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Why a brand name matters in mobile and tech

By Paola Norambuena

Brands help us make sense of the world ? particularly in the tech sector, where the rate of innovation is constantly redoubling and even the savvy need help keeping up.

A clear brand identity and clarity in naming practices helps mediate the tech zeitgeist for potential consumers. Put another way: It is a brand?s name that often spells the difference between sense and nonsense.

Wi-Fi by any other name might be essentially the same offering ? and yet its impact would no doubt be diminished.

By now Wi-Fi is ubiquitous, expected ? its name synonymous with a kind of freedom we now take for granted. But in 1999, the technology we know and love was called IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence.

Phil Belanger, a founding member of the Wi-Fi Alliance, knew ?we needed something catchier.? Indeed. The code remained the service?s moniker for a full 14 years.

High five for Wi-Fi
When Interbrand named Wi-Fi in 1999, we aimed to ease the technology into the wider world. Because that is what great names do ? they help redefine the very notion of the possible on a mass scale.

Sure, you could walk into a café in Fiji and send an urgent email home using IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence. But then the service itself would have remained at a remove from our daily lives.

Wi-Fi playfully evokes both the hi-fi sets that set a standard for user-friendly tech, and the ?sci-fi? sense of cool- factor futurism. The implication: Here was a cutting edge that would cut the way you wanted, a next-big-thing that can fit in our survival kit.

That sense of pragmatism, utility and user-friendliness are the order of the day ? the best naming practices for tech and everyone else.

In the midst of economic downturn, when plain speaking is at a premium, the trend is toward ? well ? getting real.

We are drawn to high tech that brings us up to its level rather than looking down at us from icy algorithmic peaks.

Complex, Latin-based names once signaled everything new ? and vaguely unapproachable ? about technology.

Early search engines, with names such as AltaVista, maintained that distance (?We can see everything from here, how about you?? they intoned from their geek-elite perch).

Now that we carry the Internet in our pockets, the space between high-tech and highly human is dissolving every day. The Internet has become common space?and that is evident in the way we name. Bing is the perfect example.

Today, search is about more than search. It is about making decisions in an instant. ?Bing,? a real word and onomatopoeia, speaks to instant experiences, ones that are enjoyable and fresh and meant to delight us.

Naming a search engine after ?the sound of found? signals an approach to the category that reflects the way we want to interact with information: immediate, accessible, woven into the fabric of our daily lives.

Adroit calls
There are variations on the realness theme.

Take, for instance, Droid and iPhone ? both are real words that appeal to real needs. Some seek the robotic approach, others want high-touch. But what they share is a directness and a grounding in consumers? real lives.

This need for clarity is, if anything, more critical in the Wild West world of applications. If there is an app for that, there?s a name for that, too.

With 225,000 third-party applications in Apple?s App Store alone, the universe of applications is becoming far too crowded to leave success to chance.

As veteran developers have learned through trial and error, your application?s name can be as important as the application itself.

In traditional situations, a product?s name is just one part of a much larger marketing mix.

Package design, advertising, point-of-sale display and promotions all play a role when you are shopping for a pair of Nikes or your next iPhone ? but when you are searching for an application, nearly all of that tangible context is absent.

The bottom line: It is wise in the current environment to think of your brand and its handle as the connective tissue that joins your awesome offering to every individual on the planet. You need them ? now is the time to make it clear that they need you, too.

Paola Norambuena is head of verbal identity at Interbrand, New York. Reach her at .