The branding dilemma
The branding of a product or service is a very important aspect of its marketing strategy. Companies and manufacturers alike spend tens of millions of dollars on marketing. Choosing a product name is just as important as designing and developing the product itself. Factors such as the intended market and intended demographic are usually considered when choosing a product name.
Generally, a product name should be eye-catching, trendy and easy to remember. If the product or service is part of a series, the name chosen must be descriptive and informative. Names like Windows XP Home and Windows XP Professional are good examples; names that connote general capabilities or overall feature set. These usually aid the buyer/consumer in making an informed purchasing decision.
In the past few years however, many manufacturers together with their marketing departments and marketing consultants have completely gone off-course. It seems the practice now for most manufacturers is to choose intentionally confusing and misleading names. No one has done this better than Intel, the company known primarily for its PC microprocessors. Before the last generation of its Pentium 4 processor, the branding was elegantly simple to understand; stating the processor generation together with its clock speed. – Pentium 3 @ 700MHz, Pentium 4 @ 2.0GHz. But with the last generation of the Pentium 4, Intel changed its nomenclature. Names like Pentium 4 630 became the norm. They said the last three digits were an indicator of overall feature set. How does a number like 630 reflect overall feature set? Much more so to a layman trying to make an informed purchasing decision. But Intel didn’t stop there. In recent years, they have gone on to use more arcane names for their products. We now have names like Core i5 2500K. And you will be understandably forgiven if you confidently deduce that it has a clock speed of 2.5GHz because it doesn’t. It runs at 3.3GHz. Neither of these nomenclatures indicate any of the primary performance metrics of a microprocessor (clockspeed, cache size and die size). I am inclined to say that their present nomenclature is nothing but arbitrary.
Mercedes Benz, the German automaker, has also applied this misleading nomenclature to some of its recent models. Generally, the number attached to the alphabet of a Mercedes model is an indication of the vehicle’s engine displacement (a general performance metric). For example, 230E is a merc with an engine displacement of 2.3 litres. Likewise, an S350 means an S class with an engine displacement of 3.5 litres. But some recent models carry misleading badges as regards engine displacement. For instance, the 2006-2012 S550 for the United States domestic market has an engine with a displacement of 5.0 litres and not 5.5 and the CL63 AMG has an engine displacement of 6.2 litres and not 6.3.In the same fashion, the top end CL 65 AMG has an engine displacement of 6.0 and not 6.5. The entire CL class is fraught with these misleading numbers. Their vehicle class names are also not straightforward. The CL class is simply an S class in coupe form. Why not just call it the S coupe?
I cannot but wonder why Intel and Mercedes have adopted this practice. While Intel and Mercedes are using misleading nomenclature, there is another class of manufacturers that use the same name for different categories of the same genre of products. You need look no further than Sony Ericsson (now Sony) and HTC, the mobile phone manufacturers. Sony’s current line of Xperia phones are getting almost impossible to identify by name alone. I have personally given up on knowing them by heart and now refer to sites like GSM Arena to know which is which. There are more Xperia phones than I can really mention. Their current lineup includes Xperia Miro, Xperia Tipo, Xperia Music, Xperia T, Xperia S, Xperia Active, Xperia E and more.. And this is excluding older models like Xperia Ion, Xperia X10, Xperia X8.
HTC’s Desire and One series are also becoming hard to identify by name. They include Desire, Desire S, Desire HD, Desire W, Desire Z, One X, One S, One T, One V.
Nokia, the Finnish phone maker has had its own share of nomenclature snafus. Once upon a time, there was a phone called the C6-00 which ran the Symbian OS S60v5; it was popularly called the C6. Barely a year later, Nokia released another phone called the C6-01 running the newer Symbian ^3. This phone was also popularly known as the C6. As a result, there are a number of people who wanted the newer C6-01 but were sold the older C6-00. Other models adopted this naming scheme. Nokia recognized this problem and attempted to simplify things by using names like Nokia 700/701/601, Lumia 800/900/510/610/820.920. But the flaw in this system has become apparent as their model range has grown. This is most evident in their budget line of Asha phones and X phones.
One company, Research in Motion (RIM), the Blackberry maker, takes the cake for the worst branding nomenclature. Two years ago, it was fairly easy to tell which series a Blackberry phone belonged to just by looking at its model number. Anything in the 9000 model range was a Bold series, anything in the 8000 series was a Curve. But everything changed with the introduction of the entry level Blackberry Pearl 8100 series and things have gotten worse ever since. Presently, the Curve, Bold, Torch and Storm series all have similar model numbers; numbers in such close range that they begin to overlap. The Bold series usually represents the top end but we now have a Curve with a model number higher than that of a recent Bold.
The problem with all the confusing and nondescript nomenclatures is that even the executives of these companies will trouble identifying which is which without referring to some documentation and to me, a suit who cannot identify his product by model number is going to look very incompetent. There are reports that Mercedes is making an attempt to simplify its nomenclature. The time has come for companies to invest the time in developing a sensible, robust and comprehensive branding and nomenclature system. This would make things easier not just for them but for the retailers and buyers too.