On Branded Features

(This was originally an aside in the DB2 Viper post, but I decided it was too big a distraction in that post, so I’m pulling it out separately, and adding a few ideas.)

Every high-tech marketer faces the following decision at some point in his or her career. Do I call the new feature:

  • Native XML storage or pureXML (TM)
  • Stored procedures or Intelliprocs (TM)
  • Aggregate awareness or Intelligregates (TM)

I call the names of the left, clear, technical, descriptive names. I call the ones on the right cutesy-wutsey, branded feature names.

IBM recently faced this issue with the launch of DB2 Viper. Despite months of pre-launch marketing around a feature they called “native XML storage,” when it came time to launch the product IBM renamed the feature pureXML (R).

Was it the right thing to do? No, for three reasons:

  • They switched names in the middle of introducing the product. Never do this.
  • I am universally opposed to branded feature names in high-tech products (see below for why)
  • At a branding level, do they really expect to build awareness and positive association around the term pureXML?

Let’s talk about feature names and start with an example. The year is 1985. You work at Sybase. You have a new feature that the engineers call “stored procedures”. The launch is upcoming. What should you call them: (1) stored procedures or (2) Intelliprocs as some numnut at your marketing agency is saying, or (3) stored procedures (TM) as some legal eagle in R&D is saying.

Let’s dispense with option 3. Stored procedures (TM) will not work. It’s descriptive and you will never get a trademark on it. Tell the legal eagle to go back to coding.

By the way, even if it did work, what would the industry call stored procedures today if Sybase successfully trademarked the name in 1985? Answer: Not sure, but I know what we wouldn’t call them: stored procedures, because that would be a trademark of Sybase.

Let’s step back and think about your goals for a second. Are you trying to:

  • Get the industry talking about your hot new feature when only you have it? (And perhaps be remembered in history as the company who put the feature on the agenda as reinforcement for a company positioning as category innovator?)
  • Or, build in perpetuity the ability to say that “only Sybase has Intelliprocs (TM)” long after all of your competitors have added the same functionality. So you can still make the claim because you own the trademark, but (1) by definition, the industry does not refer to the feature by your name because you have trademarked it, and (2) the claim is meaningless because everyone has long-since neutralized your real differentiation.

To me, your goal should be the first point. That’s all you can expect from a feature. Love them as we do, features grow up and leave home, and all your competition gets them. Unless your feature is an invention you’ve patented and that can’t easily be duplicated through workarounds, you need to accept the fact that the best you can do is to use features for differentiation over a relatively short time period (e.g., a few years) and to reinforce your position as an innovator.

I call the second strategy the T25 argument. Go look at a bottle of Scope mouthwash. You may be surprised to learn that Scope makes your breath fresher because (only) Scope has T25. The reason that only scope has T25 is that T25 is their trademark. So, by definition, no other mouthwash has it. But anyone who took more than a week of chemistry knows that T25 is a marketing fabrication; there is no such chemical.

(In fact, they say that T25 is a registered trademark for blend of breath fresheners. I find this a bit misleading because I think most people will hear “patent” when they see “trademark” and think that T25 is a patented invention and not simply a trademarked name.)

While the T25 trick may have worked in the past in consumer marketing, I don’t believe it will work in the future. It insults the intelligence of your customers. I am quite sure that it does not work in industrial/B2B marketing. So do yourself and your customers a favor. Don’t do T25-type differentiation in high-tech products.

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