Baboushka

Baboushka branding part 2

I've already written about the trend of giving Russian or Russian-sounding names to products and brands in my post Baboushka branding or a bit of "Russianness" in marketing. In that blog post, I talked about a seemingly persistent trend among US and European companies to take inspiration for product and brand names from the Russian language.  Specifically, I talked about a concrete fascination by the word b a b o u s h k a. And here is another baboushka story for you!

I've just come across this post about a recently redesigned bottle for an Australian-produced vodka called Baboushka. While purely from the design point of view I find the bottle design quite okay, there are some details that struck me in the text of the article, namely:

1) According to the article, the agency that redesigned the bottle, "built an emotional brand story around the existing ‘Baboushka’ name avoiding Russian vodka inspired clichés." I wonder  how  can such a truly Russian name allow one to avoid Russian cliches, and why would one even want to avoid them?  Baboushka is just a common noun in Russian, there are no real stories attributed to it, at least in the context of its common use.

Image of Baboushka vodka. Incorrect Russian text is underlined in red

2) The Russian text on the bottle does not really mean anything.  I guess that «Премия водка» was an attempt to translate "premium vodka", quite unsuccessfully.  I suggest to brands that try to seek inspiration from foreign languages and cultures to always check with qualified people who speak those languages first!  :)

To conclude, the use of "baboushka" in brand discourse never stops to surprise me.  I think there's even some additional meaning that's been developing around this word outside of Russia, and some Russian-speaking linguists should definitely look into it.

As far as brand strategy goes, my advice is to check the spelling and meaning of foreign words you put on your packaging.  This will surely help you avoid some surprises!

Learn to speak the language of your brand

Photo by eperales on Flickr When you start a new business, one of the first things on your very long to-do list will be choosing a good brand name for your product or service. Deciding on a brand name often ends up being a very painful process. It's almost as hard as choosing the right name for your newborn, but in some cases, even more complicated than that!

This is especially true if you plan to build your brand internationally.

But first, what is, anyway, a good brand name?

The basic rule of thumb is that your consumers, not just yourself, have to find it pleasant (or, shocking, surprising, attention catching) to the ear and as a result, m-e-m-o-r-a-b-l-e. But  what if your present or future consumers are in France, Australia and Japan? Which ears will the name have to appeal to?  And how to make sure that a brand launched on the French and Japanese markets doesn't have any hidden “surprises” in either of them?

A good rule of thumb is to invest some time and rigor into the choice of your international brand name right from the start. Often, simply being aware of potential differences between how your brand name might be perceived in different countries is a good start. If you keep this in mind, you are likely to avoid a situation of finding out that your brand name has undesirable associations in a language different from your own.

For instance, a German brand of home accessories called Koziol sounds quite remarkable in Russian! Although a direct meaning of “koziol” is “goat”, in familiar Russian this word is often used to refer to someone who is a bit of a … loser. I already mentioned this example in my previous article on brand names, Baboushka Branding or a bit of Russianness in Marketing.

Here are some considerations that might help you navigate through complicated issues of international brand building:

  • First, choose a temporary brand name that sounds good to you. It's easier to think through your business strategy when you have at least some sort of name in place! Don't order any logos or buy URLs associated with this name before you have more clarity about your overall business strategy. I often deal with situations when a company that makes great products with a lot of potential, comes to me for brand strategy advice after already having selected a dubious name, and done all the graphic work around it.
  • Prepare a business plan:  A business plan is an excellent framework that allows you to think through many aspects of your business, including overall business strategy, marketing, financial forecasts, risk scenarios, as well as your company values. Once you have the values clear, they might trigger further ideas for a good name!
  • Think internationally: It's good to have an idea about the international scope of your business from the start. This is especially important to remember for a company that originates in a relatively small market. For European companies which often trade across borders, the question of choosing a brand name that is easily understood across the whole of Europe is essential. The same goes to any e-commerce business that plans to sell goods across many geographies.
  • Build a multilingual team: Once you've established the geographical scope of your main markets, get some help from people who can speak the corresponding languages. You can use the Questions and Answers in LinkedIn, or even experiment with language teaching sites such as busuu.com or myngle.com in order to identify such people and ask their opinions. The aim is simply to get some flavor of how your brand name will sound in the language of your customers across the world!
  • Develop cultural awareness: A somewhat more challenging  task that should nevertheless be on your radar screen is thinking through the cultural associations that your brand name might have in your target markets. Even if you try to introduce your US brand in the UK or Australia, check whether the existing name will be perceived the way you initially intended, even if the language spoken across these countries is the same. Hire good people who have highly developed cultural sensitivity skills -- this investment will be extremely important in your international business development.

This list is not exhaustive, and selecting a good name for your international brand that would sound equally successful in different geographies is a very complex issue. If you want to navigate through this complexity gracefully, don't hesitate to contact SCHMOOZY FOX for advice, and make sure you implement that new year's resolution to learn a new language soon enough!

Baboushka Branding, or a bit of "Russianness" in marketing

This article illustrates use of Russian-sounding names in product marketing in Western Europe. It also identifies the gap of Russian brands outside of Russia's borders.