Consumer Products

Name or Number? – A Product Naming Lesson from Stardate 45854.2

Branding insight can come from many sources: case studies, real world experience, and even fiction.  Here's a lesson you can apply to naming your products from Star Trek - The Next Generation.

Stardate 45854.2 the Federation Starship Enterprise is headed for the Argolis Cluster.  Its mission: to chart six star systems being considered for colonization.

A Nemesis Encounter

This seemingly innocent exploration soon leads Captain Jean Luc Picard and his crew into an unwanted encounter with their hated nemesis, The Borg.

Based on the humanitarian insistence of Dr. Beverly Crusher, Picard reluctantly agrees to take an injured Borg drone on board the Enterprise for treatment.  It’s a risky step.  The drone has been emitting a tracking signal.  A deadly Borg cube could arrive at any moment to rescue the drone and assimilate the crew of the Enterprise.

Threat of Assimilation

As tension over a potential Borg attack mounts, the script writers weave in the moral of the story: An individual’s right to choose cannot be violated.  This principle is actually stronger than totalitarian force.

Noteworthy Naming Lesson

For the astute observer there is also a noteworthy naming lesson – a cautionary tale for anyone thinking about sending a product to market with a numeric designation or a convoluted acronym rather a real name.

A Surreptitious Assignment

The naming issue surfaces as the ship’s Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge reluctantly converses with the drone.  The interaction is necessary for Geordi to carry out his surreptitious assignment.

He is studying how the microchip in the drone’s brain processes information.  Once he understands how the chip works, he plans to implant an invasive programming sequence – a total systems failure virus that will infect the entire Borg Collective when the drone is reconnected to the hive.

From Caution to Kindness

Initially Geordi’s dealings with the Borg are cautious, distant, cold and guarded.  He ignores the Borg’s canned mantra: “You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.”  Then he points out the absurdity of the drone’s statement “We are Borg” even though he is only one.

Geordi then asks the drone what his name is.  He doesn’t understand the term.  Geordi rephrases the question “a means of identification?”  He responds not with a name but with a number, “3rd of 5.”  He was number three of five Borg on the small space vehicle that crashed.

As Geordi continues his study of the Borg, his demeanor and the relationship both start to warm.  Eventually the Borg asks Geordi for his “designation” i.e. name.  Once he learns it, Geordi figures 3rd of 5 would like a name of his own.  So he christens him Hugh.


Creating Emotional Attachment

From the moment that his identity changes from just a number, 3rd of 5, to an actual name, Hugh, the Borg becomes an individual.  Geordi no longer sees him as a device to be programmed, but as a person.  Cold hearted logic retreats.  Hugh becomes an object of emotional attachment.

Gradually the emotional warmth spreads, even to Captain Picard.  Touched by Hugh’s innocence and growing sense of individuality Picard abandons the virus implant strategy.  He gives Hugh the right to choose between a future on the Enterprise or returning to the Borg.

Hugh’s personhood, created by his name, proves to be a far more powerful infectious agent than the planned invasive programming sequence.

The name turned a hated enemy into a valued individual.  Changing identity from a number to a name unleashed new unimagined possibilities.

How About the Real World?

So Star Trek’s writers spun an interesting tale contrasting a name with a number.  So what?  How does this fictional account from a far off galaxy apply to marketing in the real world?  It provides insight into three categories where product names need to excel: emotional engagement, approachability and memorability.

Buy on Emotion Justify with Logic

Remember the old sales adage, people buy on emotion and justify with logic?  It’s been around for a long time.  Why?  Because it’s true.  Whether you’re selling designer clothes to fashionistas or mega million dollar software systems to big corporations, the impetus for the buying decision is emotional.  After the fact rationalization is logical.

If you want to sell more new fangled gizmos or services, you need to engage the buyer’s emotions.  Logic alone won’t cut it.

For emotional engagement, numbers are at a distinct disadvantage to actual names.  Numbers are cold and scientific.  All logic. No emotion.

If you present your product to the market as a numbered entity your chances of winning customer affection are minimal.  You’ll likely finish 3rd of 5.

An Expensive Compensation Tactic

While it is possible to surround a number or an alpha-numeric combination with emotion, it takes time and a considerable investment.  Flashy videos with provocative music and a professional voice over can infuse numbers with some feeling.  But it’s an expensive endeavor, and the feeling only takes hold in people who have seen the production numerous times.

Names are far more engaging than numbers.  In just four syllables Testarossa ignites the pulse rate.  S 600 elicits a yawn, although both designations represent exotic automobiles.

Emotional attachment will prompt prospects to buy faster and pay a higher price.  An appealing name will create a deeper and stronger emotional connection than any number.

On the Enterprise Hugh became hard to resist.  3rd of 5 was easily rebuffed.


Approachability is a key factor to starting sales conversations, especially for complex technical products that require an involved education process to lead a prospect to a buying decision.  This is another category where names are better than numbers or alpha-numeric combinations.

Numbers can give products a technically advanced persona.  At first glance it may seem appropriate to surround a technical product with technical sophistication.  It can help attract technically minded prospects.  But what if you want the product to appeal to the mass market?  What if the product purchase needs to be approved by a non technical executive?

A Real Turn Off

In these cases number designations for products can be a real turn off.  They make the product appear overly complicated.  Confused or overwhelmed prospects run for cover.  They do not buy.

Busy executives guard their schedules.  They have neither the time nor the inclination to dive into long technical dialogues.  If the first impression your product makes is highly technical you’ll be relegated to technical levels in the sales process with little opportunity to pitch the business case to the true decision maker.

Hugh proved to be a far more approachable title than 3rd of 5.

Easier to Remember

Names are also more memorable than numbers.  Easier to remember is easier to buy.  If the customer knows the name of your product she can find it right away whether she’s shopping in person or online.  If the name escapes her, she might end up not buying at all, or worse yet, buying a competing product instead.

Now it is not impossible to remember numbers.  In fact your mind is likely filled with a lot of numbers already.  Numbers like 911, 328, 409, 90210, 802.11.  It is possible to get people to remember numbers, but it is easier to get them to remember names.

π to 22,500 Decimals

As proof consider David Thomas, an International Grandmaster of Memory.  He’s listed in the Guinness Book of Records for memorizing Pi to 22,500 decimal places.  Remember π, 3.14159…, from geometry class?

I thought David must be some kind of number memory savant until I attended a conference session where he shared his secret.  His 22,500 decimal place performance didn’t come from memorizing numbers.  He actually memorized names.  He transposed the numbers to create names.

The Number Memorizing Secret

For example he would convert the number combination 2-3 into B-C, the second and third letters of the alphabet.  He would then assign a different B-C name to each 2-3 combination – Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Betty Crocker, Bing Crosby.  Then he memorized the names.  When it came time to recite Pi for the record books, he reverse engineered Bill Clinton to B-C to 2-3.

If numbers were easier to remember than names, David Thomas would have memorized numbers directly.

With enough repetition it is possible to remember numbers.  But which do you find easier to remember if you only hear or see it once, the Star Trek episode name “I, Borg” or the stardate 45854.2?

Names Trump Numbers

Sending a product to market with a number sabotages sales efforts.  Numbered products have all the personality of a serial number.  Prospects don’t get excited over serial numbers.

It takes a lot of energy and fancy advertising footwork to stir interest in a product when its number title screams complicated geek device with no apparent benefit.

If you’re bringing a new product to market give it a real name that engages the emotions, opens conversations and enters the memory.  If you would like to learn more on how to select the best name for your product, call or email me.  I’ll be happy to share further insights with you.

Don’t sentence your new product to a future as an unlovable Borg drone.

What Are You Really Selling?

The air was filled with entrepreneurial enthusiasm.

I was sharing a coffee conversation with my friend Audrey, who had just realized a lifelong dream of opening her own candle boutique.  It was the kind of shop that Martha Stewart would rave about.

Entrepreneurial Excitement

Audrey bubbled with excitement as she described in alluring detail the enticing array of candles and accessories that graced her shiny new shelves.  Then her commentary took an astonishing twist when she stated casually, in a matter of fact tone “our merchandise is candles and candleholders, but that’s not what I’m really selling.”

Surprised by her remark I sought an explanation.  “Let’s get this straight.  Your customers come up to the till and give you money for candles and candleholders.  But you’re not really selling candles or candle holders?”

“Right,” she replied, apparently oblivious to the flagrant violation of elementary logic.

“What I’m really selling,” she continued, “is warmth.”

In that simple phrase Audrey demonstrated that she wasn’t just opening a store to hawk fancy candleware.  She was actually laying the foundation for a great brand.

Escaping the Commodity Zone

By deciding to sell warmth rather than simply candles and candleholders, Audrey immediately escaped the commodity zone.  If selling candles and candleholders, she would be competing with Wal-Mart, the Dollar Store and a host of other retailers.  But by focusing on warmth, Audrey elevated herself into a league all her own.  She gave her customers a compelling reason to choose her store rather than any of their other options.

A Mission of Warmth

The warmth idea also provided a clear mission to her boutique.  Everything about the shop had to convey warmth.  The products had to bestow the customers’ homes with great warmth.  The store colors and merchandising had to evoke warmth.  The employees had to make the customers feel warmth.  The entire boutique experience had to radiate warmth.

A Fundamental Principle

In her rookie entrepreneurial days Audrey had caught on to the fundamental principle that great brands always sell more than just their products or services.  Great brands surround their products or services with emotion.  Tantalizing, positive emotion.

A product on its own is a commodity.  A product surrounded by appealing emotion becomes a brand.

Nike, Harley & Michelin

Nike doesn’t really sell running shoes.  Harley Davidson doesn’t really sell motorcycles.  Michelin doesn’t really sell tires.  Do these statements feel like another flagrant violation of elementary logic?  Think about the babies.  The adorable, innocent-faced babies in the Michelin commercials.  And then ponder the tagline – because so much is riding on your tires.  Michelin doesn’t really sell tires.

Are You Selling Yourself Short?

What are you really selling?  If you’re only selling your product or your service, you’re selling yourself short.

Every business has the opportunity to sell more than just their product or service.  Yes I mean every business.  Every manufacturer, every retailer, every business-to-business enterprise, every real estate agent, even every accountant has the opportunity to sell more than just their product or service.  If a company wants to escape constantly having to compete on price, then it has to determine what it should be really selling.

How About Your Company?

At first glance it may not be obvious what kind of emotion can be wrapped around your product or service, especially if your company operates in a technical arena.  Many businesses that I’ve worked with originally thought that all they would ever sell was strictly their product or service.  But after interviewing their customers I convinced them that they had far greater potential.  It was just a matter of articulating what was their unique equivalent of the candle shop’s warmth.

Equipped with this new breakthrough insight they soon realized that by focusing on what they were really selling, they would increase customer loyalty and stand out from their competitors.  They caught the vision that they could become a commanding brand in their market segment.  And they have.

This same potential beckons your company.  Dare to be a brand

Brand Messaging: Do You Talk To Your Real Customer?

30 Second Sales Seminar

Did you see the 30 second sales seminar on reaching the real decision maker during the Christmas shopping season?

Insights for the Complex Sale

The lesson came in the Rad Mom TV spot pitching the Nintendo Wii.   The commercial provides valuable insights for any company that needs to impress a group of people in the sales cycle, whether you’re flogging video games or a multi-million dollar software installation to a major corporation.


A Contrarian Work of Genius

The commercial is a contrarian work of genius.  It steers clear of the standard, predictable script used in most video game commercials.  The usual approach is to focus on users and fuel adolescent males’ rabid cravings for super hero combat and napalm explosions.

These flashy, but run of the mill commercials (like this promo for the Xbox Crackdown 2 game) do a good job of getting kids excited, but by no means win the sale.  Frequently they set the stage for ill-fated lobbying efforts and family conflict.


Here’s the scenario they create: excited teens with fire in their eyes and testosterone pumping through their bloodstream put the latest video game at the top of their gift list.  They expect their parents to become infected with their enthusiasm.  But it doesn’t spread.

The Real Customer

Instead they run into the objections of Mom, who barring an intervention by Santa, determines what presents make it under the tree.  Mom is very powerful.  She makes more than 80 percent of household buying decisions.  As the holder of the purse strings, she is the video game makers’ real customer.

Tough Objections

But asking a Mom to buy a video game is an uphill battle.  A lot of Moms, maybe even most Moms don’t think highly of video games.  Do any of these complaints sound familiar?

Video games promote violence.  They turn teenagers into zombies.  Kids lose all track of time, playing them for hours on end.  Homework gets neglected.  Grades suffer.  Kids emerge from a gaming binge showing aggressive, anti-social conduct.  Video games foster addictive behavior and erode our family dynamic.

These are tough objections.  Most video game makers don’t equip their users to refute the real decision maker’s arguments.  All they can do is hope that the teens have the necessary dogged determination, debating prowess and whining skills to wear their parents down.

Doing the Unthinkable

The Wii commercial removes the need for this family strife by doing the unthinkable.  It makes Mom the star of a video game ad.  It proactively answers each of the motherly objections, using Rad Mom as the spokesperson.

The Real Customer Becomes the Star

The spot opens with the very attractive, genteel Rad Mom having a coffee conversation with the camera in her spacious, nicely decorated kitchen.  She is surrounded by a poinsettia, a nutcracker figurine, a Father Christmas doll and an advent wreath.  Dressed in a cozy-looking snowflake ski sweater she diffuses the poor family dynamic objection by proclaiming “Family time is Wii time in our house.”

The commercial then cuts to the living room, where Mom, Dad and two young teenagers are on the couch engaged in head-to-head Wii competition.  Rad Mom is having fun.  She is good at Wii.  First she triumphs over her daughter in a quiz show bomb game.  Next she smashes her husband to oblivion in ping pong.  Finally Rad Mom gallops over her son in a horserace.

A Jubilant Cry of Conquest

With each victory, the mild mannered coffee conversationalist breaks from her refined demeanour into a jubilant cry of conquest.  She stops just shy of spiking the Wii control into the carpet and trash talking her competitors.

Why all the excitement?  Because in the Rad Mom’s house, Wii is a high stakes game.  The model family isn’t playing for money, but for something far more valuable in Mom currency – chore assignments.  Winners get free time.  Losers do extra work.

Transforming the Product’s Essence

With her Wii success, the Rad Mom got her daughter to do the dishes, her husband to make dinner and her son to put the laundry away.  The commercial transforms the essence of what a video game is in the eyes of Mom.  Wii is not the enemy of family values, it is the platform of honour for Mom, the real hero of the family.

What could be better for a Mom than to emerge from her underappreciated support role and delegate a few household tasks?  It just doesn’t get any better than this.

“Everyone’s a Winner, Especially Me”

In her final appearance, Rad Mom is back in the kitchen, observing that with Wii “At the end of the day, everyone’s a winner, especially me.”

The commercial then closes with special holiday pricing details on Wii systems.

Great Entertainment & Great Example

The Rad Mom commercial is great entertainment and a great example for companies that need to appeal to different levels and roles in a large corporation to make a sale.

Many of the B2B companies I’ve encountered follow the Xbox Crackdown 2 advertising approach.  They focus their brand persona and messaging on the user.  They excel at talking techie to techie, but the message isn’t meaningful to the real and often hidden customer in control of the budget.

Stymied Sales Efforts

Solid proposals enthusiastically supported by users get rejected in the corner office because they don’t address the right issues.  The executives don’t get excited about the product features and buzzwords that wow users.  “Innovative, next generation, cutting edge solutions” are as appealing to the CEO as rocket powered gas canisters are to Mom.

The sales efforts of user-focused brands often falter at the upper rungs of the corporate ladder.  Have you ever had a sure-fire pitch shot down by a nameless V.P.?

Talk to Your Real Customer

The solution is to follow the Wii example.  Give attention to “the Mom,” who has the ultimate power to say yes or no.  Craft your value proposition in terms that are meaningful and hopefully irresistible to the holder of the purse strings.

Talk to your real customer.  Make your real customer the star.