Gallic Subtlety: Branding, MarkLogic, and Mark Logic

Respected online analytic processing (OLAP) pundit, Englishman, and curmudgeon, Nigel Pendse, once wrote in a product review that “with Gallic subtlety” Business Objects, the company, was two words while BusinessObjects, the product, was one. The observation, unnoticed by most people, was absolutely correct and I chuckled the other day when I saw this post by Bill Trippe, which reminded me of it.

Bill is indeed correct when it comes to Mark Logic. MarkLogic, one word, refers to the product (whose full name is MarkLogic Server) while Mark Logic, two words, refers to the company (whose full name is Mark Logic Corporation).

Why do we have this distinction? Do I view it as a best practice that I carried over from my prior job? Absolutely not. Somewhat amazingly, I managed to inherit the issue both times. While I won’t review the Business Objects history, I will review the Mark Logic one.

But first, some principles that I actually do consider best practices when it comes to naming / branding:

  • Brands should be short, two to three syllables where possible (e.g., Google, Yahoo, PayPal)
  • Brands should work in multiple languages. Often a Latin root helps (e.g., Oracle). Care should be taken to avoid the Chevy Nova problem. (Nova means “no go” in Spanish, hardly an ideal name for a car.)
  • Brands should be pronounceable. People hate sounding stupid so they dislike saying words they don’t know how to pronounce. Why do you think Beaulieu Vineyards encourages people to call its wine BV? How many times did people simply say Object Design instead of Versant because they weren’t sure if it was VER-suhnt or Ver-SAHNT? How many times did people just say Oracle or Sybase because they weren’t sure it if was ING-res or In-GRES? (Or the impossible French INGHRE.)
  • Brands should be searchable. You want customers to type your brand into their favorite search box and have your site pop out on top. (Mark Logic, two ordinary words, is an example of a not terribly searchable brand name. This is one reason why I joined them in the product name: MarkLogic is a lot more Google-friendly.)
  • Brands should not be descriptive. There are two reasons, one legal, and one marketing. The legal reason is that it’s hard to get a trademark on a descriptive term: Nosewipes is hard to trademark while Kleenex is easy. The marketing reason is that company strategy may change over time and a descriptive name can impede positioning in a new space. For example, do you want to buy a financials package from PeopleSoft, or a web content management package from Documentum?
  • Finally, as technical constraints, the brand should be unique within a broad category of products (for legal reasons) and you should be able to get the relevant URL. These constraints kill more names than anything.

When I joined Mark Logic, I learned that the company had originally been named Cerisent which, according to resident math prodigy Max Schireson, can be pronounced in exactly 128 different ways. Realizing this, the company had wisely set out on the very difficult task of finding a new name.

In excellent accordance with the above principles (except searchability), the company had settled on Mark Logic. On arriving, I figured that they’d simply overlooked searchability, had left in the space by accident, and I naively suggested that we simply slam the words together, everywhere, into MarkLogic: one brand for company and product.

It was then that I learned the original intent behind the Mark Logic branding and, in so doing, discovered a new naming principle for my list.

The intent was to brand Mark, not Mark Logic. (The astute observer will note that this explains the company logo quite clearly.) Just as one might say “I was working with the folks over at Cirrus” and omit the Logic in Cirrus Logic, the idea was that people would say “I was working with the folks over at Mark.”

The word Mark is excellent in many ways: it’s short, it’s pronounceable, and it works in multiple languages. It’s not descriptive, but indeed subtly suggestive (the server is designed to handle mark-up). That was all good. But Mark is unfortunately also a person’s name. Hence my additional principle:

  • Don’t name your dog or your company with a person’s name. It just generates too much confusion. “Fred, fetch and sit!” Or, in our post-IPO future, “did you see what happened to Mark today, up 20%?”

Discretion being the better part of valor, and subtle branding questions not being the first concern of wise high-growth, enterprise software company CEOs, I decided not to force the issue. Hence, the company remains Mark Logic to retain the original branding intent and the product became MarkLogic (Server) in deference to uniqueness and searchability.

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