – its getting old…
  • Include something useful in your first tweet that sets the scene – this could be a link to your own website or could already be a resource that is on-brand or related to your own area of expertise


…then start following people

Twitter offers you a bunch of ideas of who to follow. Personally, I think you should follow in the following order:

  • Start with people who are on-brand with regard to your own interests (personal or professional) – in my case, this would be learning people
  • Add only the famous people that won’t make you look stupid or bad. Sometimes your new visitors will look to see who you follow, in need of inspiration of a final push to follow you. Hopefully they won’t see porn-stars, random Justin Beibers or other odd people.
  • By all means let Twitter use your contacts list to invite people to follow you, but think first if this is just going to be more spam in their inbox or if they are actually going to be interested in your tweets. Filter your list to include only the right people.
  • Follow people who follow you?? There are lots of thought on this topic. Should you follow everyone or not? Personally, I have switched between “follow everyone who follows me” and “only follow people who tweet interesting things” without having ever decided. To meditate on…


What should I tweet?

The first answer to this question will always be “Whatever interests your (potential) followers” but to add a little weight to that I advise you to read points 5, 6 and 7 of my “9 must-remember guidelines to succeed with social media marketing”:

Personally, I try to offer as many relevant resources as possible via my Twitter account, mixing in my own ideas (like this blog) with those of others. I like to mention people and I try to make every tweet work as a stand-alone tweet when possible. Every now and again, I slip away from reference sharing to social or personal commentary, but this is quite rare.


Technically, HOW do I tweet?

If you like what you just read, the only thing now is to know how to ACTUALLY do it. Here’s a few simple ideas to get started with:

  • If you see something interesting elsewhere on the internet, tweet it – example
  • If you see something interesting on Twitter, retweet it – just click the button ..or “quote tweet” and use the letters RT if you want to add something to it yourself, like I did here
  • Mention people with @ + their Twitter handle
    • …you might “cc” them, just to say “hey, this is interesting” like here
    • ..you could say “I got this (on Twitter) via @name” like here
    • ..or if you included them in your own work, why not state it, like here
    • ..or maybe ask someone a specific question, like here
    • ..and thank people for retweeting/sharing your tweets/work, like here
  • If replying to tweets, remember that your followers won’t see “the full picture” without extra effort – when I look at the Twitter streams of people who regularly have bits of conversation with people on Twitter, I get annoyed to not understand anything and my first impression is never “Here is someone who is useful for me to follow”.
  • Favourite things you want to look at later, or to show you “like” the tweet
  • Use a hashtag # to show that your tweet relates to a specific topic. As a general rule, place this at the end of your tweet, like here… unless you use the hashtagged word as part of your tweet sentence, like here.


Have fun!


Thanks for reading!

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9 must-remember guidelines to succeed with social media marketing

In training on professional usage of social media with Kluwer Formations today, I’ve been helping 9 people from different organisations get started with social media. Despite their different levels of experience, different skills and different needs, they all have one thing in common: They want to use social media to market a business, organisation or product – they want to find their clients, communicate with them and reinforce brand loyalty.

In a series of several blogs over the coming weeks, I will be giving tips for anyone getting started with social media for marketing: Lots of references based on different type tools, functionalities and issues. Enjoy!




1 – Know what you are trying to achieve before you get started

Despite all the hype around social media platforms, they are still only tools. Don’t get on the train unless you’ve got a good reason. And define your reason clearly you get started. Your goals will affect the choices you make in terms of tool and activity. Defining your goal is the first step to creating strategic action.


2 – Know where your customers are and meet them there

As I said in my article for the December issue of T+D Magazine for ASTD, if you set up shop in the middle of nowhere and expect your customers will accept a long painful walk into the middle of nowhere, you will soon learn it doesn’t work. Don’t choose your platform for what YOU like to use. Choose what THEY like to use:

  • Which tools are your customers already using?
  • Where are most people most active?
  • What seems to suit your activity best?


3 – Know that not everyone uses social media platforms in the same way, to the same extent

The engagement pyramid, as explained by @charleneli in “Open Leadership” shows the 5 different types of social media user. The % of people acting in these ways diminishes as the list advances (watchers are the highest percentage, curators the lowest):

  • Watchers – the majority of people active on social networks are not SO active. They just look at stuff, soaking it all in without saying or “doing” much. You won’t know what they are thinking or how they react. But they are still there and they ARE part of your customer base.
  • Sharers – these people actually put stuff out there themselves. When they see something interesting, they share it. From what they share, you can tell what they like, what they are interested in and what they want more of (or not). Very good intel. And of course, wouldn’t it be great if they shared YOUR stuff?
  • Commenters – the next group will comment on or “like” (rate) what they find on any given platform. They actually given an opinion on what other people share. You can see their reactions and use this information to improve your offer and find out who is interested.
  • Producers – these are people that actually create something themselves. In my opinion, this should be one of YOUR main activities if you are using social media to market. You should write blogs, make videos, take pictures etc… What these people produce is what the others share, comment on and watch. No producers, nothing to look at.
  • Curators – like the curators in a museum, the role of this person is to collect, organise and share different things and put them together in one place for the others to come and find. They make sense of what has been produced, in order to make it easily accessible for the others. A key role in community management and other online activities.


4 – (Given point 3…) Be ready for disappointment in the beginning

The vast majority of people on a social network platform do not produce, share or comment/rate. This means that much of the time, what you put out there will not create an obvious reaction. Keep in mind 2 things:

  • It takes time to get reactions. If you have 500 followers on Twitter, you might hear from 50 of them, from time to time, if you’re lucky. If you get 5000 hits on your blog a month, you may only get 5 or 10 comments or likes. The same is true for YouTube videos.
  • ..but that doesn’t mean you are not being read. Believe in the numbers. If you have followers and friends, what you are putting out there is getting seen. If you are confident that your 500 friends and followers are well targeted potential customers, keep sharing and keep producing.


5 – Tools differ, but the golden networking triangle remains the same

Whatever you do on social networking tools for marketing purposes, you will need to consider 3 main types of activity, otherwise known as “the golden triangle”. Suggested by Jan Vermeiren in his currently free to download and highly practical book “How to REALLY use LinkedIn”, these 3 activity types will create a kind of snowball effect where the number of people you reach gets bigger, the number of reactions grows and the community continues to flourish over time:

  • Give things away. Share references. Not always your own content, but also other “on-brand” things you find on the web that might be interesting for your customers.
  • Ask for things. This can be a simple answer (a large piece of market research done via a poll), a request for expertise on a given topic or a fully crowd-sourced project development. Ask people to get involved and some of them will.
  • Thank people. From literally saying “thank you” is a start. Liking, commenting or sharing what you have seen is ever better. So is mentioning people. We are all in this together, so be nice to each other.


6 – Stay on brand. Always.

Your brand is the image you want to present of yourself, your product or service. Whatever you do on social media platforms, you have to reinforce that image. Think about it beforehand. What kind of style do you want to have? What do you want people to say about you? What do you represent? What are you the expert of? What are you offering? What can people expect from you?


7 – Consider a blended approach to what you put out there: 70/20/10

I know a man who tries to sell his products via Twitter. Every tweet says “Buy this or that product of mine”. It drives me crazy. My preferred approach comes from “The Twitter Book” by Tim O’Reilly and Sarah Milstein and I think it’s much better way to position yourself and your products and services without being too pushy:

  • 70% of your posting should be sharing other people’s stuff. If you are a hypnotist trying to sell MP3s to help people quit smoking, 70% of your tweets will be sharing resources you have found about smoking, health, fitness, cancer (whatever…), but not actually pushing your product. Your customers will understand you have an opinion on these things and you stay up-to-date and interested in what they are interested in.
  • 20% of your posting can be your own products and services. You have the right to let people know about what you have to offer and they will be interested and believe you, because of the other 70% of your activity.
  • 10% can be a little light playful personal stuff that shows the world you are not just a marketing machine out to get their money. People buy from people and your followers, friends and potential customers want to know about you too. Let them know from time-to-time what you are up to at the weekend, or how that traffic jam drove you crazy. The human touch is nice… And this 10% doesn’t kill what I just said about branding.


8 – Cross pollinate your posting and sharing

This doesn’t go against what was said in point 2. But most of the time your customers will be spread across different platforms, so your activity must be as well. If you have posted a blog-post (like this one) on WordPress, tweet it. If you think it’s OK to post on LinkedIn as well (more on in another post) update your status there as well, or put the link in a group you have created. If you find a relevant blog from someone else and your new post could add some value, add it as a comment. If you just added a video to YouTube and your post could be a nice follow up reference, mention it in the comments.


9 – If what you have to say is worth saying, saying it twice, three times, four times, five times…

Take a look at your Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter homepage. What do you see? Depending on how many people you follow/friend/connect to and how often they update things, the answer will differ. But over time, the same thing happens: Stuff disappears!

On most social network platforms, there is a “half-life” phenomenon which means that what you post disappears from your audience’s timeline exponentially at a certain rate, depending how many people they follow and how often those people are posting things. Concretely, this means that what you post now will be gone from view later. So what must you do?

  • Firstly, think about what time of day you are most likely to be read. Just after lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays is a good time. People aren’t desperately steaming ahead at the start of the week and they aren’t doing highly productive work while their lunch goes down. A good time to be read.
  • Secondly, re-post new things several times over a given period. But don’t forget point 7.


That’s it for this post. I will be back with specific tips for LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to put these ideas into practice… Sign up to follow my blog and you won’t miss a thing ! (Look in the right-hand menu bar)



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