Friday, January 29, 2010

You never even called me by my name

I've been a casual witness to quite a few hopeful openings and almost as many "wonder what happened to?" closings of businesses offering food, music and (usually) drink. Usually from the sidelines, where I notice a new name in the music listings or see the promotional efforts in the local media.

I also have a touch of experience in marketing, especially from the presentation side of things; logos, concepts, copywriting, etc.

So I feel like (or like to think) I have a certain sense of whether a place is doing a good job of establishing a foothold in the hearts and minds of the public, and more importantly, the budget of its target audience (assuming it has one in mind).

I worked at a cafe just off Music Row called Edgehill Studios Cafe for a couple of years, getting the word out about the place and its events through music listings, printed calendars, flyers, radio spots and the ever-changing PowerPoint presentation running on the flatscreen TV behind the counter.

It was an ongoing effort (and often a losing battle) to get people to say the name, the whole name, and nothing but the name of the cafe. Especially one of the original owners (a big-idea guy). Sure, as long as we all knew what we were talking about, fine, but effective branding is essential, as any marketing novice or Disney employee will tell you, so name consistency kind of, uh, matters.

One day we heard from someone who had tried to find us by calling information and they were told we weren't listed. Then I noticed we were listed in the phone book as Edge Hill (2 words) Studios Cafe. Which explains the EH logo (which, I was told, was given about a day's worth of design consideration--not enough, people). I couldn't help but think that if I'd only been there at the beginning, I could've prevented some confusion. My strong recommendation would have been to drop the "studios" altogether; even though it supported the cool concept of a multifaceted creative also no doubt confused people, given our aforementioned location off Music Row (where there are a remarkable number of recording "studios"). And we got one inquiry from someone looking for living space (another kind of "studio"). Or maybe they would've ignored me altogether, I don't know.

The place is still going strong (or at least going; I haven't seen the books). No doubt due to sensible and hardworking management (who are welcome to hire my talents again, by the way). It helps that its main product offering is a legal and addictive substance (caffeine). And it has a great location, and it's a cool space. And I like to think I helped, too.

[UPDATE: New owners took over and wisely dropped the "Studios" part of the name. The place is still open as of January 2014].

Another great little venue with identity problems, this one no longer with us, was located in the building occupied by what had been Sole Mio, and now houses the downtown Copper Kettle. The well-meaning and much-appreciated folks who wanted to make it a songwriters' mecca started with a down-home approach to the menu and called it Ga' Dang. Surprisingly, Ga' Dang did NOT serve Vietnamese cuisine. If you say the name with a strong Southern accent and draw the first part out, you may get it. Yeah.

Then, thankfully, the name was dropped and replaced with Lyrix. Big improvement, but I couldn't help thinking "80's karaoke bar." Didn't keep me from playing there, or enjoying it. Actually, the name was the only negative thing about it, other than the fact that they appealed to songwriters who are not known for big tips (or big orders).

Here's one that is, for me, very close to good: Pick's. Decent logo, but why the apostrophe? Does it belong to someone named Pick? If they'd left it off, it would have that image of guitar picks lying around after the songwriters impress everyone with their well as implying that this place is full of things you would choose ("pick"), and it also could be taken as a sports context (as in "first round draft."). My hunch is they thought the apostrophe was necessary to make it plural. Sigh.

I remember one place in Chattanooga called "The Place." 'Nuff said.

On the other hand, some establishments broadcast the wisdom and good taste of their owners with every mention. They don't have to be terribly self-explanatory or "cool" or stylish or French (please no). The best names are reasonably simple to say and spell, memorable, and meaningful. They at least have something about them that the target audience would be able to relate to in some way. The "Tin Roof"; even if you don't know why that's relevant, you picture it in your head immediately, and it implies a rustic (but hopefully not rusty) charm. The "Wildhorse Saloon" tells you what it is and beckons you to stride on in, cowboy hat optional (unless you're a tourist, in which case it's mandatory). "Mercy Lounge" is a little offbeat, with a spiritual/intellectual air, but "mercy!" is also a Jerry Lee Lewis exclamation, so you get that, too.

Maybe I'm just oversensitive to this issue given my own name issues. But in case you start your own business, especially in Nashville, please get some opinions (preferably including mine--as you may guess, it will not be difficult) before you order that metal illuminated sign.


Mike Nolan said...

I work at Edge Hill University and we have a whole host of branding issues, not necessarily through anyone's fault. Firstly "Edge Hill" is two words not one, yet a sizable number of students (and even many staff) write Edgehill. I cringe every time I read it.

Our other problem is the meaning of Edge Hill - it's the name of the place the University was founded but we're now some distance away in a town no one has heard of!

I often wonder about Edgehill Studio Cafe as it's constantly popping up on Twitter search so it must be getting a bit of buzz around it. Maybe I'll visit one day :-)

Amanda Vilendrer said...

What was the name of that club/songwriters venue on 2nd ave. near Bar Nashville? I can't remember the name of it, except that I recall it having a horrible name- hence I support your argument that more thought needs to be put into these places before they open. This joint may not still even be in business. Was it Fuel?? I think that's it. Anyways- the name in no way conveyed the type of place it actually was.

Mark Kelly Hall said...

Mike, that's funny that you have the opposite spelling of Edgehill/Edge Hill! Don't know if the cafe is worth a trip over the sea in itself, but if you're in the area it's worth putting on your agenda.

Amanda, right, it was Fuel. I didn't think that one was so bad in itself, but I never went there. That'd be cool if they had drink dispensers that looked like gas pump nozzles!