Innovation

The name game: Where catchy is key

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In the beginning there was the word ‘Om’ – the purest sound of God, so it is said. Then there were many a zillion words and now there are IWords™.  IWords is an invention of Potter (our resident marketing optimistic.)

The question is: what are IWords™ and will they extend Apple’s branding creativity or will they go the way of the Inosaurus; akin to the living dead in the world of dinosaur discoveries? While we wait for answers, Megan (our resident scholarly sceptic) uncovers fascinating insights on the interplay of words, inventions, innovations and branding.

Corporations do pretty well at communicating clearly with their customers. But what’s involved in naming breakthrough innovations just out of R&D and innovative new products?

Some get it right early on; some never get it right; some get away with never getting it right and sometimes it doesn’t matter. It does not matter when technical specialists use measuring devices with names (Bettsometer, Bevameter, Bolometer, calorimeter and ceilometer, for example) and scales that most of us will never know. The specialists have been trained, so the names and the methods, however sensible or strange, are nicely implanted in their minds.

Name-friendliness matters when the names are a barrier to buyers and users. On the one hand sales can be lost; on the other, jobs for specialist “interpreters” can be created.

Consider MBTI, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. Globally it is perhaps the most widely used indicator of the preferences people have for things that energise them, for perceiving their world and for making decisions. We can be labelled IFTP, INTJ or ESFP or any other of the sixteen MBTI types. (The ethical dangers and innovation-slaying side-effects of typing tools are an important issue for another blog.)

Many managers have used MBTI and know their likely “type”. But only trained specialists remember and understand all 16 types. In stark contrast, remembering Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats® is easy. So is remembering the 16 colours in a new tool we have discovered called ColourGrid™ (ColourGrid is a strategic marketing and HR tool that incorporates MBTI as a reference point.)

When thought pioneers enter new territories the best words and phrases to describe what they are uncovering or creating may not exist. So they use existing (old) words. When their work grows in popularity those clumsy old words stick. They stick like sticky rice and come along for the ride and each new generation of enthusiasts labours over learning the complicated terminology and then pass it onto the next. As illustrated by MBTI, complicated words and codes can dominate products for decades.

Sometimes the words and theories are simplified, or oversimplified, leading to a loss of meaning and standards. Not surprisingly, few have time to digest the brilliant writings of Freud and Jung. (The MBTI was based on Jung’s ideas.)

However, more than one psychology PhD has written a popular Readers Digest-type book re-presenting major parts of Freud and Jung. One example is Reinventing Your Life: The Breakthrough Program to End Negative Behaviour…and Feel Great Again. According to the blurb at Amazon, it tells “readers how to free themselves from negative life patterns” by guiding them “through the process of identifying “life traps”. Some such books acknowledge their sources and others don’t. The book certainly cuts through the vast swampy reaches of the thought paths of the pioneers.

What’s the lesson? If you are involved in breakthrough ideas and innovation or simply naming a new Business-to-Consumer (B2C) product, get an “outsider looking in” opinion on names, phrases and terminology. A catchy new name can even relaunch and reposition a product.  

Names are also important when developing brands. Once again Apple provides an exemplary example with iPods, iPhones an iPads. We pondered how much research was behind Apple’s choice of “I” as opposed to, for instance “E” (electronic) or “D” (digital).  In terms of brevity it even beats “MY”, as in MySpace.

Marketing communications either catch attention or fail. Brands help; the best can pierce minds.

Great brand names that are memorable and match missions/product positions work best. One of the best ways to create candidate brand names is to play with words.  Where would most of us think about buying pizza: Naked Pizza or The World’s Healthiest Pizza? Naked Pizza also has the virtue of being short and simple. Accounting software QuickBooks® are not always quick, but the name, along with Quicken, did quicken sales.

If you have ever enjoyed the clarity, focus and brevity of clearly-written product or service descriptions; fumed and fulminated over muddy, complicated and confusing instructions, or had the pleasure of deciding not to buy after attempting to untangle byzantine babbling, you will recognise the opportunity and the challenge.

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