Monday, May 23, 2011

What if your company gets verbed

Everyone knows what it means to xerox a printed page. A printed page is reproduced on a thermographic sheet of paper. It also implies less directly that the copy is highly accurate and done with a miminum of fuss. Likewise, Fedexing a package means shipping it to a location for delivery the next day. It also implies that the sender can be sure the package will arrive on time. If you're asked to Fedex something and you send it USPS and it doesn't get there overnight, you may find yourself in some trouble. Everyone is probably familiar with the verb "to google."

Verbs are the words for actions, and we can't do without them. To eat, to sleep, to talk, are all things that we have to name because the concepts they capture are so necessary to our lives that we have to call them something. Nouns come and go, especially company and product names. Xerox and Fedex created functions in the business world that have become so necessary that we can't imagine operating without them. In the 1970's the idea that you could ship a package anywhere and guarantee 24 hour delivery was considered ridiculous. Now we expect to be able to Fedex anything anywhere in 24 hours. Need to move 24,000 sea turtle eggs from the Florida gulf coast to the east coast ahead of an oil spill (or "BP'ed")? Just Fedex them.

These companies were rewarded for their status in the business world by having their company names verbed. Other companies may provide a service that fulfills the function, but the verb adopted to name the action comes from the company that invented and fulfilled the service.

So, if your company name was verbed by your customers, what would it mean? Would it mean providing a unique and necessary function with high reliability and outstanding customer service? Or would it mean something else? What would you want it to mean? Do this exercise. Come up with a definition of the intended meaning of your company's verbed name. If you can do that, you just wrote yourself a mission statement.

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