Project Branding: Using Marketing to Win the Hearts and Minds of Stakeholders

Extract from my book ‘Project Branding’ published by RMC Publications, Inc.

Amazon.com

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The project name is important in setting the tone and personality of the project, and this name can be a powerful marketing tool, or even a major part of the brand for a significant project. The name should reflect the overall goals and objectives of the project—what the project is about and what it’s meant to deliver. Over time, people will subconsciously start to link the name to a set of associations they make with the project.

Consider, for example, “Project Phoenix” (how many of those have you come across?)—a good enough name and one that is often selected to show the desire to resurrect or improve some system or other. But (yes, there is a “but” in this case) what happens when the project hits issues? Then the jokes about “burning up” or “going to ashes” or “this bird is dead” might come thick and fast, and the project name becomes tainted.

In short, the project name is a valuable aid to communications inside and outside the project team. So it’s worth taking the time to think carefully about a suitable name for the project. Make sure the name conveys the following:

  • The “big idea.” What lies at the heart of the project change?
  • The vision for what this project will accomplish. Where are we going? What will the outcome be?
  • The principles behind the project. What are the key features/characteristics that will be reflected in the project deliverables?
  • The personality of the project. How do you want the project to be perceived?

Typically a name falls into one of the following four types:

Descriptive: These are names that simply say what the company or project actually does. For example, “Move” was used to label an office move, saying all that needed to be said about what was happening.

Evocative: Names in this category suggest associations with the project or company, but they don’t try to describe it precisely. For example, “Advance” is a project name that evokes thoughts of progress, things getting better, and advantage.

Abstract: These names are unusual (in the context in which they’re being used) and therefore stand out from the crowd. They make no clear reference to the nature of the project. For example, “Blue” was a project name that came about because the supplier’s primary color for their marketing material was blue, but the name eventually came to stand for a brighter horizon/future

Acronym (or abbreviation): These are contractions of a title or phrase based on the first letters of each word. The end result should be a name that is easier to say and recall than the full version, but one that still clearly relates to the organization, project, or item. A simple example might be “RED” (Rapid Enterprise Deployment), a memorable acronym with a suggestion of importance and criticality.

Here are some other tips to consider when choosing a project name:

  • First, when you are brainstorming or collecting ideas for a project name, you will need to filter the suggestions. You will need to imagine the name in various potential moments—both positive and negative—of the project’s future. How will the name stand up at these potential points in time? Will the name work in all extremes?
  • Then, ask yourself if the name is politically correct, and not just in your mind. Remember here to consider the full spectrum of stakeholders, too: both those closely related to the project and those more widely associated with the project. In these days of multi-country, multi-cultural projects, just be careful what you end up with when choosing a project name. The clever acronym that you have constructed in Portuguese or English might well be just that at home—a clever acronym. But in another country, it might just mean or translate into something completely different.
  • Make sure your project name is easy to pronounce. If people can’t say it, then they won’t use it. And make sure it isn’t awkward. Don’t, for example, misspell a word to fit an acronym. You will get fed up with people telling you that you have spelled it incorrectly.

Now, you do need to think through your project name carefully, but don’t overthink it either. Too much can be made of a project or product name, but many great names start out with humble and less thought-out origins. In the biography Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson describes how Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak discussed many options for company names, including “Matrix,” “Personal Computers, Inc.,” and “Executek.” Jobs, however, had just arrived back from working on a fruit farm. He suggested “Apple” and the rest, as they say, is history.

On the other side of the marketing coin, Apple experienced some issues with the pre-Macintosh PC when it was named “Lisa” (allegedly after Jobs’s daughter). The official company line was that it stood for “Local Integrated System Architecture,” and the unofficial one was that it stood for “Lisa: Invented Stupid Acronym.”

There is a wonderful Dilbert cartoon by Scott Adams that starts with the news that the company has run out of acronyms, and so they can’t start any more projects. They can’t create any new acronyms either, because that would then be a project, and they can’t start a new project because . . .they’ve run out of acronyms!

So don’t push that one too far. Be creative, but don’t constrain yourself by trying to be too clever or to force something out as an acronym.

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