Financial institutions just might be the worst offending culprits of undifferentiation. When it comes to naming, even the most distinctive brands seem to fall within a comfortable realm of conservative sameness.
In fairness – and as we’ve written before – there are a lot of difficult hurdles when articulating a financial product: features that are complicated to the average consumer, and limited vocabulary to describe them (there aren’t many ways to say “mortgage” but…”mortgage.”) But rather than invest in expanding and deepening consumer understanding – an effort that could help a bank create its own market differentiated vocabulary – most fear the investment required to truly differentiate and are all too comfortable to go with the flow.
Think about credit cards. Names like Gold and Platinum are ubiquitous, despite the ironic fact that the names are metaphors intended to denote rarity and value. When used throughout the industry, their cachet is weakened dramatically. Leaders in the field have clearly realized this, “distinguishing” themselves with other colors and rare gems and minerals – Black, Blue, Clear, Plum, Sapphire, Zync, Slate, Diamond. But the result is a broader array of names that essentially tout the same benefit of “rare value” or “colorfully distinct.” Again, the meaning begins to blend when the convention dilutes itself.
Similarly, another category of “superlative prestige” proliferates the market (Executive, Select, Elite, Preferred, Advantage, Premium, Signature, Honor, Reward) …all words that tell a similar, and now quite hollow, story. As consumers, we’re tasked with sleuthing the differences between names that are all saying the same thing in different, nuanced ways – often within the same company’s suite of products. And, in the end, we conclude that the difference is…very little.
With this as the backdrop of the financial branding landscape, Capital One has emerged as a bank on a mission to do things differently. They offer industry leading rewards, and do so with a spirit of ease and enthusiasm rooted in a “no hassle” heritage, promising customers that their money can take them places. The takeaway: this is a bank that doesn’t just inspire confidence, but also boldness and adventure.
The Naming Group has been tapped as Capital One’s leading naming agency, charged with shaping their namescape through continued strategic naming engagements – and thereby emboldening the brand to break the trend of “comfortable” naming – and to make their names do more to advance a brand-distinguishing voice.. Our partnership is consistently focused on channeling their dynamic brand attitude into a strategic approach to naming – and subsequently, into the names that support it. Consistent with our namescape philosophy, it’s about weaving a meaningful brand story as much as defining any one product.
It all began with a credit card that we named Venture. The name reflected a major shift in direction for the brand, away from the timeworn silver-gold-platinum language and toward a more strategic, and brand resonant approach to naming. Recognizing the strategic opportunity to differentiate, we quickly saw Venture as a perfect name to lead the brand in an empowered new direction. Venture is an amazing word, because it embodies a number of powerful meanings. Most readily, it says “adventure”, speaking to the travel rewards it offers in abundance. It speaks to exploration. It speaks to commerce, with cues of a “business venture” or “venture capital.” But it also says “daring” – literally promising an uncertain destiny that distinguishes the name from other credit cards in how you – the cardholder – have agency. The power to chose your own course. Find a flight that suits you. Go in a bold new direction. Above all, Venture is an action verb that associates the card not with a cold, static metal or gem, but with motion. That a human makes. It becomes personal and inspirational. Spirited and energetic. With a Venture card in your wallet, you are going somewhere.
This spirit became a convention with Capital One’s card designed for students: Journey. Journey, too, is all about action. Adventure. Ambition. Again, the card isn’t defined by a static indicator of prestige, but a motivating promise. A challenge to choose your own path.
And when we were charged with naming a card for business, offering similarly robust rewards, the strategic road was paved for us. A set of criteria had emerged that defined not only what makes a good credit card name, but a good Capital One credit card name: active, dynamic, and the promise that the card is not the end, but the beginning of the story the customer is free to define. For a more serious business audience, we translated this story as Spark. The Spark that inspires smarter business decisions, great ideas, and explosive rewards. And again, it’s very “Capital One” in its unique dynamism.
In a nutshell, this is the approach that more financial institutions should be taking: naming products not in a way that “sounds like a banking product,” but, rather, taking a step back and asking, “what are we really offering our customers?” and “what is the way that our brand should tell them in our own unique, consistent voice through naming?” The Naming Group continues to guide Capital One’s commitment to a strengthened namescape strategy, and it’s building a culture of naming that sees names as bigger than product-defining trademarks. Venture, Journey, Spark, and more brand names to come are working as team players in pursuit of a bigger brand vision.