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Product Naming: A cautionary tale

Product Naming: A cautionary tale

A few months ago, I overheard a friend talking about something called, “view.” Whatever it was, he was in love with it. Something about cutting the cord and an alternative to SlingTV. Thus begins our cautionary tale of product naming.

A few weeks later, in my semi-regular rant against cable, I texted him for more information. “What is this ‘View’ of which you spoke?”

“No, it’s PlayStation Vue,” he wrote, “but it has nothing to do with PlayStation. It’s incredible.”

Never assume everyone
knows what you know.

It seems that I was not the only one in the dark about PlayStation Vue. As Jared Newman writes in his TechHive CORD-CUTTER CONFIDENTIAL, Sony’s streaming TV service earns high marks from users but is struggling nonetheless.

Newman walks us through a number of Sony’s missteps with the product launch, not the least of which is its branding. It’s a cautionary tale for you to consider when it comes to your brand and naming products.

I’ve often said it’s unfair to critique a brand without knowing the strategy and supporting data behind it. However, I have to wonder if Sony really understood the data behind the PlayStation brand. Don’t get me wrong: It is a very strong brand. However, it is perceived in two different ways by two groups of consumers, both of whom are critical to Vue’s success: Those who use PlayStation and those who do not.

The former probably understood right away what Vue was all about. The latter, no doubt, assume something along the lines of “…anything PlayStation must require a console and why would I want one of those if I don’t already have one?”

When launching a new product, associating it with an already strong brand is a great approach. However, you have to be certain the brand equity you’re transferring to this new brand is relevant. In this case? Not so much for a significant portion of the market.

The other issue is the spelling of Vue. It’s a fine choice for Sony because they have the deep pockets to drive home the spelling. But small- and mid-sized businesses must approach creative spellings with caution.

One of the first products I ever marketed was called PERAscope. (For the record, the product naming process preceded my arrival.) Each of the first four letters stood for something, but that was not immediately clear to the rest of the world. (Even I can’t remember what two of them stood for.) So, most people thought we were simply bad spellers.

When product naming, small- and mid-sized businesses especially, should keep these considerations top of mind:

Data. What does the data say about the perception of an associated brand? Does the meaning and values of the established brand (i.e., PlayStation), sync with the message behind the new brand (i.e., Vue)? Never assume that everyone knows what you know.

Resources. If you’re going to get clever with naming, do you have the resources (read: money) to educate the market about both the new product’s existence and the alternate spelling of its name? If not, it’s probably better to keep it simple and clear.

Product naming is often one of the most overlooked elements of a brand strategy’s verbal identity. What you call it matters. Think it through, carefully.

— Douglas Spencer

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