Always give product or company naming high-level attention

Summary : Naming can be an important factor in achieving market success or it can lead down the path to market failure. This is because the customer usually encounters the name first in the decision path to learn more about the product and it is the first thing they need to remember when selecting the product to buy. This is not to say that a name is everything when it comes to success or failure. But, who wants to fail because they named their product or company wrong? And, wouldn’t everyone like t ... See More

Naming can be an important factor in achieving market success or it can lead down the path to market failure.  This is because the customer usually encounters the name first in the decision path to learn more about the product and it is the first thing they need to remember when selecting the product to buy.  This is not to say that a name is everything when it comes to success or failure.  But, who wants to fail because they named their product or company wrong?  And, wouldn’t everyone like the road to market success paved smoother by a proper name?  If your answer to these questions is yes, here are some naming rules that I go by:

Do not have an employee contest to name the product.  We see a lot of this and it usually results in failure.  Surveying employees is most likely to fail because most of the respondents will know less than you do about naming products.  Plus, if there is no winner, it will create hard feelings.  Think of it this way, would you have an employee contest to spec out your next design, to set safety margins on it, to answer a complex patent question, to answer a simple tax question, or even to decide what the next office layout should be?  Of course not!  You would consult an expert in every case.  So when it comes to product naming, keep the committee small, keep it high level with individuals who intimately understand the corporate position, and make sure you have some naming experts involved in the actual decision. 

Names versus Numbers: it is almost a toss up between the two.  I tend to prefer names, because they are easiest to remember.  Thus, they make market share easier to gain.  But names are trickier than numbers.

Names work best if they have some meaning that relates back to the product or company.  Applied Materials is the number one equipment company in the world.  You instantly know from their name what their products do: they apply materials.  The companies immediately below them do not have this advantage.  Think of the past number one ranked companies in our Top 10: Fairchild Test Systems, Perkin-Elmer, TEL and ask: can you figure out what they do from their name?  Fairchild is the only one, and they lost the lead due to market dynamics favoring wafer fab equipment suppliers, not because of their name.  Perkin-Elmer is gone.  But TEL is strong, proving a name isn’t everything, but it sure helps.  Think of the giant conglomerates that were going to take over the equipment business in the eighties.  Electronic Business magazine once said Applied Materials could not survive against the resources of Eaton and General Signal.  What do Eaton and General Signal do?  They’re gone now.

TEL calls their resist processing equipment series CLEAN TRACK.  It is also the largest supplier in this market.  Applied Materials named its first cluster platform the Precision 5000 CVD.  The word Precision readily communicated that this system could put down films precisely where tube type reactors were notoriously non-uniform.  Later it introduced the Precision 5000 Etch.  So now, Precision 5000 was extended to communicate that it was a cluster platform and the end word described its target market.  While the Precision 5000 may have been precise, it was notoriously unreliable in its early days.  So, Applied attacked the perception head on with its Endura.  This could have easily backfired, but they did back the name up with a massive reliability program to make sure that the product could endure.  Endura was followed by Applied’s Centura platform, which was a simple statement that they had arrived and were the real pros at cluster tool design.

The customer must instantly ‘get it’, with no explanation, for a name to be effective.  When Novellus introduced its HDP CVD system, it was late to market.  Watkins-Johnson was first to market and even Applied Materials had beaten it.  Novellus needed to quickly get to the front of every customer’s mind.  They chose only one significant advantage to highlight: SPEED and gave their product that name.  It became an over-night success, as everyone soon knew who made SPEED and what it did.  Applied Material’s Producer had the same effect.  Teradyne’s Catalyst for system-on-a-chip testing is another good example of how a name can quickly launch a successful product.

Names that are too focused can create step canyon walls that are too hard to get out of with the same name.  The obvious way to avoid this is to create a new brand with a new image.  What is not so obvious is that a name can still tie back to the parent to extend existing recognition and reputation to the new brand.  Ultratech Stepper is well known for its ability to offer value solutions in lithography and for its friendly green color.  So, when it acquired Lepton, an e-beam mask making tool supplier, it renamed the company Ultrabeam to give it an obvious tie to Ultratech.  But no name can recover a bad product.  When it entered the laser doping market it chose Verdant for the company name, for a subtle tie to Ultratech’s friendly green.  They wanted a more subtle tie because Verdant’s product line is so far from lithography - - a steep canyon for Ultratech.  Eventually they dropped the word ‘stepper’ to a simpler Ultratech.  Verdant was folded in, but the product did rise above the crowd in a market area where Ultratech was not.

Names quickly become troublesome if they require lots of explaining.  Years ago, under different management, Ultratech introduced a new product that was much faster than anything else.  To highlight its speed, they chose the name Accipiter.  Every time they introduced the product to someone; they had to go into a long explanation about the Accipiter being the fastest hawk; and that it was a bird of prey so they could take the market from the competition.  Usually, the time allotted for the meeting was mostly used up with the explanation.

Names can be dangerous because they can have double meanings.  ATM, or Advanced Technology Materials, was quickly forgotten when Asynchronous-Transfer-Mode became a hot communications standard.  When ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) ran into implementation troubles, customers quickly renamed it to It Still Doesn’t Network.  Sometimes these rules can conflict. 

The positive and negative attributes of a name can add up to a big positive.  For example, everyone snickers at the Particle Measuring Systems name - - especially when they see its acronym, PMS (which is an American medical term for symptoms women can have during their monthly cycle).  But, Particle Measuring Systems does explain exactly what the company does and the negative serves to burn the name into your memory.  The company had excellent products and it was very successful in its market. 

Never use a name to lie.  Some people come into marketing foolishly thinking it is a license to lie.  Customers are not stupid and they will retaliate - - especially if they are engineers.  Another story from some time ago: one of the worst marketing fiascoes in the industry was when Lam Research (under former management) launched its first entry into the hotly contested CVD market.  It had acquired a start-up whose key executives had little industry experience.  They chose the name INTEGRITY.  An HDP CVD tool named the EPIC followed it.  People joked that the INTEGRITY never had any and the EPIC wasn’t.  Both were good products that made it into some high profile customers.  But, ultimately both turned into flops as they could not win enough business to gain any market momentum.  Lam tried renaming and re-launching the product: it didn’t work.  To add insult to injury, the re-launch included a trip to a Sharks hockey game and a set of binoculars to exemplify Lam’s competitive spirit and its vision in CVD.  As if to foretell the future, the Sharks lost and the binoculars were so cheap they could not focus properly.  Eventually both products were withdrawn from the market, with its overall corporate image tainted from the experience.  It took lots of work by new management to recover from these seemingly simple errors.

Numbers are safest.  There are only a few numbers that have hidden meanings.  Avoid badging your product with the number 666 for example.  While some might think your product came from the Anti-Christ, you don’t have to help them along with this view by naming your product after him.  It might be OK if your competitors believe it, but not if your customers think it.

Letters and Numbers can be useful.  Particularly when they contain some secret code that makes your customer look real smart.  For example, a lithography engineer can walk down a production line and see immediately that a Nikon S201A is a scanner, with a KrF source, a 1st generation body, and an A type lens.  The Nikon S302B is a scanner, with an ArF source, a 2nd generation body, and a B type lens.  If his boss asks him how he knows this, he can simply answer, “That’s what you pay me for.”  Nikon is really good at product naming with numbers.

 

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