Dear Brandy

By Mark Skoultchi

October 21, 2010

A brand advice column by Brandy Monakir – Strategist & Good Listener.

Hi Everyone!

My name’s Brandy Monakir, and I’m a seasoned brand strategist. Catchword’s been nice enough to allow me to contribute to their blog by answering some of the questions they receive from all those troubled marketing souls out there. This first week I tackle a very important brand naming issue raised by Stewart Griffin of Rhode Island, who wrote:

Dear Catchword: The company I work for, a large-ish digital ad management concern, has always assigned highly descriptive names to its products and services, and the strategy has always been perfectly effective. Recently, some of my colleagues in another department persuaded management to allow them to adopt a very different sort of name for a new offering they’re developing. Of course I can’t mention the names they’re considering, but they’re all totally abstract, very unique, and unlike anything in our current portfolio! My question to you is this: when is it appropriate to assign a unique, proprietary name to a product or service, and do you think my company should deviate from the longstanding descriptive naming convention it adopted (even if informally), and allow this one product to have an altogether different and unique name? Really appreciate any insight you can provide!

Wow. Well, Stewart, thanks for the terrific question! And I can totally understand your frustration and concern.

Lets start with that first question of yours: when is it appropriate to assign a unique, proprietary name to a product or service?

Stewie (you mind if I call you Stewie?), there is a pickle barrel’s worth of reasons to adopt a unique, proprietary name for a product or service! Not surprisingly, there are also a good many reasons not to adopt a proprietary name for a product or service, and the decision to brand or not brand depends on a lot of factors. It’s what my mom used to call a “Pain in the ask”. Answering one question means having to answer 10 questions!

So, start by asking yourself the following:

  • Would a unique name influence a customer’s decision to purchase the product?
  • Would a unique name improve a customer’s ability to recall and, in turn, recommend the product to someone else?
  • Is the product really, honestly, seriously, no lie, truly unique? Truly??
  • Is the product expected to be a real revenue leader for the company?
  • Is the product likely to have a long lifecycle?
  • Do you have the marketing dollars to support a branded name? (they’re a wee bit more expensive to develop and sustain than descriptive terms)
  • Does your customer care about branding? For example, research shows that certain B2B customers, such as IT purchasing managers and engineering types actually prefer descriptive nomenclature (or even alphanumerics) that provides insight into product features and performance capabilities.
  • And, to state the obvious, are there naming protocol or a strategy in place at your company that would recommend a proprietary name for this sort of product?

If the answer to all or most of these question is “Yes” then you’re probably going to want to lace up your creative boots (tassels optional) and start kicking around some proprietary name ideas! Catchword’s Creative Lead, Maria Cypher, has got a great instructional video on how to develop unique product and company names. You might also want to check that out.

Regarding your second question, frankly Stewie I think that’s hard for me to answer. I think I would need to know more about the new product, how it’s unique, how important it will be to your company’s portfolio, and why your colleagues think it deserves a unique name. I will say that I would be reluctant to deviate from your longstanding and established naming convention (informal as it may be!) without a very compelling reason. Not only could it disrupt an otherwise consistent (and apparently successful) naming strategy, but that proprietary naming slope would become slippery right quick! Before you could say “Ad Planner Pro” all those descriptive names would become as scarce as hen’s teeth! Okay, so maybe that’s a bit alarmist, but you get the point. Pretty soon everyone would be making a case for one proprietary name or another, muddling what sounds like a pretty clear and effective naming strategy at your company.

Thanks again to Stewart for that excellent question. I look forward to all your questions in the coming weeks and months, and getting to know the Catch This community much better. Until next week…

Love & Brands,

Brandy.

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