When Heraclitus said, “the only constant is change,” perhaps he was talking about the telecommunications industry. The average lifespan of a cell phone these days is shorter than a mayfly’s; and the ever-shorter product lifecycle has caused a surge in names for the barrage of new devices.
Bucking this industry trend, Nokia recently announced its even simpler nomenclature strategy – using just numbers and eschewing letters entirely, except for select family names, like the Lumia. The new naming conventions are “designed to make things easier for users, so they can quickly work out where a devices sits within a series and beyond that have a clearer idea of what each series does.”
Historically, Nokia is synonymous with alphanumerics, raising the first mobile generation on a steady diet of letters and numbers. You probably remember the exact model number of your first Nokia, but back then, there just weren’t that many phones to choose from. And as Nokia expanded its portfolio, it became hard to remember that X-series stands for “entertainment,” E-series means “executive/enterprise,” C-series is “core,” and N-series means “new” (and isn’t “new” relative anyway?).
Not to mention that specific devices became indistinguishable from each other, and customers couldn’t tell one model from another (Samsung’s similar problem led them to pare down their nomenclature as well). The jury’s still out on whether Nokia’s new naming strategy actually “reduces customer confusion,” but I think it does. Each Nokia device gets a new number between 100 and 900, with lower numbers indicating lower price and complexity of features; for example, they launched with the 600, 700, and 701 – intended as mid-range devices. Seems pretty clear to me.
OK, so cold-hard numbers aren’t as sexy or inviting as real-word names like “Galaxy” or “Droid” or “iPhone,” but keep in mind that only a handful of these sub-brand names have ascended to the awareness of the masses. The rest – anyone remember “Replenish,” “Devour,” or “Incredible”? – wandered off in the wireless shuffle.
Sometimes classic design principles really do apply: less is more. That means less of those romantic real-word/lightly-coined names. They should be applied sparingly – like butter – to signal truly differentiated offers, as Nokia does with its first Windows phone, the Lumia — which signals a radical departure from the other names in its portfolio.
Now this name does work harder to establish an emotional bond with the customer than say “C6-101.” Despite the web brouhaha about Lumia meaning “prostitute” in Spanish – oh, how could a company like Nokia overlook such a double meaning?! – I actually quite like the name. It rings prettily when said with “Nokia.”
And as their blog entry points out, the Nokia brand architecture team did pick up on the “prostitute” association. Deeper inquiry revealed that most Spanish customers thought of “’light’ and ‘style,’ rather than the more obscure, negative meaning.” And remember that names rarely appear in a vacuum. With the appropriate messaging and visual context, most Spanish-speaking customers probably won’t think about paid sex. Virgin is a good example; the word itself could be risqué, but the totality of the brand’s identity and communication conveys so much more than sensuality (or lack thereof).
The Nokia folks go on to explain that in “Finland…’lumi’ means snow, and lumia means slow in plural,” which further communicates the sense of clarity, light, and lucidity – all positive attributes of a brand-defining product. I also like that it’s short and easy to say in many languages.
So, Nokia, kudos for pimping out your newest device, in a classy manner.
Overall Grade: B+