Business People are People

You are who you are. And when set foot into the office, you are still who you are.

Yet I've heard it said time and again that naming a business-to-business product is fundamentally different than naming a business-to-consumer product. The conventional wisdom is that b2b names should be more functional and descriptive. B2c names have permission to be more creative.


It’s my belief that b2b and b2c distinctions are false dichotomies, and all branding is really b2p: business-to-people. Because at the end of the day – and in the morning and all times in-between – all business people are people.

Our brains don’t change when we act as consumers for our companies versus ourselves. The specific criteria for choosing one product over another are certainly different depending on the situation – routers and breakfast cereals are selected for different reasons – but our decision-making rationale and irrationale are the same.

Consider these brand names ostensibly for business audiences. I worked on all except BlackBerry.

BlackBerry: This great name, created by Lexicon where I used to work, proves that a name can be utterly irrational, yet beloved by brow-furrowing businesspeople and bureaucrats the world over. A blackberry is not intrinsically serious, yet the product named after one is. [Note to RIM and Landor: Drop the inter-cap B. It serves no purpose except to distract.]

Yum!: A perfect name for a fast food holding company. I worked on creative for this Pepsico spin-off back at Landor, and Yum was one of the names on my list. At the time (1997), Yum was liked by the client but only enough to be chosen as the spin-off's ticker symbol. A more serious, client-developed name was instead adopted for launch: Tricon. (“KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell: get it!?”). Fortunately, the ill-chosen Tricon was tossed when the company bought Long John Silver’s and A&W. That’s when Yum! was adopted as the company name, replacing the mildly nefarious and unappetizing Tricon.

Snapdragon: Business people make decisions rationally, right? And engineers might be the most rational of all, right? Then how to explain the success of a wild-blue, irrational name for a microprocessor called Snapdragon? When at Landor, I directed the naming of this chipset for Qualcomm and wrote the product tagline, “Imagine Your Surprise”. The idea was to create a name that would reflect the amazing products engineers could design and build with this breakthrough, multi-function system-on-a-chip. A Snapdragon is a flower and as such has nothing to do with semiconductors. But in the context of a chipset, it sounds fast and powerful, driven by associations with “snap” and “dragon”. Snapdragon is a non-linear name that nonetheless appeals to the most linear thinkers.

Bracket: Named by Operative Words, Bracket is a business that helps pharmaceutical clients run clinical trials more effectively and efficiently. It eschews a functional name for one that hints at strength, support and precise delineation. Though just launched, the name has been well-received by Bracket’s pharma clients.

Corporate Express pens: This fascinating assignment required renaming pens for Corporate Express, one of the world’s largest b2b office supply companies (it was recently bought by Staples). These pens had generic names (e.g. ballpoint stick pen, ballpoint retractable pen with rubber grip, etc.) and competed against known product brands like BIC. Leading the project at Landor, I recommended we think of the business customer in the moment of purchase, browsing these pens in the hefty Corporate Express catalog. What would appeal in that moment?

Disappointingly, the client rejected the idea of naming the pens after cocktails (“Gee, a mai tai [highlighter] does sound pretty good about now”), so other solutions were adopted: Exclaim! (highlighter), Gridline (mechanical pencil), Pinwheel (stick pen with spiral pattern on grip), Icebreaker (transparent pen), Symmetry (grip pen), Center Stage (white board marker), Fluent (smooth writing pen), Silhouette (contoured pen) and Motif (retractable pen). The client said that after the pen names changed, sales of those pens immediately increased by “double digits”. If ever there’s a testament to the power of a creative name for business audiences, that is it.

Creative names like these demonstrate that just because your product is intended for a business audience, the product name itself does not have to be all business. Remember that all business people are just people. Develop a great name with people in mind, and it will succeed for everyone.

Bracket: The Story Behind the Name

A name should be worth a thousand words.

That is, a brand name should be able to simplify a complex set of ideas into a single word.

That was the creative challenge Operative Words faced creating a new name for a division of United BioSource, a Medco-owned company that, among other things, helps pharmaceutical companies run efficient and effective clinical trials.

Three key features of my client's organization were factored into name development: people, process and precision.

People, that is the people who work at the company, are responsible for helping solve their pharmaceutical clients clinical trial challenges; their people write the brilliant software that helps clinical trials run remarkably efficiently and effectively; and people are the ultimate beneficiaries of the company's know-how as new and better medicines are launched into the market.

Process is tantamount to the whole category of clinical trials. A clinical trial is a process, so even though process generally would not be differentiating, the articulation of my client's special brand of process could be.

Precision characterizes well-run clinical trials; it reflects research data that is complete and pinpoint accurate; and it corresponds with the carefully defined parameters of valid and projectable product studies.

Creative name development followed these paths. The ultimate name was discovered while thinking about the people who worked at UBC and how they treated their clients. I dived into the notion of support. One of my resources is a great desktop application called Word Menu. It's also available in book form, but the software let's you do things that you can't do with a book.

Word Menu lists words and their definitions in categories. So if you look under 'fish', you'll find a list of different types of fish. If you look up 'action words', you'll find dozens of those. It's quite handy.

Typing in 'support' -- a key attribute of my client -- into Word Menu's search box returned 490 results, each of which was an entry or definition that included the word 'support'. In that list, I found 'bracket'.

Brackets do indeed provide support. But the word 'bracket' says more than that. A good name like Bracket is polysemous, it has many meanings.  Brackets provide support, and, as symbols, they are endemic in clinical trial reports. Brackets are used to indicate subsets; they delineate and thus suggest precision. The word 'bracket' sounds smart and strong.  And, as a real word, it's easy to relate to and understand, unlike some of my client's competitors who have Latinate coined names that are alien and institutional.

Miraculously, Bracket was also available as a trademark.

The denotations and connotations of Bracket are perfect for a company that wants to reinforce precision and support. It demonstrates that a name with many meanings will ultimately fit one company perfectly when presented in a real-world business context.

Bracket illustrates that just one name can be worth a thousand words.