Pick simple names for IT products

August 29, 2012
By Jamie Yap



Even if a tech product is aimed only at certain markets or regions such as Asia, choosing a name that is simple and has global appeal helps maximize the product’s reach with consumers.

In today’s globalized and increasingly digitized world, a tech product with a highly localized name would be unnecessarily restrictive and counterintuitive, said Prem Shamdasani, associate professor of marketing at National University of Singapore Business School.

It makes more sense for companies to have product names that are globally and universally appealing, even if a product is sold only in specific or domestic markets. This will raise the company’s brand profile worldwide, Shamdasani said, noting how western brand names remain dominant in the competitive technology marketplace.

For instance, Samsung brands its handsets Anycall in China and South Korea, but realized a simpler name in English imbues a Western and more global connotation, he said, pointing to the company’s range of Galaxy devices.

Tech products built only for certain regions are increasingly rare, said Alistair Harding, head of Asia operations at brand agency, FST Singapore. Unless it relies heavily on language, such as China’s Baidu search engine, it is important products carry names that appeal in a global fashion, Harding pointed out.

Ronan Gruenbaum, marketing professor at Hult International Business School Names, said names that are easy to pronounce in English, regardless of native tongues, tend to more quickly gain global appeal and are more easily memorable.

That said, he noted there are “no hard or fast rules” about what works and what does not, and no guarantee whether a particular product name will catch on positively among customers.

Gruenbaum explained: “Some try to exude power and passion like Apple’s OS X Mountain Lion, while others try to suggest a sense of fun like Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean. Some came about because no one else had them before, such as Firefox. Some are frivolous–the sound of birds led to the name Twitter–and some are compound puns like Pinterest or Instagram.

“One can go through a complex branding exercise to try and suggest a name that summarizes the essence of the product, or name it after their children. In short, there are no rules or limitations,” he said.

Names more important, difficult
Other observers stressed the potential of a good product name, and the painstaking effort in creating it, cannot be underestimated.

Jeff Goh, managing partner and brand consultant at Scorch Identity, said there are tradeoffs when a name is either highly localized or global, whether it appeals to a smaller audience size or is “too bland”.

Another challenge is balancing the “look, hear and feel” of a name. For instance, Goh noted the “number and acronym fetish” means a bigger marketing budget is needed to educate users on a product’s unique selling points, and companies also tend to overlook how a product name sounds when pronounced in different tongues and accents.

Laurel Sutton, founder and principal at Catchword Branding, said linguistic appropriateness is one of many factors that have made naming tech products today harder than in the past.

Companies also need to worry about intensified competition and crowded trademark categories amid an increasingly litigious world on an international level, Sutton noted.

With current economic uncertainties squeezing marketing budgets, product names must shoulder more of the “heavy-lifting” to help a product stand out from the array of alternatives and communicate its benefits or essence, she added.

Sounding a nice ring
Given these difficulties, Shamdasani said it is not surprising some companies, particularly in enterprise IT, “cop out” and choose to use a product’s serial code as its actual name.

Even with corporate clients, good product names should be user-friendly because of IT consumerization, the NUS Business School professor said. The aim is to resonate with end-users directly, rather than IT buyers whom he said are less likely to get lost in product codes but are getting sidelined in terms of tech buying decisions.

Sutton added that even if names for enterprise IT products such as servers are typically long and unwieldy, they should still be adequately clear and descriptive.

“IT chiefs have limited time to research products when making purchase decisions, so they don’t want to work hard just to understand a name,” she noted.

Ultimately, good names are critical for both consumer and enterprise tech products, said David Placek, CEO and president of Lexicon Branding, which past works include RIM’s BlackBerry and Apple’s PowerBook.

“It’s the company and the product’s permanent media,” Placek said.

“Names make the first impression and are self-expressive, creating feelings of prestige, performance, reliability and value–all of which important in both business-to-consumer and business-to-business technology markets,” he said.

There are no rules when naming tech products, but monikers that are simple and have global appeal create maximum resonance among consumers. Even if a tech product is aimed only at certain markets or regions such as Asia, choosing a name that is simple and has global appeal helps maximize the product’s reach with consumers…


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