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Naming stuff just to name stuff is lame stuff

February 21, 2011

I have to put up with a lot of stuff in my role and one of the more amusing and frustrating is having to put up with other executives and their opinions about branding. Everyone seems to have an opinion on it. And normally that opinion is, to put it kindly, misguided. And yet they not only offer it, but they often persist in having us pursue it.

They make many mistakes when it comes to branding, starting with a misunderstanding around what it even is. They think it’s all about having a product name, the logo, the tagline and the design elements. Want to guess what’s it all about? Here is a clue. None of the above. Repeat after me. None. Of. The. Above.

A brand is all about the end to end client experience. Without that, it’s nothing. With it, it’s everything. Yes, the product name, the logo, the tagline and the design elements must support the experience, but it all starts and ends with the experience.

Many mistakes will begin with a desire to have a product name in the first place. We’re guilty of that. We have a great brand already but we want to bastardize it by bringing in new brands for every product that comes along. Soon you have brand proliferation and brand confusion. General Motors had (has?) lots of problems and brand proliferation was one of them. They had too many brands. And too many brands ends up creating brand dilution and brand confusion. You lose the ability to focus and to properly position your brands in the marketplace. When that happens consumers get confused and they tune out. Think about all the brands GM had to support. First, there was the GM brand itself. Then there were each of the manufacturing division brands such as Saturn, Chevrolet and Cadillac. Then you had each of the individual car brands, such as the Avalanche, Enclave and Escalade. That’s a lot of brands to maintain, even with significant advertising and marketing expenditures. By cutting down their brands GM can focus the same resources on fewer stories, garnering more bang for the buck. They still have work to do. If they asked me I’d recommend stop investing in the GM brand itself, because it isn’t a brand, it’s a corporate holding company and publicly traded stock that is a keeper of the brands. But I digress.

What was insane in our world is we don’t have the same advertising and marketing resources as GM does and we still thought it desirable to name stuff, because names were cool. Who decided that? Non-marketers. And then they got pissed off at the marketers for failing to push the product out the door and create interest in the brands. Yep. Welcome to my hell. Think about financial products. What comes to mind? Life insurance. Mutual funds. Certificates of deposit. Right? And if you could buy those products from World Class Financial Company, why wouldn’t you lead with that company name and then call the product what it is? Well, you would. Unless you weren’t a marketer but only thought you were. If you thought you were a marketer but were really an investment banker, accountant, teller, broker or actuary you might think it would be cool to “brand” your products and give them names such as Sunseeker and Everest and Axis. No one would know what the hell you were talking about or trying to recommend to them, but hey, you’d have a cool name.

Not that long ago we launched a new product and were able to actually call the product by a much more intuitive name. Lots of people were sad at first. They wanted us to brand the product. I pointed out we wanted to sell the product. That was goal number one. And to sell the product we had to call it what it was. So we did. And we’re selling lots of the product because we’re not spending time trying to explain the name. Rather, we’re getting to spend our time explaining how the product fits a client’s particular situation and the benefits the product provides them. Those are valuable conversations to have. Explaining what the heck a “Retirostrata” is not.

It helped we had some research to prove our point. We have some pretty interesting product names on our shelf. We went to the top recommenders of one of them (we will call it Product X) and asked them what they thought about Product X. Only one person even referred to it as Product X. Most said they called it by it’s generic product name because people weren’t buying Product X, but were buying the company behind it or the benefit it provided. The best moment was when a few asked what was Product X, because they didn’t know. Yep. They did. Some of the top recommenders of Product X didn’t know we called it Product X.

I often remark we only have so much time in front of our customers and ask how do we want to spend that time? Explaining away things that are essentially proprietary to us or things that are proprietary to consumers? Which is more important? Let’s run through the options again. You have thirty minutes with a potential consumer of financial services. How do you want to spend those thirty minutes? Option A is explaining what the heck a “Retirostrata” is, how we came up with that name and why that name is really, really cool. Or do you want to go with Option B and use that time to uncover a need and present options that clearly meet that need?

Here’s an example. Let’s say you want to book a hotel room and you call up Hotel X. Hotel X says “can we offer you a stay in our Evening Bliss Cocoon?” How do you respond to that? Would something along the lines of “ah, I just want a room”, sound about right? To which Hotel X might then say “the Evening Bliss Cocoon is a room”. So why call it something different than what it is. Hotels don’t need to offer Evening Bliss Cocoons. They need to offer rooms. They might offer Standard, Deluxe and Premium rooms, but they all remain rooms.

Your potential buyers are busy people. They don’t have time to figure out what you are trying to tell them. Your marketing staff are also busy people. They don’t have time or the resources to position badly positioned brands from the get-go. Your team needs to get to the point. Quickly. Your potential buyers need to make decisions. Quickly.

When your name is lame you will know who to blame.

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