Editor’s note: Charlotte Beat is a regular feature on Wednesdays in Local Tech Wire. A rose by any other name, Shakespeare said, would smell just as sweet. But in today’s marketplace, depending on what other name you choose, people might get the impression that the scent is actually sweeter — or that it stinks.
The same is true for technology company names and what they call their products. Pick a name that doesn’t jive with customers or gives the wrong impression, and the best-designed software or gadget could go down the tubes.
“The name — or the brand — is more important than the product itself,” says Howie Webb, senior consultant and director of technology branding for Addison Whitney, a brand consulting firm. “There’s a science to how the combination of hard consonants and soft vowels evoke emotions. If you know how you want to position your company and how you want to emotionally connect with your customers, you can choose the letters, characters and words that can get you there.
“With the right name, you can take a mediocre product and make it successful,” Webb adds. “With the wrong name, you can doom a good product.”
For example, Pepsi recently developed a light cola that didn’t have all the calories of its regular cola, but was sweeter than its diet drink. Addison Whitney, Webb says, came up with Pepsi Excel. Pepsi took the process in-house and decided on Pepsi XL. To most people, XL is a designation for extra large, and sales went nowhere. It’s now being marketed as Pepsi One, and sales have improved.
Webb also cites Apple Computer. At a time when computer companies were named like “alphabet soup,” (IBM), he says the name Apple communicated “simplicity at its core –something approachable, something good for you — it emotionally connected with people.”
Developing a corporate identity
Founded in 1991, Addison Whitney does more than come up with cool company and product names. It helps firms develop a brand or corporate identity – the basic way it wants to be perceived by its customers that differentiates it from its competition. For example, Volvo and safety. Once that position is determined, Addison Whitney helps the client determine a strategy of communicating that brand, which can encompass developing new nomenclature, including a tagline, and designing a website and/or logo.
The names Addison Whitney has developed have become ubiquitous in the tech world. Products include Microsoft Outlook, Epson Stylus, Toshiba Tecra and Nortel Networks Callpilot. Company names include Sonicblue (formerly S3 Corporation), Roxio (a spin-off of Adaptec), and Volera (a spin-off of Novell Networks). Among its other clients are HP DeskJet, Texas Instruments, Sprint PCS Wireless Web and NEC MultiSynch.
“It’s hard for people to decide on the one thing they want to stand for, so it’s a prioritizing process,” Webb says. “”Your company is going to be positioned whether you go through the process or not. You can do nothing and see what happens. But then your company lacks a long-term vision, and that reflects back on it.”
The naming process
To develop an identity, Addison Whitney staffers — there are 45 in its Charlotte headquarters and sales offices in San Francisco and London — conduct research both within and outside the client’s company.
Once it’s determined that a company or product needs a name – or a different one – staff brainstorms and comes up with hundreds of suggestions. That list keeps getting whittled down, as staff consults with the client and conducts initial legal research and linguistic evaluations. This eliminates names already trademarked or which don’t translate well into other languages.
Addison Whitney serves three primary industries: technology, pharmaceutical and consumer products. Webb says technology companies typically call on the firm when they’re about five or six years old and going through growing pains. They may have changed their initial focus, and they’ve added products. “They need to decide what brand they want to leverage,” he says.
Webb is a West Point graduate trained in mechanical engineering. His five years in the Army took him all over the world, and his last assignment was as a public relations officer. His first civilian job was in technical sales. Other staff members have majors in history and music, and another is a former kindergarten teacher. “We want people with diverse backgrounds so they have lots of life experiences to draw on,” he says.
Charlotte entrepreneur Bill Smith started Addison Whitney when he was disappointed in the consulting advice he received in trying to name another start-up. His first task was naming the new entity. There was no one named Addison or Whitney involved in the firm; neither did Smith know anyone by those names. So why that choice?
“The name communicates old money and a solid, established feel,” Webb says. “We had clients like IBM, General Motors and HP early on, and I think the name had a lot to do with it.”
Addison Whitney: www.addisonwhitney.com