Microsoft Lync – New Name Part of a Bigger Trend that will Help Unified Communications

I just read, with some amusement, the UCStrategies podcast transcription on Microsoft’s latest announcement, which I missed because I was traveling. Numerous UCStrategies folks have already written about Microsoft’s latest and greatest, including discussing the new name, but I’d also like to chime in on the company’s naming strategy, as part of a naming trend I am starting to see.

What is so big about the way OCS was renamed? Well, two things really. One, this name, and some others that follow here, are part of delightful naming trend that has recently popped up that indicates that finally, high-tech is moving from boring – ‘this only really means something to us’ – to what consumer products companies have known for years – make it sound appealing to the consumer, or end user.

For decades we have been creating and selling products in communications such as voice messaging, PBXs, data centers, etc., with some of the most boring brand names known to mankind. Sure, back in the 80’s and 90’s we had some creative names that made sense whether you worked in a high tech company or were a consumer – such as ROLM’s PhoneMail voice messaging product, in which the name said exactly what it was – phone mail. But this same company had a plethora of products that were named with three and four letter acronyms that had model numbers after them, and if you weren’t in the industry you had no clue what they were. We also had our share of companies, such as Apple, that decided that just because their company had some name that had nothing to do with the products they were selling, that they should create product names having to do with the company name, and hence, Apple started selling a flavor of Apple, the Macintosh, instead of telling people it was a personal computer. Thankfully, they didn’t follow up with the Gravenstein.

The good thing about Apple is that they were both a consumer and business play, so eventually sanity took over and Apple started making products with names that had high recognition and consumer appeal. Now they have iTunes (says exactly what it is), iTouch, iPad (well, except this one…. I won’t go there), and others, that make perfect sense to the consumer.

So what does this have to do with Lync? Lync is part of an emerging trend to simplify naming, and creating shorter names that actually have something to do with what the product does. Plus, more importantly, they seem to elicit a thought about what the product should do, which is key in consumer product naming.

We have recently seen a bunch of these names come out of Cisco. For example, Cisco Pulse, “takes a pulse” on what is going on knowledge or theme wise, within a company, by scanning through everything that traverses a corporate network that has been tagged. Not only is the name short, and a real English word – not two words slammed together with a capital letter in the middle – it also elicits the image of taking a reading. Cisco’s Show and Share is similar; short, sweet and not only tells what it is, but elicits the sense that it’s easy to do. I video, and then upload and share. Cisco has some other names in the works that are equally compelling.

As for Microsoft Lync, some of the comments my colleagues made talked about what the name might elicit in the minds of the user. For example, Blair Pleasant said, “Basically Microsoft said that they wanted a new name to get into the next generation of communications, and to embody the spirit of this new generation and this new version of the product. So the new name is the combination of link and sync and what I like about it is the ability to use the name as a verb, so sort of like it will be the Kleenex and Xerox and Google of office communications, I guess. You’ll be able to link with somebody and you know, “let’s link tomorrow,” or whatever. I really like the verb aspect of it.”

I like the verb aspect of it too. One important point that shouldn’t get lost here goes back to what I said about Apple, which also applies to Microsoft and a few others. And that is, some of these companies have been selling to consumers and enterprises for a long time, but with different marketing strategies. Now it seems the strategies are starting to overlap in that products, particularly unified communications and social media are bridging both worlds, and therefore, simplifying and making naming more consumer oriented will work for both sets of customers.  A good example of this is Cisco’s new Cius tablet, introduced in July. The name is simple and elicits the concept of being seen, which is part of the tablet’s video capability. So although Cisco launched the product with idea of it being a business tool, there is nothing that precludes them from turning it into a consumer product as well, and the Cius name works for both.

As Marty Parker pointed out, the goal isn’t really to go after the average consumer, but a greater pool of end users. In my opinion, a greater pool of end users can contain pure consumers, or just a bigger audience of business users, but in all, more user-friendly naming can only help the growth of unified communications, and social media.  

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