Name Games: Syrup vs. Sugar…1830DX vs. PlantFloor Pro

Anyone who has been involved in naming anything knows how much thought goes into selecting that name.  I’ve facilitated many groups to help work through a naming process for a new brand, product, or service.   I’ve had some really great experiences and others where it comes to a grinding halt.  The problem often stems in balancing the expectations of what the “vision” of the product is and how the name helps communicate that.  Often  times we want the name to solve too many problems, and things get off track.

There’s also the tangled problem of registering a name.  Checking the availability of a name is critical, and often leads people back to the drawing board.   Social media only adds more layers of complexity. Even a prime time sitcom I watched on TV the other night made fun of a Twitter name with an “Underscore”… So true, no one wants the darn underscore but our choices are slim these days.  It’s a real challenge out there.

It’s not just technology companies either.  Just a couple weeks ago, the Corn Refiner’s Association wants to change the phrase from “Corn Syrup” to “Corn Sugar” in an attempt to change our negative perceptions about high fructose corn syrup.  It feels like the food industry is polishing a rock here.  Fortune Magazine summed up the corn syrup/sugar issue here, with reasons for and against:

Sucrose’s comeback comes thanks in large part to the critics of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) who have spent years attacking the substance not as part of an overall campaign against sugar, but as part of a very focused campaign against HFCS alone. Rather than condemning all sugars, they instead have tended to compare HFCS, unfavorably, to sucrose. The unintended effect? Convincing the public not only that HFCS is poison, but also that sucrose is a not-so-bad alternative. Both notions are false.

Some of those critics made big fun last week of the CRA’s request to the Food and Drug Administration for the name change. As they note, it’s a transparently craven, desperate marketing maneuver. And yet, the new name, if approved, is actually much more accurate than high fructose corn syrup, which isn’t particularly high in fructose. HFCS is sugar made from corn.

Frankly, I’m tired of the tom foolery as a consumer we have to process.  We’re informed consumers, we know the dirty secret of high fructose corn syrup. Will this switch sell more corn products?  Time will tell.  It just seems a slight bit deceptive to me, all I can think of is some magician guy trying to trick us with what hand is holding the quarter.

It struck me that we do that to our customers.  We make things nifty or tricky and end up confusing things even more.  In a recent discussion thread in our ISA Marketing & Sales LinkedIn group, one of our members raised the question about product naming conventions in the automation industry.

I must say the automation industry is one of the worst offenders in creating names that are irrelevant to the product, especially when it comes to hardware. The responses in the discussion thread were mostly about war stories of horrible names chosen, but it got me thinking about the importance of simplicity.   In the end, it does all come down to how you market the product/services.

Here are some thoughts when it comes to naming conventions:

  1. KISS – Yes, the Keep it Simple, Stupid principle applies.  Let’s not overcomplicate things.  Once you are weeks into a process and you still have not settled on a name, it’s already gone too far. Scrap it all, start over and add some new minds to the mix to move the log-jam.
  2. Involve only who you must.  While it’s great to pull together a brainstorming crew, remember at the end this is not a democracy.  Engineers who are tightly involved with the product development often feel territorial about the product and can be difficult to manage in the process.  A final decision will need to be made and it may not be what everyone wants.
  3. Make sure the name you choose has some flexibility to expand, especially if it’s a new brand or product line.  Consider up front how future products would work with that name before you finalize a decision.
  4. Do a quick litmus test:  If there is a remote possibility that you think customers won’t get it, then they most likely won’t.  This goes back to #1.
  5. Remember that getting names registered expands to the major social media networks too, not just domain URLs anymore.
  6. Try not to be too literal.  Numbers, dates, acronyms can be confusing.  Think from a customer’s point of view and the value it is bringing to them.  Ex., a customer needs a quarter inch hole, not a quarter inch drill.
  7. Once it’s settled, keep it consistent.  If you choose numbers, then stick with a standard approach for naming subsequent products. Don’t start tacking “A”, “B”, “C” on the end of model number and expect that people will know the difference, or more importantly, remember the difference.

More tips are included in an article I wrote an article called “What’s In A Name? Six Key Considerations” that may be helpful to review.

If we all agree that simplicity is important, then maybe we’ll discover a newer, easier way to communicate our brands, products and services.  What is your experience with naming products, brands, services?

2 Comments

  1. C.G. Masi says:

    It’s a little unfair to pick on the automation industry about product names. In this case, it’s engineers talking to engineers. They’re used to arcane nomenclature. Not long ago (I don’t know if it’s still true, ’cause things change fast in electronics), if you said “Throw a 741 in there,” to an instrumentation engineer, he or she would know exactly what you meant, how to do it, and could quickly surmise why you wanted it.

    That said, product namers should always remember what Arnie Cantor, who was head of the MIS (remember MIS?) department when I worked for DuPont as a system analyst, said: “Remember that a name is nothing but a name. Don’t make it carry information.”

    People remember words more easily than numbers. That’s why my name is “Charlie,” rather than 4BZ10. In general, a name has only two requirements: it should be easy to say in your head (so you remember it easily), and it should be sufficiently unique to avoid confusion. It’s only in the marketing world that people superload names with things like “expressing the product’s most salient feature.”

  2. juliann says:

    Charlie,
    Thanks for the comment. I agree that often times marketers spend too much time on names that try to solve too many things. I think most technology industries struggle with choosing names, not just automation. But I’ve seen more examples of “number-letter” abbreviation names with industrial products more than any other. It is engineer speak, as you say. And that’s not a bad thing really. But I disagree ” that a name is nothing but a name. Don’t make it carry information”. Doesn’t hold water anymore. A name is part of the overall brand or in some cases becomes it’s own brand. When we start talking about “windows” we don’t think of the one’s in our house, we think Microsoft. So that’s why I’m advocating for a little more thought when naming names because it does count. Or it could count more. But if we are relegated to arcane letter-number abbreviations, that chance is really gone. And not every product deserves the same attention either, but for the new products that are going to set a new standard and grow a new product line, they should be chosen with more care and consideration of how it will present the corporate brand overall.

    Thanks again for stopping by! Good conversation…

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