Tuesday, February 20, 2007

HP's decision to change software product names a bad idea

On the face of it, HP's announcement yesterday (reported in the Wall Street Journal - link $$) that it was combining its various enterprise software products under the umbrella brand HP Software seems perfectly logical. But, rather than unifying customers' view of the software, to the benefit of all products, this type of name change blanches out product distinctiveness and existing brand equity, to the detriment of all products. The whole becomes less than the sum of the parts.

In HP's case, the names OpenView and Mercury will be retired. And with that goes the decade or more of value built into those names via the thousands of companies that have used them, referred them, considered them. And jettisoning that value is simply a waste of money.

Software buyers purchase a product to do a job. (Remember this Harvard Business Review article?) They need to get rid of spyware, or manage a network, or store their source code. The product names connect to that job.

It's rare that a good name in one product area translates into another--how many people buy Microsoft's security software over Symantec or Norton? And corporate brand names, especially ones that span different product types (such as HP, covering hardware, software and services) add little value to a software product--primarily that the company that supports it won't go out of business.

HP Software Marketing VP David Gee must be confident that things will work out differently for HP (here's an interesting take on HP's overall software strategy). But, Mr. Gee, a piece of advice. Hold onto those old names. You may need them again in the future.

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