It's not easy selling green

A Chinese store assistant explains a product to a customer at the first environmentally friendly electrical products shop in Beijing.

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KAI RYSSDAL: Once an entrepreneur decides on a product -- and maybe right after she's gotten her start-up money -- she's going to have to make what might be the most important business decision of all: what to call it.

Because when it comes to getting attention, a good, catchy name is everything. As environmental businesses begin to flood the market, they're turning to corporate branders to set their wares apart from the pack.

Claire Schoen listened in on brainstorming sessions between some San Francisco entrepreneurs and the branding company, Lexicon:


DAVID PLACEK: There's going to be a huge scramble in this marketplace for ecological something -- anything, really, OK.

CLAIRE SCHOEN That's Lexicon's president, David Placek. His latest client, San Francisco entrepreneur Chris Erickson, is looking for a name for a hot new product -- it's a credit card that allows customers to offset their carbon emissions. At a recent brainstorming meeting with Erickson, Placek scribbles furiously on his note pad.

PLACEK: If we created a brand here called "True." Just, uh, you're being true to the planet, true to yourself. Give me your pluses and minuses of that.

CHRIS ERICKSON: Little things go off in my head about religion [chuckle]. I don't know where that came from. And, I don't want to be too stiff either. 'Cause we want to create cool products in the sense that cool products don't contribute to global warming.

Now Placek needs to go back and work his magic to come up with just that perfect name.

PLACEK: It's glue. They have an idea that they want to bring to the marketplace -- you have to make that idea stick, right? You have to get people's attention. And the brand name is the first element of that stickiness.

Finding just the right name is key to unlocking the green market. But there's more to it, as Joel Makower knows well. He runs GreenBiz.com, which helps companies that want to go green.

JOEL MAKOWER: There's the naming of things. There's the visual elements. Is it trees, or oceans or kids? Who are the spokespeople? A strong male voice or a more maternal kind of voice? So, you've got to really think it through.

Whatever the voice, it won't get through unless consumers trust the source. Makower says Erickson and his partners are solving that problem by teaming up with three major environmental organizations.

MAKOWER: The connection to the environmental groups gives them a front door, direct connection with hundreds of thousands of potential customers. The fact that they are playing with "Big Green" -- the major environmental groups -- brings to this offering a market that I think most others would kill for.

But first, you need a name to die for. So, Erickson and his partners sit down and hash out the 43 options that Lexicon has dreamed up.

ERICKSON: "Green 2.0," "Green Side," "Triple Green," "Green Silk," -- oooh, smooth. Then they had sort of zippy names like "Zift" and "Wix" and "Xeel" with an X. We had names like "Biome" and "Capital G" and "Cooler."

For Erickson and his partner Michel Gelobter, one name topped the list. It's "Cooler."

GELOBTER: "Cooler" makes you ask a question and dig in. So you get to create a narrative with a name like Cooler.

ERICKSON: Be cool.

GELOBTER: Cooler inside.

ERICKSON: Be a climate cooler. I think it all works.

So "Cooler" it is. But does this name have the "stickiness" -- as David Placek puts it -- to become a household word? We'll find out when the "Cooler" credit card is released later this year.

I'm Claire Schoen for Marketplace and American Radio Works.

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