Amazon’s new “Paperwhite”—simply differentiated

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One of the toughest decisions organizations have to make is how to name their new products and services. This is especially important today, with the effects of brand proliferation and information available in a dizzying array of mediums.

So, how do marketers create names for their products and services that are distinctive enough to help capture mindshare, yet clear enough to communicate what’s being offered? Not to mention, legally ownable and free of any real or perceived language issues.

Amazon, the “online-everything” store, recently launched the Kindle Paperwhite, its answer to the Nook Simple Touch. The Paperwhite, with a “back to basics” (or back to books) form factor and feature set, marks a substantial departure from the more computer-like or web-enabled Kindle devices. Ironically, Paperwhite does include significant technological improvements, mainly a brighter screen that provides a better contrast and overall read.

What’s more, the name itself helps to create some contrast—within the Kindle lineup, and compared to other e-reader tablets and devices. Paperwhite is simple and elegant. It tells you exactly what it is and whether it’s the right type of product for you.

So, it’s hard to imagine why there has been some confusion around the name. When paired with Kindle, Paperwhite actually does more heavy lifting than most product names. But apparently there has been some chatter around what the name isn’t doing right, starting with the fact that many people hear “paperweight.”

Considering that the Paperwhite is not the lightest of e-reader devices, this could potentially present a liability. Emphasis on could. It’s something that should have been considered when naming the product, however in many cases—like Apple’s iPad—people’s experiences with a product override any initial misunderstanding or criticism. Everyone’s a critic, yes, but now everyone loves the iPad.

Another hurdle is that Paperwhite connotes more of an enhancement or individual feature than a product. It’s easy to see why, considering that “paper white” suggests more of an adjective—a part to something versus the thing itself. And with the “Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight technology” currently on the market, it’s easy to mistake Paperwhite for Amazon’s version of GlowLight.

All the potential liabilities or misunderstandings around the name aside, and whether you like the name or not, it will be customers’ experience with the product that determines its success or failure.

No matter the outcome of Paperwhite’s success, it’s easy to argue that this name is inherently built for success. It tells you exactly what the product is, and how it isn’t like the others. Like the PowerBook name, it’s “unexpectedly fresh” in the way it combines two short and descriptive words to create an entirely new idea—a new, fresh concept that helps drive interest and memorability.

It’s elegant, and it’s simple—and as we say, “Simple is Smart.”

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