One of the most important Maxims of Hi-Tech is to never confuse customers with names. This is something Intel regularly does with its open code naming of technologies, obtuse names like Montevina. It is intentional to keep the competition guessing and allow them to time-launch strategies more closely to when customers will be launching new PCs with them. When doing this, the important thing is to be sure to use conservative tactics when branding.
By consistently juxtaposing an obtuse and confusing brand strategy with conservative rebranding tactics, Intel has managed to gain an important mindshare advantage: If you hear a name that’s confusing, you immediately know that it’s a technology that has yet to make it out of the oven and into an end product. If you hear a new name that is not confusing, you know that it is the latest thing you can buy. Hence they keep the Intel Inside® trademark alive in the minds of consumers without ever having to mention it. This is a very strong strategy.
So, what is conservative? A great example is the Xeon® brand, which has been around for ages. If you know anything about servers, you know Xeon is Intel’s gold standard of applications for this application. Then they differentiate them with a number, like the Xeon 5400 series, which is the new Quad-Core server chips. Mixing a name with a number is a very conservative approach. Names are easiest to remember, so it keeps the brand alive. Numbers are the most conservative and least expensive in terms of political correctness, but they can be very confusing. But everybody knows that bigger numbers are better, which is what Intel sticks to. Thus, their choice of Centrino 2.
Centrino is well known for being the laptop processor that integrates low power and wireless into a single package. They have spent a lot of money establishing this brand, so it makes perfect sense to continue using it. Centrino 2 tells you that it’s the second Centrino. But they do have a problem here in that they have boxed themselves in. There was Centrino Duo and Centrino Core 2 Duo. Saying 2 Duo was confusing, as it says 2 2, since Duo is another word for 2. So, if you didn’t know anything, you would think that Centrino 2 is somehow lesser, but it is actually much better. It would be far better to take a page out of the car and camera maker’s play book and go to a naming scheme that tells you what class of Centrino it is and how many cores. For example, 2400 series could be the second generation Centrino with quad-cores. The tens and ones would allow them to cover up to 99 variants and if they needed more, they could add lower case letters on the end (how many remember that the ‘i’ on BMW’s used to mean that it was fuel injected. No i – then it was carbureted).
Atom™ is Intel’s newest brand and it is intended to focus on the mobile internet device market, which covers everything with a handheld form factor and excludes laptops. But wait, Intel plans to come out with Atom Centrino™ which will be for budget laptops. In my opinion, this is a tactical error: Atom is targeted at the high-end of handhelds while Centrino is targeted at the high end of laptops. So it makes no sense that when you put the two brands together you get a cheap laptop. While it makes some sense to the supplier, it doesn’t make sense for the buyer. Intel would be better off to work on expanding its Classmate brand from PC to Processor, which is targeted at the OLPC cost level, or to develop a new brand altogether that resonates with the low end in a way that doesn’t demean either Atom or Centrino. Otherwise, they risk all three and leave a significant hole in mind share for someone else to grab.
While, I’m on the topic, it would also be very bright of them to add a new brand of processor for the new ultra-thin category of Notebooks, which is an emerging category. Intel has taken a technical lead here and Apple’s MacBook Air has capitalized on it. Intel should too. Maybe they could call it “Twiggy”? No I think that’s taken by a model from the ‘60s. But “thinsin” isn’t (using a lower case t and smaller h keeps the logo thin to reinforce the mind share grab). – From 2007
* To be fair, this piece did spark a reassessment of brand strategy inside Intel. Few companies can take criticism as constructively as Intel. What had seemed impossible before was distilled down to Core i3, i5, and i7 with generations defined by code names set to its Tick-Tock model, such as Nehalam, Westmere, etc. It was later credited with giving value enough for Intel to raise average microprocessor prices for the first time and resulting in hundreds-of-millions of dollars in profit, proving the importance of branding.
By G Dan Hutcheson
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