What’s in the Name? Naming New Products and Re-branding

Coming up with a new product name, creating new packaging and staying loyal to the master brand could be quite a challenge, especially when multiple stakeholders are involved. So, what helps us go through this creative process? What can we already apply for our benefit that was tested and lived through? – Provided that we look at every product launch as a truly unique experience (which it is), here are some nuggets from my research to share on the subject:

I. The branding signals beyond the name
II. The necessity to change names and logos when strategies change
III. The beauty of the unique names

Firstly, Allen Adamson in his book “BrandSimple: How the Best Brands Keep it Simple and Succeed” points out the concept of bringing brand signals beyond the name. In other words, there should be some sort of a unique customer experience that reinforces your product name and transfers its meaning even further: instant perceptions of a product experience. This information can be of great value when you are to change the name of the service, product or even a corporate name. He calls these experiences – “power signals”. Examples of those signals could be:

1. People behind the brand – like FedEx employees delivering “reliability”. Before its expansion into the global markets, the brand had a name of “Federal Express”. It served well for a while till the company moved into a broader service scope both functionally and geographically. Federal Express became too limiting and not succinct in expressing the brand power and did not allow “capitalizing on what became a positive fact of life. “FedEx became a ubiquitous term everyone used for an overnight delivery. In 1996, FedEx was formally adopted as a brand name which followed the logo change as well. Moreover, FedEx is a fast, confident and super-efficient brand, so its employees! You have to deliver on the promise you have in your brand name –already!

2. Exclusive product placement –like Gatorade, can be another power signal. Its placement into the football game –“dunking of the winning coach” – almost became a very recognizable association. The trick though not just in the right placement at the right media and the right place – it truly evolves around the authenticity of the product benefit – it is created for the athletes and it does improve performance. So, it just makes sense to be endorsed in the football game placements.

3. The speed at which the brand is recognized – the power of the icon, can be very effective to communicate your meaning. KFC managed to get the attention of folks speeding at the interstate by using its recognizable icons. Originally, it used to be fully spelled out as Kentucky Fried Chicken with a pretty sizable image of Colonel Sanders. When the brand team had a re-design challenge, they first shortened the name to KFC AND increased the speed of service. Then, they reduced the size of the image to the postage stamp. What happened later is very interesting: customers perceived the change in the name (shortened version) as sensible, but interpreted the loss of sizable image as the indicator that the meal is no longer home-cooked quality. They wanted the image back. Colonel’s face was equal to Micky Mouse ears – highly recognizable.

4. The power of the first impression or a first mover – Genworth – (a spin off of the GE) – can be effective. The company utilized the parent cache of the GE brand and solved the challenge of getting to the market fast by differentiating itself through the parent company heritage (excellent management and credibility), leaving the GE in the name and by coming up with the “generation- worth-assets” meaning – Genworth.

5. Advertising – could rule? Couldn’t it? Yes, it could. The U.S. Department of Transportation had a success campaign “Friends Don’t Tell Friends Drive Drunk” utilizing the four fundamental principles of effective advertising: grab a viewer’s attention, communicate to the right audience, persuade and stimulate the action and be effective overtime to build the recognition. This was a vivid example of that.

6. WOM – Word of Mouth – was utilized by Blackberry to develop a community and a cult movement of Type A personalities: people who make things happen in the professional world. The functionality this communication tool provided directly appealed to the emotional need of those professionals to stay in touch –always! If your product integrates well into your customers’ lifestyle – you might use this power signal very effectively. Just launch a community campaign, make it interactive and integrative of the customer experience with the product.

7. PR – used by Dove – capitalizing on the simple benefit and an authentic statement (providing soap which consists of ¼ of a cleansing cream). Testimonials became the strongest part of the branding campaign: there was evidence to its claim to make women beautiful every day. However, the most effective research fact the company used is expanding the definition of beauty for its customers – that made more women feel beautiful! It showed variations of beauty in its ads further on, thus increasing the 2 % of confidence to potential 10%! Brilliant!

8. Experience, as was implied before in the previous items, can be quite differentiating: Ann Taylor maximized the retail space to provide a unique experience to the professional busy women: it always provided high quality, high coordination items – thus appealing to a broader demographic. It is like a friend who will always give you a sound advice on clothing! If you go there next time, pay attention to the fact how well the retail space is designed to make it a fast and efficient shopping experience when a busy woman can run there at lunch and have a perfect outfit in 15 mins due to its consistent layout.
Sephora did the same by redefining the experience of make up shopping by brining it to customers for play!

Secondly, Joan Schneider in her book “New Product Launch: 10 Proven Strategies” shares her extensive expertise and experience with the new product launch strategies. This is a great guide to the topic with solid cases. The ones, I particularly liked referred to Compaq and British Petroleum. The former used to be a 1000-dollar mini computer brand that expanded into other markets. It had a perfect name for its initial products, but failed to see the need for image change when it brought other products through acquisition. The old brand (name, logo, etc) did not coexist well with the new strategies, thus bringing confusion. Eventually, Compaq was bought by HP.

British Petroleum on the other hand, had a success story when the need for re-branding occurred. It already moved strategically into global markets and it did expand on the energy offerings beyond oil. Leveraging the brand cache of BP (initial letters) and integrating the “beyond petroleum” strategy, BP had an effective repositioning. Perhaps, it is a synergy between the senior management support and true marketers.

To the third point, Seth Godin proposes to use the strategy of making the names up as opposing to turn to the benefit-description techniques. He points out that the unique name not only moves you forward in the differentiation game, but also develop its secondary meaning in a short period of time –initially internally and later externally. “The entire point of “secondary meaning” is that the first meaning doesn’t matter at all (especially since you picked a name with no meaning to begin with). Over time, a surprisingly short time, your unique word, especially if it sounds right, will soon be the one and only word.”

And this is just a tiny glimpse into the magic of brand perceptions world! A combination of art, psychology and common business sense!

Summing it up:

1) It is imperative for you to understand that bold moves pay off if you set them right with solid strategic planning.

2) It is important to look at the entire initiative as a “gestalt” or a “whole” integrative movement (like in a chess game): where all your communication pieces are in play: logo, product name, brand cache, and power signals embedded in the product experience. This allows you to choose a wining strategy based on the wealth of available product launch and re-branding knowledge that is still highly focused on your unique brand case.