Microsoft’s Metro has gotten into trouble. The interface, which was specifically designed for fashion conscious urban males Windows 7 phones, is now being used to give Windows 8 Surface tablets a streamlined user experience.
Design-wise, Metro was well-received. Unfortunately, in another case of excess litigation, it was recently forced to change its name after (almost) being sued by a German supermarket chain for copyright infringement. While it will retain all of its features, Metro now needs to adopt a new title — and it’s opting, somewhat confusingly, for simply Windows 8 or the altogether-new Modern.
The news has me wondering: How do companies choose their brand names? To paraphrase Shakespeare, would Metro by any other smell just as sweet?
Looking at how other companies got their names can lead to some confusion. Industry behemoth Apple was christened after founder Steve Jobs had a trippy experience at an orchard over the summer and thought it sounded "fun, spirited and not intimidating.” Other companies, such as Twitter, just picked a name out of a hat (though it was a well-curated hat). Far too many startup names end in ‘y’ in a misguided attempt to be whimsical, and many companies have picked up the annoying habit of dropping vowels. Maybe an entrepreneur’s best bet is an afternoon in the Mojave Desert with some peyote and a voice recorder.
Introducing Windows Banana
Or maybe not. According to research consultancy Millward Brown, Apple’s brand is worth almost 200 billion dollars this year. Jobs was definitely onto something, but, say, the Microsoft Windows Banana just sounds silly (although there was a Windows Mango). A 1995 study titled Creating Effective Brand Names: A Study of the Naming Process concluded that companies should follow a five-step plan when creating a brand. These were:
1. Set clear criteria and objectives for the name
2. Create a reasonably long list of names to whittle down
3. Conduct an objective evaluation of the names
4. Systematically apply the criteria and objectives to the list.
5. Choose four or five names to submit to patent and trademark offices.
Still, a fifth of the companies did not explicitly apply the objectives to the list, suggesting that spontaneity still has its place in name creation.
When choosing a name, companies are often concerned with connotation — their name needs to invoke the product they’re selling, or at least positive feelings. When we interviewed RebelMouse founder Paul Berry, he pondered this nebulous ‘x-factor’ for naming. “I think that [RebelMouse] is a nice mix of being humble but ambitious,” he said. “I’ve been testing a lot, and we did it with RebelMouse too. There are names which for some reason engender a positive reaction.” Meanwhile, Ryan Charles of Consmr revealed the pragmatism behind some company names. “We wanted to come up with a name that was going to be memorable but, obviously, consumer.com was already taken, so we went with Consmr,” he said.
It is important to remember that while names can encourage positive feelings, the positive feelings are often implanted by having a quality product. Continuous branding breeds expectation — it would be fair to say that customers felt confident buying the first iPhones and iPads after Apple’s phenomenal success with the iPod. Windows is still by far the most used operating system, so putting the Windows 8 label on Microsoft’s tablet should make customers feel a degree of comfort as far as performance and compatibility with their existing computers.
Puff Puff Pass the Inspiration
That being said, the Metro interface offers a vastly different control mechanism and user experience than the standard Windows desktop. The ‘live’ tile appearance is more exciting, and extremely suited to touch controls. Microsoft has the opportunity to spark interest and add another brand to its venerable platform, if only it can get past its trademark fears and find a name more inspired than Modern.
Mr. Ballmer, I have some peyote you can borrow. You’ll have to supply the voice recorder.