Monday, July 31, 2006

What's in a name? (Product Branding)

What is a brand? It has been defined as a name or symbol used to identify a product of manufacturer. Many brand names are trademarked, like Coca-Cola, Kleenex and Xerox.

Getting the brand name correct can be very important. For example, if you ask for a Coca-Cola in a restaurant -- and the restaurant only serves Pepsi -- they have to ask if Pepsi is okay. Coca-Cola means something specific!

Sometime brand names have become the generic name for their type of product. This has happened to Kleenex. Xerox has tried to keep people from making its trademark something generic. Xerox employees -- especially sales people -- are quick to correct those who use the word "Xerox" incorrectly. (It is a company name, not an action.)

When naming businesses, products and projects, we often look to create meaningful names (The Internet Archive), but sometimes create names that could stand for anything (Hurst Associates, Ltd.). What becomes important is that people who see the name understand what it stands for, whether or not the name itself conveys that information. Sometimes the "what" is learned from interaction. Going to the Christmas Tree Shop, for example, one learns that it is a shop, but that it isn't focused on Christmas trees at all. It is a place for bargains. Gee, the name doesn't say that!

If the name doesn't convey what the "thing" is, then there is more work that must be done in order to ensure that people associate the name with the right thing. If you're going to name a new digitization project, for example, you might use the word "digitization" or perhaps "digital library." However, even those words don't have stable meanings, so you might instead name the project after your location or the content. mmm...yes...decisions...and important ones. Changing a name can be a huge hassle. (And we know that some people will always call "it" by the old name. For example, I still refer to Marine Midland Bank, although it hasn't existed in many, many years. Long ago it became part of HSBC.) I've been thinking abut names, these questions came to mind:
  • Can you create a name -- a brand -- that people will recognize?
  • Will the name convey what it is?
  • Are you willing to do the additional marketing that might be necessary if the name is fuzzy?
  • Are you willing to continually explain the name to people who "don't get it"?
  • If people use the wrong name, are you willing to correct them, even if you have to it over and over again? (BTW this might be a clue that you selected the wrong name OR that you're dealing with stubborn people!)
When you decide to create a new name, you might want to employ someone who does "branding." Yes, it is a cost, but depending on what you are naming (your organization, for example), having an expert help you could be quite useful. For example, the Pioneer Library System in New York State went through a re-branding process. The System covers Livingston, Ontario, Wayne and Wyoming counties. The people in the libraries had always thought of the counties in that order. However, a branding expert looked and saw the possibility of a cool acronym -- OWWL. And so now the System's URL and logos, etc., all have to do with an owl (OWWL). (Perhaps a library staff member would have thought this up, but the branding expert was able to think up the acronym AND create all the new branding materials.)

One final question (or two or...). When you tell people your project's name, your department's name or even your organization's name, what do they think of? Does the name convey the right meaning? If not, can you do more marketing and brand awareness? Or is a name change in order?

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