When broad conceptual thinking surpasses merely “naming a product” verbal identity becomes richer and better coincides with a brand strategy. In the article “Tech Branding: Not ‘Smart’ Enough” Jeff Mancini argues that the proliferation of ‘smart technology vernacular’ at CES 2011 seems to make all the “smart” products all vanilla. And for good reason: “smart board, smart networking, smart adapter” is an obvious case of a generic brand voice that provokes confusion as the term “smart” is used with a myriad of meanings.

This makes one question the uniqueness of these products. Moreover, I wonder whether people even relate to a product claiming it’s ‘smart-ness’ right on the label but rather prefer products placing them at the center. This isn’t a smartphone; it’s more personal and something that sees my experience as paramount; it’s my iPhone, it’s my Blackberry. The phone does great stuff, but I’m the smart one doing it. The smart board is simply a vessel; the students and teachers using the smart board ultimately are the smart ones. The brand story ought to place them at the center.

My contention is not that the technology itself creates stagnant brand stories; but the dull verbiage used to label these products does. Shifting the overall focus, in turn shifts to memorable language.

This leads to the use/mention distinction. I’ve been using words in language in the aforementioned and subsequent arguments; yet if I say “smart” has five letters, i’ve mentioned the word. It seems as if this is what brands are doing; mentioning a laundry list of one “smart” technology product after another. Brands must use language and converse: not simply mention. At CES 2011 GE did this quite well, as Jeff points out in his article. “Smart” labels provide little room for a brand to evolve and what’s smart one year is “so 2011” the next. Ensuring a story revolves around what makes the specific product “smart” is what secures temporal extension of product and brand.

Moving beyond “smart language” includes adopting action-oriented words and stories. Labeling products as “smart” might satisfy it’s identity at a given time, but does little to satisfy a brand’s identity over time, when “smart technology” isn’t particularly smart anymore, but is simply the norm. Brands who want to be remembered won’t succumb to smart labeling but will think conceptually of how a product fits into a brand promise.  The line of thought isn’t ‘how can we use “smart naming” to achieve X?’ but rather ‘ we want to achieve X, does adopting “smart labeling” work for us?’ Adopting the thought process of the latter, most likely leads to a resounding ‘no’ while the former might lead to multiple product extensions, but not necessarily a robust brand.

Jesse de Agustin