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Beyond Habitual Naming

Words have meaning and names have power.

~Author Unknown

13 June 2008

Karan Kashyap’s mind was buzzing with the debates

over naming the new shampoo at G&TW India where
he was the product manager. The marketing manager
Sudhir Dhuni had mooted the idea that they launch a
shampoo under the deo’s brand name, Mali.

Then, Karan had gone with the idea. But as the week
opened, he found himself faced with a serious inner
debate. Then why are we building a brand and not a
product? What ranks higher, product building or brand
building? Do we have a shampoo, or do we have a
Illustrations: Anthony Lawrence brand? Does the consumer want brand or does he want
product? What the heck am I doing here? And what has a name got to do with anything?

Karan sat half-lying on his chair, listening to the music streaming out of his computer.
And then his eyes slowly took in what he had been unwittingly staring at, the flaming
orange icon of his browser, startling him unusually. Firefox, said his mind; Mozilla, came
the echo. Mozilla Firefox, muttered Karan. Why on earth is it called Firefox? For a web
browser? What kind of name is that for a product? How do consumers relate to it? And
why Mozilla Firefox? Why two names, or is that one name?

On their website, he learnt how it was originally called Firebird, then changed to avoid
conflict and that consumers had great difficulty accepting the new name and called it
stupid. But stupid or not, Ffx slowly weaned away users of Internet Explorer (IE) and
between 2005 and 2008, almost 50 per cent of IE 6 users who shied away from changing
over to IE7, crossed the floor to Ffx. Firefox with the most ridiculous name for a browser,
he thought. ‘Internet Explorer’ at least told you what it did for a living. Instead Firefox
wore a dandy prefix: Mozilla. And it wasn’t even Italian. This is as bad as Lux
underwear, thought Karan.

Karan checked his chat window and found Anirudh online. Anirudh was a software
designer and worked for a large services firm in Seattle. Striking up a chat with him,
Karan said, “These new sounding names — Vaio, podcast, iPod, Ning, Google, etc.,
which have no known meanings… It seems, today the differentiator could well be how
random your name is!”
Read Analyses
Co-creating Brands Said Anirudh, “A good name is a differentiator and it need not
Brand New Thoughts mean anything; but whenever you have seen resounding success
it’s probably due to superb technology and concept. IT guys reason — ‘How does it
matter if we call it Google, or Apple as long as it sticks’, than ‘let us pick a random name
which will appeal to all’. But then, IT is inventor-led, not marketer-led.”

FMCG, marketing, as Karan had seen, created desire for needs that did not even exist;
often it was an idea only in the marketing man’s head! We stick the product to an existing
brand name. Then the product has a horrific time marrying into the ethos of the forced
brand name... But today, the technologist is saying “I am in the business of creating great
solutions for great needs. Create the ethos, the culture, and then call it any old thing, it
will dance. Give it a number, call it TI-84Plus; Call it WD40. How does it matter? These
are not even words!”

Karan’s batch mate, Rajesh Handa a software professional in Denver, had recently talked
about how IT products were based on months and years of testing and research, adding,
“Some consumer marketing behaviours in FMCG will startle IT marketers. For example,
how come FMCG has a shampoo called Clinic Plus? Isn’t that confusing? I mean
imagine if I had Google and Google Plus, I wonder what my consumer will make of it!”

“As compared to the soap But Ardaas, his cousin and a self-made IT man, brought up a
industry, a software different viewpoint. “Lux uses almost 500 years of soap
company uses only about creating history to produce the soap. By comparison, a
50 years of industry software company uses only about 50 years of industry
experience. Naturally, the experience and development history. Naturally, the tech
tech product has to go product has to go through more stringent tests.”
through more stringent
tests.” And no, its products are not based on need, they are created
and then adapted to needs. For example, SMS was created not out of any need.

It was a by-product. SMS is a result of a layer of communication that is carried on GSM

and other mobile networks. It is part of a protocol that is not used anymore to send
commands. Since it exists, some people began to use it. Now, SMS is being explored as a
way of communication and is being refined.”

Karan was willing to accept that. “But, all technological inventions seem to be a lot of
hard work, lot of labour, research, and huge investment, and better still, produce mass
benefits. In comparison, a hand soap is touching how many lives? What great tech feat
does it manifest?”

Ardaas smiled, “Depends on what you call “mass-scale benefits”. Let’s see some tech
research that has not impacted “masses” — at least for the time being. Roll up keyboards
are one. Keyboards that are infrared projections on a table are another. Both remove the
hardware required for a keyboard and shift the keyboard to being software driven.
Without a need, without it being mass based, it is being developed!
“Then let’s take the value of soap — doctors would not be able to function without soap.
That would be quite a blow to medical science. I don’t remember meeting a single doctor
who did not wash his hands after an examination!”

Karan: Doctors can use Lux bar and surgeries need not stop for want of liquid soap!

Ardaas: Same applies to tech products — you don’t have to use Word or Vista Operating
System. You can use Wordstar and Linux.

Karan: Oh! but they are improvements on the operating systems applicable to different
situations and users.

Ardaas: So is liquid soap. it is easier to spread and faster to spread. You may not think of
it as improvement, but in 500 years of soap development, moving from a bar to liquid is a
big incremental leap. Think in relative terms.

Soap development has been happening over 500 years. Every inch of gain today comes
after decades of research because soap has reached a level of refinement that only 500
years can make happen. In the first 50 years of the invention of soap, things must have
seemed pretty much like IT does today!

Karan: See, it’s about much more. I am sure where research is a result of a deep inquiry,
the outcomes speak for themselves. Take for example, what is going on in my own
organisation: the ego war based on brand extensions; where Mali the deodorant is sought
to be extended to Mali a shampoo. Where did the idea come from? From a focus group
discussion! By the way, isn’t Windows essentially different from Linux?

Ardaas: Yes, Windows and Linux are different. Like

Neem and Dettol soap are different, but serve the same
purpose. But there must be 250,000 different operating
systems, depending on the kind of computing need. For
example, CAT Scan machines use a different OS — but
they are computing data nevertheless. Just think Mac OS;
There is WINE which gives us Unix like OS. There is
Solaris. It depends on the machine. Remember BIOS?
That’s an OS underlying Windows! So, OS = Soap; Unix
= Lux, Mac = Dove, and they are not interchangeable or
substitutable. Just as I would not use a glycerine soap if I
had dry skin, Word would not run on Unix. OS is a
‘platform’. Thus, in our explanation, platform = cleaning agent; Different platforms (OS)
are required for different applications (Word, DigitalFuel, etc.) just as a different soap is
required for different uses. Soap for clothes different from soap for windshield and soap
for skin.

That night Karan was seized by a new thought — FMCG goods essentially cater to the
senses! The minute this thought came to him, Karan went into overdrive. Logging on, he
text messaged Sumati Das, his brand strategist, and Anirudh in Seattle. “Can you come
online now … please?”
At 11 pm IST, Anirudh was doing 8 am, wading through a bowl of raisin bran while
Sumati was catching up with a recording of American Idol and praying fervently for
David Archuleta. Since she was on her laptop, she simply switched windows … but
Anirudh texted back: “eating b/f; leave stuff to read; will join in 20 mins.”

So Karan picked Sumati’s brains: I think I have the logic now. FMCG cater by and large
to the five senses, hence, they do a lot of packaging, selling, luring, seducing, convincing,
and the five senses do not involve the intellect during the stage of experience. It is after
the sense experience is over that the mind along with the intellect makes a decision on
preference. Hence, the accent on how it looks, what it is called, how does it smell, and so
forth. Tech products go for the intellect straight away. A Windows OS need not taste like
tikka masala or choose to smell of jasmine. It is a no-nonsense product meant for brain
and reasoning. It bypasses senses. Such products by definition do not need to ‘sell’
themselves to you. If your intellect buys, then the sale is made ... this is my point ...

Sumati: I am thinking of something as friendly as an apple. If branding is both art and

science, then is there a place for art in IT branding? The most artistic brand in IT is
definitely Apple. Their products, their brands, their logos and even their websites are
artistic. Apple allowed consumers to ask — can I get this PC in another colour?

Karan: What I am talking about now is what the name rings in my mind when it is

Read Analyses
Co-creating Brands Sumati: Exactly. What images does the name conjure up? Do you
Brand New Thoughts want an image of space age technology coursing through virtual
space? Do you want to conjure the image of technology being approachable to the mass
consumer? Even here, it is about brand objective — I think there was a clutter of IT
brands all wanting to appear more IT and then suddenly, Apple broke the clutter with an
approachable name; It showed the consumer that technology is not intimidating; it is as
simple as an apple.

Karan: I agree, plus when apple went elegant with a colourful apple with a chewed bit,
you did look upon technology as belonging to the realm of my world too!

A new window sprang open. It was Anirudh. Karan copy pasted his chat with Sumati on
Anirudh’s window…

Sumati: Absolutely! I think IT is in a vicious cycle to appear more IT; therefore, all these
acronyms which don’t make sense; and now electronics is copycatting too. But the
question is, is the consumer looking for something efficient or approachable?
Karan: What you are saying is, IT is credible, hence non-tech products too are trying to
appear IT-like, so that the consumer takes them seriously. But then core IT is still not
speaking English.

“I am thinking of Sumati: Absolutely — if only they would step out of the IT

something as friendly as vocabulary trap they are in — and understand the language
an apple. If branding is being spoken about in the real world Anirudh: (having caught
both art and science, then up) See, the importance of brand managers and branding in
is there a place for art in IT IT is quite different. For example branding for SAP which is
branding? The most ERP is different than MS Windows which is an OS, different
artistic brand in IT is than MySQL which is an open source database, and very
definitely Apple.” different from Puppy Linux, Red Hat Linux, Suse Linux,
again even more different from the several versions of Unix-AIX/HPUX … than MS
XBOX which is gaming, different than Apple iPod which is a consumer device. So, more
consumer centric a product is, higher is the branding.

Karan: Wowww… Do you think that sentence was even english?

Anirudh: Sorry? See, in case of items like xbox /zune /ipod it is closer to electronic
goods; but in all cases what I said earlier is true. There is a code name, the focus is more
on product and functionality and sales, marketing, branding and positioning comes last.
Karan: Hey, are technicians not consumers? Would a technician like it if his soap was
called CS 492? Ok, let me ask my brand strategist Sumati what she thinks.

Sumati: One sec, I have asked Radha to join in — she is reading what we discussed ...
meanwhile, let me think as a brand manager for Windows — what is Windows to the
consumer? — a bouquet of programmes like Word, Explorer, Excel. How is it relevant to
the average consumer? I see the household PC as a family binder; so the PC knows more
about me than my mother does — what with all the mails I send to my friends; about
finances considering the balancing my dad does on Excel; about brother’s hobbies and
music taste; about our daily menus if you checked mum’s cookery folder … so Windows,
the family chest, keeps secrets and is available on demand 24/7. So why on earth would I
want to call it Windows XP 2000 blah blah?

Radha: Hahahaha …! But listen on that PC on my kitchen top are multiple egos drawing
my attention: one is the OS; then the CPU says “I am IBM; then take a look, my monitor
is Fuji; my headphones are Logitech; my pdfs are Adobe, my speakers are Creative …
yet you want the consumer to call this gizmo ‘computer’ when he is not even computing!
He is not going to be even talking about ‘my OS is windows XP’; Like when you go to
the doctor to get a CT scan you don’t ask, hey doc, what OS is that? Oh wow, you use a
Platypus 23 X?

Karan saw Ardaas online and pasted excerpts from Sumati and Radha’s discussion onto
his window.
Karan: To be fair, I imagine, that when I name my OS a technically intimidating name, it
is more to benchmark its state-of-the-art-ness in the face of another OS. Imagine naming
your OS ‘Barbie’ when you have Firefox rubbing shoulders with you. Let me ask Ardaas,

“hi ardaas, tell me, do you think branding is absent in IT?”

Ardaas: IT branding is a new language, targeting new ‘side personalities’ that

conventional consumers have sprouted. It is an industry that specifically targets mavens
that is the Adams (the first creators, the opinion leaders) and allows the brand knowledge
trickle down to the masses. IT products make news because they operate in networks of
mavens — mavens do not need to be mollycoddled and sold to, they are genuinely
looking for superior products — so, simple information in IT journals/blogs is enough for
them — no need of fancy advertising and celebrities — they frown on such stuff. The
other thing about IT products is that they empower consumers — it is not just about a
feeling or an emotion — it is about raw functionality — therefore, the selling task is
much easier.

So now, when you say “technology” or “IT products”, what do you include? Does it also
include, say a television set? Or a DTH system? A plasma television? A solar powered
watch? What is a Tech product? So, is an iPod an IT product? Because it doesn’t do any
computing — it just spews out digital data in audio format.

Karan: Look at it from the point of the ordinary consumer ... he knows he uses his
computer to download music. So, it seems like an IT product in his mind; yet when he
listens to music it is ‘my iPod’. How does one deal with this?

“Product naming in IT? I Ardaas: So, the computer is the IT product and not the iPod. I
think IT is a fun tribe with use my computer to download a recipe for a bread. That does
a brand of humour that not make the bread or the bread maker an IT product.
they jointly resonate with.
What better example of Karan: I like this. Today, everything that produces solutions
fun can be given than without a seeming outward process involving people, comes
Ubuntu. This OS, when to be called ‘yeh computerised hai’ (this is computerised),
conceived, operated under what once used to be called ‘autikmatic’.”
Ardaas: Even wheel balancing in my car is computerised. Yes, automatic has become IT
… how true!

Sumati: So did we get a reply for – ‘are technicians not consumers’? Isn’t their soap
called Fa or Dove and not Door GT 235?

Read Analyses Karan: I think it’s because soaps have become standard products,
Co-creating Brands and its use and purpose has become very clearly known so that
Brand New Thoughts today we don’t need to know what is inside a soap ... we know its
purpose. In fact if you go back 50 years, soaps went by the name of their ingredients; like
glycerol, neem there used to be one deadly soap for skin conditions which was called
something equally forbidding — carbolic something. Likewise, today we need to call an
OS by its version number. Even if we did that, the question remains what do the names
themselves mean?

Ardaas: Product naming in IT? I think IT is a fun tribe with a brand of humour that they
jointly resonate with. What better example of fun can I give you than Ubuntu. This OS,
when it was conceived, operated under ‘’. When it was officially
released, they named it Version 4.10. What? Yes, what. It also had a nick name, Warty
Warthog which survived its codename too. As Ubuntu grew, the next level of
development was called Hoary Hedgehog only to be zipped to 5.04 officially. Ubuntu has
siblings serving different communities of users — Kubuntu, Edbuntu. The last one
addresses the education market. But that logic may not explain Kubuntu! The fun of an
OS lies in its name

So is there branding in IT? I think so. Do they use weird names? I think so. Do IT people
use soap? I think so. Hahahahaa

(Businessworld Issue 17-23 June 2008)