A Naming Success Story for the Ages

When you come up with the right name, it’s like that name was there all along, and all you had to do was look in its direction, then it’d march right up, shake your hand, introduce itself, and smack you in the face for taking so long to find it.

A few days ago, I wrote about a concept I’d pitched back in 2010 while I was a Product Marketing Manager at Sandvine: to use market-friendly product, technology, and feature names as part of an overall strategy aimed at more effectively communicating our solution differentiation. As you know by now (if you read that post), the proposal got squashed.

A couple of years later, the marketing department reported into a different executive – our CTO, Don Bowman. One day, on his wildly entertaining and (occasionally) educational internal blog, Don explained a problem he’d noticed.

Devimahatmya_Sanskrit_MS_Nepal_11c

Unfortunately, the exact text of his blog has been lost to the sands of time, but it went something like this:

I’ve noticed a problem when we interact with customers. We often say “you can do that with policy”, which to us means that they can achieve some goal using PAL or our policy scripting language. But to them, it means they can do it in their PCRF; “policy” is synonymous with “PCRF” to many of our customers. So instead of showing off how capable our Policy Engine is, instead we’re sounding like we can’t achieve the goal and that this other element in the network can.

This problem really had major significance: our Policy Engine was perhaps the primary differentiating piece of our solution – if you distilled the company down to one key element, that’d be it. And our event-driven policy scripting language, which I’m told is slightly different-but-related-to PAL (our policy assembly language), is how you tell our entire solution what to do. Importantly, this technology was objectively vastly superior to anything from the competition; practically any network policy control-related problem could be solved “in policy”, as we’d say, whether or not the system originally shipped with those ‘instructions’. Anyway, if you take anything from this paragraph, take that we were doing ourselves a disservice by not adequately communicating the amazingness of this technology and – crucially – how it helped our customers.

So Don continued with something like this:

*cat joke*

Here’s what I propose: we give our policy language a name. Contact me or use the comment section below to propose your suggestions, and then we’ll have a vote!

*Rick Roll*

I’ll just say here that I despise voting for names. Sure, good names can come from anywhere/anyone, but I firmly believe someone should have final say and accountability for the decision.

I’ll just say here that I despise voting for names. Sure, good names can come from anywhere/anyone, but I firmly believe someone (in this case, the Product Marketing Manager) should have final say and accountability for the decision. The wisdom of crowds is pretty damned amazing in many circumstances (particularly when all the noise cancels out and the signal is strengthened), but choosing a product name should come down to one person who gathers information, examines and synthesizes, and makes a call. But I digress.

Obviously, the most important outcome is that the best name win, regardless of who suggested it…but I felt more than a little pressure to come up with the winning name. To be clear, I applied this pressure on myself. I’d developed a bit of a reputation as a talented ‘marketer’ (whatever the hell that means), and had basically pitched this general idea a few years before…so I really wanted to ‘win’ the competition.

And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there was a bit of marketing pride on the line: how capable am I, or is our team, if the winning name came from some other part of the organization…from someone who’s just coming up with names as a hobby? Hey, I don’t come back there and start writing code, do I (even though I totally could)? (although, true story: I did have to debug a bunch of our policy rules one time to get a rather important demo to work)

I wanted to ‘win’ it with a name so wonderful that it’d achieve our company’s goals and resonate – no, reverberate! – in our customers’ minds forever.

More accurately, I wanted to ‘win’ it with a friggin’ amazing name…a name so wonderful that it’d achieve our company’s goals and resonate – no, reverberate! – in our customers’ minds forever.

Over the days (or maybe weeks?) that the competition was open, a number of suggestions came in from all corners of the global team: engineers, sales engineers, support personnel, marketers, and so on. These proposals ran the gamut from multi-word descriptions, to elaborate and imaginative acronyms, to single-word names.

All the while, I just kind’ve bubbled things away in the back of my mind, which is kind’ve how I operate. Still feeling pressure, still feeling confident that I’d ultimately figure something out. I did a bit of whiteboarding, jotting down some concepts and seeing if I could link them together, but not really to any avail.

Then one day, it came to me so clearly and convincingly that it was like it had been there all along…

Then one day, either when I was in the shower or perhaps at a urinal (look, all I really recall is that I was in a washroom somewhere), it came to me so clearly and convincingly that it was like it had been there all along…SandScript. Of course!

Immediately, I knew that was it. It was like it had always been it. When you come up with the right name, it’s like that name was there all along, and all you had to do was look in its direction, then it’d march right up, shake your hand, introduce itself, and smack you in the face for taking so long to find it.

Like, it was just so damned obvious in retrospect…how could it have taken me, or anyone, for that matter, that long to come up with it?

I dutifully went to Don’s blog and added a one-word comment: “SandScript”.

Then I sat back and waited for the congratulations to come pouring in.

As it happened, a few folks did ping me to say they really liked it, but the reception overall was pretty meh: to my utter incredulity, Don was kind’ve lukewarm, and I vividly recall one sales engineer remarking pithily something to the effect of: “It’s perfect – our policy language is hard to learn, so why not name it after a notoriously difficult language.” I also recall some sort of objection that – technically speaking – our policy language isn’t a scripting language. To which I now heartily say, “Oh yeah? Well you’re not a scripting language. HA!”

Haters gonna hate.

Nevertheless, I remained confident. I mean, SandScript, right? SandScript!

It’s just so delicious!

First, it’s got “Sand”, which can’t be underestimated: Sand-vine, Sand-Script, it just works.

Second, it’s got “Script”, y’know, like JavaScript, so it’ll position itself in people’s minds alongside other languages that are already there.

Third, it’s a delightful play on Sanskrit; whether or not people consciously recall, they’ve likely (maybe?) heard of Sanskrit at some point in time, so it’ll create a spark of recognition.

When the votes came in, SandScript won in convincing fashion. Not quite Matt-Trushinski’s-chili-at-the-company-chili-cook-off-convincing, but sufficiently convincingly that I felt pretty happy.

The real seal of approval came from our customers and our engineers, who immediately – and I mean immediately! – started using it.

But the real seal of approval came from our customers and our engineers, who immediately – and I mean immediately! – started using it.

If you’re a marketer, then you’ll know that it can be next to impossible to get people to use your standard/approved/sanctioned names: people create acronyms, or short-forms, or portmanteaux, or anything except the name you chose…they really seem to go out of their way to avoid using your name, just as an indictment of your (in)ability. It’s like when you see paths that people have naturally trodden into the grass or municipal gardens, because the path planners didn’t properly anticipate the optimal route that people want to take.

So anyway, literally the next day “SandScript” was popping up in our customer forums, on internal mailing lists – and of course in our marketing material. The only problem was the use of the improper non-CamelCase “Sandscript” form (inevitable, of course)…but I could live with that.

So there you have it, perhaps my greatest (only?) legacy at Sandvine: SandScript, the name of Sandvine’s event-driven policy definition language.

Lee Brooks is a freelance technology marketer based in the high-tech hub of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

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Posted in Careers, Marketing
3 comments on “A Naming Success Story for the Ages
  1. […] (or ‘micro’) content; I’ve also done more than my share of product, feature, and technology naming, which makes use of some of the same techniques. By reading Microstyle, I hoped to pick up a few […]

  2. […] all reporting into a different executive, and one day he independently came to the conclusion that maybe we should consider giving ‘marketing names’ to some of our core technologies, to avoid confusion and to capture our value […]

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