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November 2010
The Naming Guys
By Zenda Douglas

     We all know them—they’re likely us—people who will drink only Coke, drive only Fords and wear exclusively Nike shoes. The list goes on and on of favorite, gotta-have products. Millions of consumers stand behind their products of choice with a loyalty that ranks next to that given church, school and country—things close to the heart and mind.

     That is no accident, and is exactly the goal for Addison Whitney LLC, a full-service, global brand consulting firm, which seeks to achieve total brand equity ownership—also known as heartshare and mindshare—for its clients and their products.

     “When many people think of branding and advertising, they think about what they see and hear such as a name or logo,” says Brannon Cashion, Addison Whitney’s recently appointed president. “These things are crucial but there are many more components and levels to the branding process.”

     Cashion explains that branding creates an experience for the customer or target audience. One person may believe that a Nike shirt is of higher quality while another may not, but Cashion argues that wearing the Nike shirt creates a certain feeling for the consumer: “It sends out and receives different messages.”

     Crafting and instilling messages around the product or service is at the core of Addison Whitney’s brand development. Using mental and emotional triggers, verbal and visual images, and tactile experience, it strategizes to create names, logos, marketing language and packaging to unveil and endear the product to the consumer, resulting in habitual buying behavior.

 

Branding Themselves

     Headquartered in Charlotte, Addison Whitney was established in 1991 to fill a gap in the marketing communications space. “There was a lot of excitement. We weren’t just providing a product to buy or service to hire, we were on the forefront of the industry as an industry,” says Cashion about his company and the branding industry.

     “In the early days, we didn’t have a lot of direct competitors,” continues Cashion. “In the beginning we were competing against would-be clients who were trying to do the work internally or through their trademark attorney.” Many of the company’s first clients were brought on by the pain they suffered; spending a lot of money to do it themselves with little result, according to Cashion.

     Attesting to Addison Whitney’s success and effectiveness, the list of their clients is so familiar it could be read straight from the shelves of our kitchen pantries, living rooms, garages and offices—names like Nestlé, Sara Lee, Motorola, Dell, Smuckers, Goodrich, Yoplait, Duracell, Pfizer, Bayer Healthcare, Campbells, Panasonic and Rubbermaid. And these are but a fraction of their followers.

     “Our clients typically think of us as the naming guys although we do so much more. One of our beliefs is that it’s good to be known for something rather than not to be known for anything. If naming were an easy task, our relevance would be a lot different,” says Cashion.

     “We named Outlook for Microsoft,” he continues, with obvious satisfaction. At the time, he explains, the Outlook product was more of an organizer and calendar but with many more versions envisioned, including capability for e-mail. “The discussion was whether the name should be descriptive around the first function or do we build a brand that is much more future-oriented about what the offering will be in version 2.0, 5.0, 8.0 or 9.0. The name we chose will always be able to include other things. When you think about Outlook—it’s the future.”

     Another project was Way2Save for Wachovia (now Wells Fargo) and represented a second-to-market savings program, following Bank of America’s Keep The Change. Whereas Bank of America’s program rounded debit card usage to the next dollar, Wachovia provided a dollar for each transaction.

     Addison Whitney positioned this as significant, especially to audiences that didn’t have very robust ways to save. The wording sought various meanings: this product is a way to save; for the account holder it is the way to save; and it is a congratulatory statement—“Way to Save!”

     “If a name can take on a double or triple entendre, you have a win,” says Cashion. “You have a chance to tell the story in multiple ways.”

     Another favorite naming project was the Cadillac Escalade. The name Escalade helped Cadillac launch a whole new segment to their competitive space, according to Cashion. It was the first high-end luxury SUV, boasting leather seats and wood grain panels. “The name needed to speak to moving up to the next level. Thirteen years and thousands of projects later, people still say they love the brand and it’s the one that stays with me,” shares Cashion. Addison Whitney also named Honda’s Element.

      “We’ve named something in just about every industry or category,” says Cashion. “If you randomly pull from industry space, we’ve probably done work there.” That even includes the verbal branding/name development of CATS Lynx.

 

Drug of Choice

     Addison Whitney’s specialized health care division serves the branding needs of pharmaceutical, biotechnology, life science, and medical specialties companies, such as Abbott Laboratories, Genzyme, Novartis, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline and Celgene. This segment has grown significantly since the company’s $17.5 million acquisition by InVentiv Health, Inc. in 2007.

     The parent company is an insights-driven global healthcare leader that provides dynamic solutions to deliver customer and patient success. It has four core business segments through which it delivers customized clinical, sales, marketing, and communications solutions to more than 350 leading pharmaceutical, biotech, life sciences, and healthcare payor companies, including all top 20 global pharmaceutical manufacturers.

     New drugs candidates, known as new chemical entities, are incredibly challenging to brand and name, according to Cashion because of the legal and regulatory aspects and number of trademarks already out there.

     “There are only 26 letters in the alphabet, but not a lot of combinations left that won’t infringe on a trademark in some way,” says Cashion. “We are fortunate to be ahead of the challenge in building methodologies, processes and experience to know what questions to ask and what path to take.”

     An increasingly involved FDA and advertising to patients have complicated the task further. “The name is the first thing you want them to remember so they can go into a doctor’s office and say, “I want to know more about…,”” says Cashion.

     Opportunities for branding generic drugs are growing because of pricing and health care reform. Also, pharmaceutical companies are trying to differentiate their products through various ways to administer their drug.

     Other segments of the company’s business are well entrenched including consumer packaging and restaurants. Addison Whitney is responsible for the look and feel of the Olive Garden chain of restaurants, as well as the Damon’s chain. Work is currently underway with BYB Brands to develop a new visual brand strategy and package design for Country Breeze Tea and a new product not yet announced.

     “We can’t talk about the details,” jokes Cashion with a grin. “Like Men in Black [referring to the movie], we go up there and they give us this little light that makes us forget everything.” Confidentiality is actually a critical concern, according to Cashion. “Information getting out prematurely can affect market price and market share potential.”

 

A Good Fit

     Brannon Cashion took over the presidency of Addison Whitney in May of 2010, following a 13-year tenure with the company in positions leading up to that role. Cashion was made vice president within a year of joining the company.

     “The past three years have been spent fitting the boutique Addison Whitney into the very large inVentiv organization,” says Cashion. inVentiv’s high expectations of Addison Whitney coincide with identifying Cashion as the one they wanted to drive that growth.

     Raised in New Jersey, Cashion came south to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he earned a degree in business and marketing. After college he worked in the capital markets area with Commodities Corporation., a company owned by Goldman Sachs.

     Missing the south but not missing the snow, Cashion returned to North Carolina after three years and joined First Union National Bank. A little over a year later, he met the principals of Addison Whitney. “They were very small and very entrepreneurial,” says Cashion. “I really liked that. That was a decade and a half ago. It’s been a fun ride ever since.”

     Married with three boys, ages 10, 8 and 6, Cashion balances a busy work schedule with home life. He is still able to coach a junior football team despite heavy travel demands that include at least one international trip per month. “My wife is a superstar,” he says in summation.

     The Addison Whitney headquarters, with most of its 50 employees, is ensconced amidst the trees and small lakes of Ballantyne, having relocated five years ago from the Wachovia Tower downtown. Cashion’s office is a veritable shrine to his beloved Tar Heels.

     Cashion refers to Charlotte as a great place to have headquarters with its many direct flights to Europe and one-stop flights to almost anywhere. “It’s a very manageable city and the banking industry has significantly grown the talent pool in the last 20 years. We don’t usually have to run a national search to find the best talent; they’re already here.

     Addison Whitney also has satellite offices in New York City, San Francisco and Munich, Germany, which serves as the European headquarters. Another office in Tokyo, Japan will open within this next year and will serve as an Asian base for future growth. Through inVentiv, the company has gained an additional network of potential areas in which to grow.

     Cashion describes the Addison Whitney team as deliberately eclectic. The group includes people with sophisticated language skills, creative writers, professionals in packaging, marketing, advertising and public relations, as well as those from Fortune 500 companies within a wide range of industries. “When you are small you don’t always have people that have that large business experience,” explains Cashion. “We are a creative firm; it’s nice to have a balance of people who can think structurally.” The company also employs a panel of practicing pharmacists and nurses in an advisory capacity.

     “I’m continually amazed by our team and their contagious, can-do attitude,” beams Cashion. “They are appreciative of the client and give the client what they need to be successful.”

     As Addison Whitney celebrates its 20th anniversary next year, it will continue to help clients understand their brands and build new ones from a position of strength and experience. This year the company grew by 25 to 30 percent and next year’s projections are similar.

     Cashion explains his confidence: “Over the last 18 months we’ve grown significantly in a scary economic environment. But we are brought on very early in the innovation process, so maybe there is a light at the end of that tunnel. Something is happening or they [the companies] wouldn’t be innovating.”

     Cashion acknowledges that the branding industry has grown as well: “We have a few competitors now, but joining inVentiv provides a big engine behind us.”

     For consumers, the next time you’re wondering why you can’t get enough of Stouffer’s Corner Bistro meals, Hershey’s Take5 Candy Bars or Coca-Cola’s Vault soft drinks, think—and thank—Addison Whitney.

Zenda Douglas is a Greater Charlotte Biz freelance writer.
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