Nov 222010
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just because you can doesn't mean you should

“A man’s got to know his limitations.”

The famous Clint Eastwood line from “Dirty Harry” sums it up. I’m  a capable businessman and marketer, but don’t let me anywhere near the creative team when they’re trying to name a product. Oh I can define the product, describe the market for it, detail the buying process and funnel metrics for it, create a promotion or campaign to drive leads for it, etc…. But naming things is not really my forte.

One thing I do know about product names, however, is that the wrong name can be an expensive drain on your marketing budget. To illustrate this point, let’s consider a seasonal example: turducken. For those who – like me until a couple of years ago, or my wife until this morning – have no idea what turducken is, here is the Wikipedia definition:

“A turducken is a dish consisting of a de-boned chicken stuffed into a de-boned duck, which itself is stuffed into a de-boned turkey. The word turducken is a portmanteau of turkey, duck, and chicken or hen.”

I haven’t seen any research to back up this claim, but I’d be willing to bet that (far) less than 50% of the U.S. population would be able to accurately define turducken without first asking a friend or looking it up on the Web. And among those consumers curious enough to learn the meaning, a subset would first have to stop giggling at a word that seems to include the concepts of “turd” and “uck.”

None of this is a problem for the individual consumer confronted with this word. His life will resume momentarily, with or without the addition of turducken to his vocabulary, or his oven.

But let’s consider briefly the hypothetical case of a marketer tasked with creating demand for this product. She has a product that has the potential to serve a large and horizontal market (i.e., people who eat gourmet poultry dishes). The product is well-liked among the group of consumers who know what it is. And there are probably some historical trends and benchmarks that can help her direct marketing budget and resources.

That’s all well and good, but what if the hypothetical CEO of Turducken Incorporated — to whom our hypothetical marketer reports — throws down a gauntlet and says she wants to see turducken sales double this year, but only increases the marketing budget by, say, 25%. What should our marketer do? Clearly, small improvement on the organic growth rate will not get the job done. So trying to hit the sales goal by targeting the “turducken-aware” segment is likely to fail. This is a “Blue Ocean” marketing challenge — our marketer will have to find and/or create a whole new market of consumers who are willing to give turducken a try.

This brings us back to bad product names. Before we get excited about something, we usually have to know what the heck it is. Our marketer is quickly going to blow through her budget trying to explain her product to the uninitiated. A too-clever-by-half product name only confuses the prospect and delays the buying process. Two time-honored sales axioms apply here: (a) “a confused customer usually says no” and (b) “time kills deals.” A consumer who is uninterested in learning the definition of turducken is unlikely to buy it (even if he might otherwise enjoy the dish). And any excess time spent explaining a quirky word like turducken is time NOT spent selling it.

Since our marketer doesn’t have a large budget to fund missionary marketing of turducken, she should use simple, descriptive names — perhaps “three bird roast” or “turkey, duck, and chicken roast” — to help quickly define it for new buyers. Keeping the name simple will let her to direct those scarce dollars and resources to more targeted and measurable demand generation campaigns and programs.

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  5 Responses to “Marketing Fowl: The Turducken Problem”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by funnelholic, Tom Scearce. Tom Scearce said: Marketing Fowl: The Turducken Problem […]

  2. Loved the Wiki line about “portmanteau of turkey, duck and chicken”. Does anyone know what a portmanteau is these days? (hint: Tumi doesn’t make one).

    I happened to know what turducken is (sad, isn’t it) and completely agree about simplicity in naming. After all, is TOFURKEY any better?

  3. Hey Tom…they could change up the order. You have turkey, duck and chicken as the components. So, I would advise them to rename as:

    Turchucky (Turkey, Chicken, Duck)