If you’ve spent any time in the technology industry, you’ve probably come across some seriously bad brand names. And what has always particularly bothered me is that many tech companies can’t just stop with one bad brand name—they attempt to create new brands for every single product, service, or sub-brand in addition to their corporate brand.
Take this to it’s extreme and you end up with something like:
Biotron™ Selectronix™ with SignalBoost™ technology
or whatever. I’m sure you’ve seen worse.
I say stop the madness.
The reason this doesn’t work is because getting people to understand the meaning behind one brand takes time, effort, and money. Every brand name that you add dilutes the time, effort, and money you can spend educating people about any one brand.
This is why technology companies end up with lots of sucky, worthless brand names that no one knows, understands, or values. Fortunately, I have a simple tip that can help you focus your branding energy and get you better results:
Call a duck a duck.
Here is what I mean: when it comes to creating brand names, focus your energy on one or two key brands, then choose simple descriptive names rather than creating a new brand every time you create a product or service. In other words:
STOP NAMING EVERYTHING.
When I was at Red Hat, this meant keeping naming mind-numbingly simple. In most cases “Red Hat” was the brand. Almost every other brand name was a simple descriptive name (an example: our flagship product, “Red Hat Enterprise Linux” was… you guessed it, a version of Linux made for enterprise customers).
Whenever someone would tell me how boring this naming strategy was, that they wanted a name that was more “fun” or “exciting,” I would tell them we already had one—Red Hat—and, by ensuring we didn’t name every single product we created, we would make that one brand even more fun and exciting (and more valuable in the process).
The thing that inspired me to write this post today was a conversation I had with my sister a few weeks ago. She was telling me how my nephew Benjamin (who is 3 1/2) names his stuffed animals.
He has a tiger. Its name is “Tigey.”
He has a giraffe. Its name is—you guessed it—”Giraffey.”
She tells me he also has “Pandy,” “Lioney,” and several other similarly-named animals.
I knew that boy was a genius.
By naming things exactly what they are, he makes it incredibly simple for us to know which animal he is talking about. We will never confuse “Giraffey” with “Tigey” when he is telling us stories about their adventures.
If a 3 1/2 year old understands the value of keeping a naming strategy simple, why is it so hard for thousands of trained marketing experts in the technology world?
If his mom lets him, I might start bringing Benjamin in on consulting projects around naming.
I’ll just have to make sure they are scheduled to start after his afternoon nap.
One of my favorite branding rules is a very simple one that I’ve written and talked about a lot over the years:
What does that mean?
If your brand actually represents something very simple and clear, yet you:
a) overcomplicate or confuse a simple story or
b) describe yourself as something that you are not
you are not calling a duck a duck. Read more about how this applies to both brand naming and brand positioning here.
It’s a pretty simple rule. But every day you run into a “duck” brand that is trying to pass itself off as a canary or an ostrich or a flamingo when it is actually… say it with me… a duck.
Fortunately you find great examples of simple, smart, and descriptive branding in the most unlikely places. I happened to visit one of those places over the holiday break—a town of less than 1000 people on Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas.
George Town is a wonderful and unassuming town with sweet and interesting people. It’s a bit far off the normal tourist grid too—there are only two big resorts within driving distance, and the people who stay at them don’t seem to leave the property much, so George Town is mostly pretty quiet.
But what those who don’t visit the town miss is how the locals seem to have mastered the art of branding simplicity.
For example, my favorite place we visited on the trip was a little bar across the harbor on Stocking Island serving conch burgers and cold beer, in no particular hurry, to faithful customers who come back year after year from all around the world.
The Chat ‘N’ Chill.
Now that is calling a duck a duck. I can tell you from spending the better part of two days there that chatting and chilling describes about 95% of the appeal.
In fact, if you have an inability to chill, you probably would hate this spot. If you place a food order, you can expect to wait at least an hour before you get it. This is not fast food.
But what’s the rush? After all, you’ll have the best time here if you keep things simple:
Step 1) Chat
Step 2) Chill
At the risk of brand nerding out a bit too much about what is a really amazing and magical place, I just have to complement the folks who run the Chat ‘N’ Chill. They’ve built an extremely passionate and loyal community by developing a simple brand promise and name, and then delivering on it exactly as you’d dream they would. What more could you ask for?
A second example of simple branding done well is the historic old resort we stayed in called the Peace & Plenty (for all their branding genius, the folks in George Town do seem to have an aversion to writing out the word “and”). The picture to the left is the morning view from our room at the Peace & Plenty.
It was a pretty nice place to spend some quiet time. The Peace & Plenty has been getting the “peace” part right for more than fifty years, with the help of a staff of long-time employees like Lermon “Doc” Rolle who have kept the experience unique and intimate amidst the clutter of cookie-cutter tropical mega resorts you’ll find elsewhere in the Bahamas.
But “plenty” is also an apt descriptor. The Peace & Plenty is the only resort located right in the main part of George Town, easy walking distance from pretty much everything you might want to visit, including the ferry to Stocking Island. You can walk around the pond to Eddie’s Edgewater (a restaurant that is across the road from the edge of the water, as you might expect) for some great ribs on Friday night, you can go across the street to Minn’s Watersports to rent a boat for bonefishing, you are a few steps away from the town library, city hall, and a grocery store.
In the introduction to The Ad-Free Brand, I point out that some of the best and most clearly positioned brands are built by people with little or no branding experience at all, and I share these examples here as inspiration: anyone, anywhere can build a great brand!
I’m sure you have your own examples of simple, elegant branding, naming, or positioning, and if so, feel free to share them in the comments section below.