Consumer Electronics Show 2008 just opened and already is generating a lot of excitement about new products and technologies. What are you looking for at CES this year?
It may sound strange, but I look for something different: I look for names.
Names are the bold neon signs that announce new waves have arrived, waves that startups will be (hopefully some already are) surfing to IPO successes.
Names also are powerful lessons in winners and losers in the marketing battles worth fighting. So let's look at a couple that the media has picked up on (note "that the media have picked up on" because if they don't, then your category is boring and you have lost).
- "What is a device that is between the size of a cellphone and a laptop?" That is the question central to a boiling debate, some say cat fight, between the marketing departments of Intel and Intel's rivals. Intel calls the new category "MIDs", for mobile Internet devices. Intel's rivals are teamed up trying to promote -- without much success yet -- a similar category they call "UMPCs", for ultra-mobile PCs.
- Now take a pause, step back, and ask yourself "Which name do I prefer?" and why?
- I bet MID catches on for one simple reason: It is easier to pronounce. Try it right now. The winner will roll of the tongue most easily. And it will be easier to spell without error.
- And MID is most intuitively suggestive. For instance, "middle of the market between A and B" is easy to recall. But a thousand confusing pictures pop up in my mind when I think about something that is "ultra" and "mobile". UMPCs sounds more like a breakfast cereal than a cool technology device.
- I recall when Regis McKenna, the icon pioneer of Silicon Valley marketing, positioned a new product for a startup. It was the size of a mini computer with the power of an entry level super computer. Regis named it a "mini-super" and the category was born. The media latched onto it in an instant. The inventing company went IPO.
- "What is the new technology that standardizes the digital cable industry?" That is now public, it is called "tru2way". I like the name, it works well for me for the following reasons:
- It introduces a new category of product possibilities: Hardware companies can design innovative products for television viewers using a single standard. Bingo! A new industry is born.
- "tru" sounds exclusive and demotes the old technology (stuff you bought last year is "not-true" suggesting you are getting less than the best when using the old stuff).
- "2way" sounds interactive, like the Internet is. That is better than watching a one-way TV screen. It has promise, hope, even a bit of imaginary excitement.
- "How can I transmit television signals to cell phones?" is an unsolved, very difficult technology problem. Until LG Electronics announced "MPH"' at CES. It stands for "mobile-pedestrian-handheld." It delivers digital television signals to cell phones. I like the name.
- It suggests very fast (in English), miles per hour.
- It is easy to recall.
- It is positive.
- The words behind it are meaningful, need no explanation, point to both an end user and a device. That is hard to do, but this name pulled it off well.
- "What is a good company name if the business is curbing electronic waste?" Try this one: "Green Plug Inc. It is simple, has green implications, implies beneficial value (plug the hole up), is easy to spell, with instant recall. Not bad.
- "What do you call the technology that cuts energy use in electronic devices?" How about "power factor correction" for the category of technology? That's what Marvell Technology Group named it. Then Marvell announced their Digital PFC Controller: 88EM8011 at CES. Ugh! What a letdown! Semiconductor companies name products that way, losing marketing advantage: Who wants to buy a number (boring)? I'd rather have an Intel Core 2 Dual Processor. Much more exciting!
- "Which will win: Blu-ray or HD DVD?" The outcome came today with the announcement that Time Warner was backing Blu-ray at CES. Why was Blu-ray successful?
- Would you the consumer like a thing that used Blu-ray or what-ever-those-initials are?
- Blu-ray is pretty. HD DVD is dull, boring, industrial grey.
- Blu-ray stirs emotions ("It has a ray inside! Cool!"). HD DVD is generic, an undistinguished commodity.
- Guess who invented the name HD DVD? I don't know but am confident it was the techies. They love initials. They are introverts. They have conservative bosses who do not like to stand out. Bold is a swear word to them. Bold is pure gold to great marketers. Blu-ray is bold. Do you have bold?
BOTTOM LINE: CES 2008 has a lot to learn in it, especially names. Names for fresh categories, products and technologies, all of them are for you to look at and learn from. Naming is hard. It is never easy. Notice each of the points above begins with a question. Do you know the question to ask so you can name the answer? It takes focus to get there. That means saying "No" to a lot of potential customers. And it requires taking a bold stand, away from the main stream (What everybody else is saying [naming].) But that is how the greats do it. It produces Intels and Googles. It is a sign of greatness. Learn that and you'll be well on your way to creating a powerful unfair competitive advantage.