Monday, May 2, 2016
BRAND NOMENCLATURE, OR WHAT’S IN A NAME?
We had a thought-provoking conversation this past week with a longtime former client, experienced senior marketer, and dear friend. Although he has spent most of his career in fast-moving consumer goods, lately he has been in the service business, and one of the things he and his colleagues are seriously considering is a change in their big brand’s “naming system” or, as some call it, their brand nomenclature. In thinking through some options with him, we took a step back to think through some brand nomenclature principles…ones that apply to any industry.
Our first realization was simply this: unlike most aspects of strategic marketing, brand nomenclature (whether naming a totally new brand, a sub-brand, a line-extension, or an entire system of these) is rarely very strategic! By far the preponderance of names that enter the marketplace do so more haphazardly, often based mostly upon someone’s judgment, or upon trademark-able availability: “Is this a good name? Do we like this name? Can we own this name?”
As a case in point, back in the mid-1980’s when Frito-Lay was about to launch a major new flavor for the Doritos Brand (a ranch-dressing flavor), although the Company had a pretty standard practice of naming flavors that reflected the actual, driving flavor of the chip, none other than the head of R&D pushed hard for a flavor name that he personally liked: Avocante. There was no consumer-research basis for such a flavor name; nor, in fact, was there any hint of avocado in the seasoning formulation…which such a name obviously suggested. Fortunately, the brand team was able to convince the ultimate decision-maker to go with the right name: Cool Ranch. But, again, such an incident demonstrates how, when it comes to choosing a name, the strategic discipline is often missing.
What would it take to better ensure some strategic discipline when naming a new brand, a brand’s line extensions, or a branding system? Here are a few of the strategic principles we would recommend:
- Start with a brand positioning strategy. Since the positioning strategy governs everything that the brand does or will do, what better place to start than with the brand name? As we are both former wearers of contact lenses, we have personal experience with and some admiration for the original, leading disposable contact lens brand, Acuvue. Although we did not personally work on the naming of Acuvue, we’ve always inferred that the name was consciously chosen to drive home the brand’s market entry positioning, namely, outstanding vision (as in “Accurate Viewing”). If you think back to those days, when disposable contacts first came out, there was considerable doubt raised by both spectacle brands and re-useable “hard” contact lens brands regarding the visual quality of this new-fangled disposable lens. Of course, over the years disposable contacts have proven to be the norm in outstanding CL vision. And other positioning-need/benefits have grown in importance—such as long-wear comfort in the eye. Enter Acuvue Oasis, for example, as a line extension name that retains the fundamental brand positioning, while adding implied comfort with the oasis word. It may not always be possible to determine a brand positioning before having a brand name, but it definitely is a best practice.
- Speak to the main promise or benefit. This may sound like merely another way of saying start with a brand positioning. But, as we know, the brand positioning strategy includes more than just the benefit-promise; it includes the target definition, competitive framework, reasons why, and brand character or personality. Any one of these might serve as the focus in naming a brand, sub-brand, or line extension. And, depending upon the industry or category wherein the brand competes, any one of these might be a better basis for the nomenclature. But we’ve found that you can never go wrong with having the name communicate the brand’s central promise or benefit…as in Cool Ranch Doritos or Acuvue.
- When thinking about transitioning from a single product under the brand name to a system of line extensions, seek out and study “facsimile models.” Whenever we have worked on portfolio nomenclature projects with clients, one of the very first things we do is scour the marketplace for brands with successful portfolio nomenclature, and then “map them out” on paper. Nor do we limit ourselves to brands in “close-in” categories; rather, we look at unexpected categories but always at brands that share something common with the client’s situation. Once we have a few good models, as a team we aim to infer their rationale…their nomenclature strategy, so to speak, and then assess the strengths and weaknesses of that strategy for our brand. When you conduct an exercise like this there is always one thing that almost astounds you: way too many brands (fast-moving consumer, automobiles, financial services, you name it) have obviously not thought through a clear, tight nomenclature strategy.
- And, when transitioning from an existing portfolio nomenclature to some new one, have a disciplined transition plan. Funny, how every so often, usually after a brand portfolio has proliferated beyond comprehension, that management feels the need for a new, simpler naming system. Such new systems often either don’t work or take a long, long time to work for one reason: consumers and customers love the familiar. This principle checks out time and again when conducting research with brand packaging and nomenclature. That’s why it’s so important to lay out a carefully crafted plan to “get customers or consumers comfortable” with the new system. It seems we always have detailed plans for new product or line extension launches; but we rarely have detailed plans for new nomenclature launches.
We often hear that marketing is a blend of art and science, and that’s generally true. Sometimes when people say this they are suggesting that the art part is more personal judgment and the science part is more hard analytics. Along these lines, then, coming up with a brand name tends to fall more into the “art personal judgment” camp. But we disagree. What both the art and science of marketing share in common is their demand for disciplined, strategic thinking. Winning brand nomenclature requires a winning strategy.
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
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