Cameron Watters: software engineer & erstwhile engineering manager / director

On (Brand) Naming

The word "brand" has so many meanings now, some more whacked-out than others, that using it has ceased to be useful. — Hugh Macleod

I've recently had conversations with some folks who believe that an evocative name and nifty messaging are the most important aspects of building a solid software brand. While useful, they are not sufficient; and, in some case, they're not even necessary. Marketers may be able to pick the name, but nothing influences a brand more than the execution behind it.

No amount of clever messaging will convince people that Microsoft is tops when it comes to security. And Microsoft is definitely not pushing the idea that the Zune is a clunky turd, but that's the word on the street.

The names associated with the brand need not be spectacular. Sure, occasionally, someone comes up with a truly great name, and it certainly helps. And, of course, there are truly terrible names—names that are hard to remember, hard to pronounce, or just plain confusing.

If you're really lucky, your customers will help to choose your name for you (FedEx). If they do, embrace it. Or, if you give your customers multiple potential names to associate with your products and services (say, a product name AND a corporate name) and one of them emerges as the clear winner with customers, adopt the one they embrace and consider leaving the other(s) behind (as Oracle, Motorola, and Xerox did)—particularly if it makes your products simpler to tell others about and recommend.

A less-than-perfect name backed by stellar execution is dramatically more valuable than a clever name with weak or average execution. Instead of arguing endlessly about naming strategies, adopt a name customers understand (assuming it's not derogatory), and then focus your energies on executing the hell out of your product(s).