Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Funeral Advantage. (What’s in a name?)

Product naming sounds like it should be fun, doesn’t it?

After all, it’s creative – and creative’s fun!

And, after all, it’s not brain-hard work like figuring out what the market needs, and what a product should actually do. And it’s not a walk-the-tightrope task like coming up with product pricing, where you’re trying to balance the need for an attractive enough price vs. the risk that you’ll be leaving some money on the table.

Product naming? Well, it’s just a name, and what’s in a name?

After all, even if your best friend ditzes out and names her firstborn Alphonse or Mildred, once you get to know and love the baby, well, the name kind of grows on you.

Still, I was involved in any number of product-naming exercises over the years, and they were all pretty much a waste of time and/or a no-win effort.

But before I ever got name a product, I got stuck with a few doozies.

Most memorably, there was AutoBJ, a data analysis and forecasting application based on Box-Jenkins autoregressive integrated moving average modeling. (You had to be there.) Anyway, the folks using AutoBJ were Wall Street quants, all guys in those days, and they just loved, loved, loved asking the female product manager for AutoBJ just what else the product could do. Wink-wink. Nudge-nudge. Ho-ho. I think it’s safe to say that I have heard every possible bad joke known to man that can possibly be associated with a product named AutoBJ.

Things went from bad, but not to worse. They actually went to better.

Having a product named ATF (for the Automated Test Facility) to sell in the wake of Waco wasn’t exactly fun (especially since an element of the product was called the ATF Agent). At trade shows, odd-balls would occasionally drift into our booth and start raving about Branch Davidians and/or the FBI and/or gun laws (pro and/or con).

Another component of the product was called the ATF Executive, so-named because, from its server base, it ran everything that happened on the client computers.

After one booth demo to someone who seemed to be getting what we were talking about as we explained the product, subtly underscoring why it made sense to pay about five times the going rate for a test tool (and one that required OS/2, to boot), the person we were demoing to shrugged and said, “I really can’t see an executive using this product.”

Well, neither could we.

The best we could ever hope for was that we could hoodwink convince some executive to buy the product, and order some poor schnook of a minion to figure out how to use it.

When I was stuck with product naming, my usual modus operandi was to make a contest out of it.

After all, talk of AutoBJ and ATF aside, in technology companies it does not, for the most part, matter what you call your products. Most folks are going to use the name of the company, not the product. Tech is not like consumer goods, where a lot of money goes into branding Tide and Crest. Product names? Who cares? Does an Oracle database have or need any name other than Oracle?

So, hey, kids, let’s have a product naming contest and see what we can come up with. And I was not above whispering a name I liked into someone’s ear to make sure that at least one name I liked was entered in the contest. Anyway, the contests produced names that were so memorable, even I can’t remember any of them.)

When I was at Genuity, the CMO – having told us that he was thinking of Black Rocket - asked for suggestions for naming a new hosting service we were launching. We came up with plenty of decent suggestions, but to our complete surprise and amazement, the winning name turned out to be – ta-da – Black Rocket. Which, in turn, turned out to be the name of a powerful hashish sold in the Netherlands, and a brand of condom found in Spain. But, never mind, it’s not like we actually ever sold a Black Rocket in Holland or Spain. Or in the U.S., for that matter. But after a $40M marketing spend to launch the Rocket, we weren’t going to come away empty handed. So the company started declaring that every sale of any hosting services was a Black Rocket. Mission accomplished!

The head guys do have a way of getting their way, don’t they?

A few years after Black Rocket, I was at another company, doing yet another employee contest to rename an old set of services that we were going to relaunch.

As I was meeting with the Executive Team to go over the finalists – don’t even ask what the Executive Team was doing getting involved in this bit trivial pursuit when the company was having trouble making its numbers – the disembodied voice of the COO came over the phone.

“Alphonse likes A, B, and C,” he intoned. Alphonse was our CEO. A, B, and C weren’t on my list of candidates.

I was about to say, fine, let’s vote, we can add A, B, and C to the ballot, when our perkier-than-thou VP of Sales chirped up.

“A, B, and C. That’s brilliant! Wow, Alphonse is great at product naming.”

Soon, the other “Executives” were adding their props.

“A! B! C! How brilliant! No wonder Alphonse is the CEO! What a mind!”

I declared A, B, and C victors by acclamation.

And, of course, it really didn’t matter. Customers continued to use the name of the company when referring to our services. And, for the rest of us, A, B, and C did end up growing on us.

My last gasp with product naming came a couple of years ago. My colleague Sean and I were hired to help a company come up with a new naming architecture for their product line. We actually put a good deal of effort into it, and came up with some (we thought) excellent options. Only to have everything we came up with shot down for some incredibly lame reason – including being told that “a product name can’t begin with a vowel”? Take that, Excel!

We finally figured out that, in their minds, the best naming scheme in the whole wide world, the one they really wanted to go with, was based on the name of another company. In fact, that other company had been founded by a group of engineers who had left the company Sean and I were working with. So the name they wanted was really kinda-sorta taken by their ex-colleagues.

Anyway, while elliptical-ing at the gym the other day, an ad came on TV for something called Funeral Advantage.

Funeral Advantage is end-of-life insurance, earmarked for burial and other final expenses (party-after).

But what’s the advantage here?

Sure, you get the funeral and everything, but it’s not exactly yours to enjoy, even if it may spell the difference between a sleek metal casket and a pine box that looks like it would have done the honors for Doc Holliday. And it’s something of an advantage over passing that hat at your wake that your loved ones won’t have to go out-of-pocket for the organist and a couple of vases full of gladioli. Still, it’s hard to see what the big advantage is here.

Not that I’ve got anything against the use of the word advantage in the product. I know I tossed it in there more than once on products I was naming. In fact, just the other day, when emptying out an old backpack, I found a dried up Softbridge Test Advantage pen. But my product advantages were righteous uses of the word advantage.

Funeral Advantage, baaaahhhh.

I really wasn’t thinking of it, until I went to set the post date, but today is the 40th anniversary of my father’s death. Still miss you, Dad…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

First may I say...sorry for your loss. My mother passed at the age of 87.
Whats in a name? My brother is critically ill and may not live too much longer. His significant other did not keep up with his life insurance policy.
Being critically ill he will not be returning to live with her...so much for "till death due we part"
whats in that statement?
The name Funeral Advantage "rang" in my ears when I was half asleep with the tv on.
I so need assistance with planning for my brother's funeral.
I say to all who have not taken Advantage of making plans for your loves ones in the sense of planning for their burial, please do it when you are relaxed and calm, not when you are grieving and stressed.
Death is a process of living as is the aging process.
I have not contacted this "business", I am only responding to the comment.
Thank you