Branding word choice will make or break a product

Summary : Words matter. Words imprint in the brain with the images they create. It is a general observation the best brands are built around words descriptive of the products, markets, or the companies they are destined to represent. The examples are numerous: General Motors for cars. Tesla for groundbreaking electric cars. Better yet, Intel for ‘Integrated Electronics,’ AMD for ‘Advanced Micro-Devices,’ or Applied Materials … which describes exactly what they do. More recently, there’s MediaTek, TSMC fo ... See More

Words matter. Words imprint in the brain with the images they create.  It is a general observation the best brands are built around words descriptive of the products, markets, or the companies they are destined to represent. The examples are numerous: General Motors for cars. Tesla for groundbreaking electric cars. Better yet, Intel for ‘Integrated Electronics,’ AMD for ‘Advanced Micro-Devices,’ or Applied Materials … which describes exactly what they do. More recently, there’s MediaTek, TSMC for ‘Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation,’ and GlobalFoundries. Of course, it doesn’t always work. But, it’s a good start to get a product or company on the way. 

Applied Materials became a master of this in the late 80s. It’s Precision 5000 launch was the most successful in the history of the semiconductor equipment industry up until that time. ‘Precision’ denoted its ability to lay down films with ± 1% uniformity. It was ground breaking in that it had 10X the uniformity of existing systems, yet with 1/3rd the throughput at more than 3X the price. Chip makers gobbled them, as the 1% uniformity enabled much higher-value product. Then came its Endura PVD system, which was an aspirational brand in an era when deposition systems were notable for their lack of reliability. After that was Applied’s Producer, which you probably guessed had great throughput.

Aspirational names can be dangerous. One company introduced its foray into CVD with a system named the ‘Integrity’ and followed with another called ‘Epic’ as direct competitors to Applied Materials systems. Neither system was successful and people would joke that the Integrity never had any and the Epic wasn’t. Customers can be ruthless in turning names into jokes. For example: ISDN – or Integrated Services Digital Network – became It Still Doesn’t Network, It Still Does Nothing, and I Still Don’t Know. PCMCIA – or Personal Computer Memory Card Interface Adapter – became People Can't Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms.

One must be wary of going overboard on word choices and make sure you flesh out the potential negative connotations. For example, consider IDM, or Integrated Device Manufacturer for semiconductor companies that have integrated design and manufacturing operations. Imagine if foundries had been called Dis-Integrated Manufacturers or DIMs instead of foundries? I don’t think so. Even the word ‘foundry’ wasn’t looked well on, as it means “an establishment for producing castings in molten metal,” according to dictionary.com. As one fab rat from Texas chided in the late-eighties when its first use appeared: “check out my step-and-repeat forge.” The fab rat was wrong, as the word did stick, even though it’s not included as a formal definition in dictionaries.

As for companies, there was Powerchip, a company that didn’t make power chips. Freescale, which didn’t have scale. The good thing was that its chips were not free. Then there was PMS, for Particle Measuring Systems. The company had a great product, but a name that quite possibly laughed the company out of the industry, as it no longer exists. 

Also consider names that might become dated. Micron Technology was a great name for the times when it was founded, but has less meaning in the nanometer era. VLSI Research is another, which was chosen late in the day to meet a filing deadline after our original name ‘Technical Ventures’ was rejected. Few people know what VLSI means these days, much less that it stands for ‘Very Large Scale Integration.’ Worse, we are often hard to find because the mind wants to spell it VSLI, because L rarely comes before S.

The best way to come up with names is to post up all the relevant words out on cards where you can see them. Then rearrange them every day, walk away, sleep on it and repeat until it gels into something solid. The Chip Insider came out of around thirty common words. While ‘Chip’ and ‘Insider’ denoted that it was an inside view of the semiconductor industry, it also levered the single syllable ‘Chip,’ which had beaten out of the harder to say ‘semiconductor’ in the common vernacular, as well as the mind share that the brilliant ‘Intel Inside’ logo had developed. 

By G Dan Hutcheson                                     Copyright © All rights reserved.

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