By now, you are likely acquainted with hybrid vehicles. It all began with the Prius, and to this day, it is still the dominant vehicle in the class. For many people, Prius is synonymous with “hybrid car”.

Toyota managed to achieve the holy grail of marketing: Proper noun in place of a noun. Like Tesla for EVs, to give a more 2020s era example.

Brand = Noun

What does that mean? Let’s take some examples. What do you call the activity of using the copy machine? How about a tissue? Or an adhesive bandage? And then, there’s the king of them all…that gelatin-based wobbly dessert.

Can your idea become the Kleenex of tissues, the Jello of jiggly sweets, the Band-Aid of bandages, or the Xerox of copying?

Probably not.

Hey, I have the utmost faith in your efforts! First, however, consider the odds. How many products/services do you refer to by their brand? A dozen, at most?

Brand = Verb

Your idea can be a great success without becoming a fixture of public consciousness. Sure, you Google your way through an Internet search session, but do you “credit union” your loan application? You know the answer. And that’s just fine.

So Long As Your Members Know…

These brands achieved success beyond their wildest marketer’s dreams, yet it is not an absolute. When you take a picture with your phone, do you call it a Polaroid?

Why not? It’s instantly available, able to be shown and shared with others near and far, and might even become clearer if you shake it around. Some brands don’t adapt, and the word goes with them.

So it’s not the fact that people say the brand name, it’s that the product offers such a great benefit. Band-aids still cover cuts and bruises, with the confidence its removal will be pain-free. Jello still jiggles as if it were alive. Xerox machines still represent the boundary between screen and paper in an office.

A comment on an Amazon hardware story expressed it well (nearly 8 years after this article was originally written!):

To Amazon’s credit, there aren’t many companies that get to say “we didn’t have any memorable successes, aside from a product that so thoroughly defined a category it became a generic name for the category”.

Almost every other company on earth would commit a billion unspeakable crimes to be so forgettable that they’re only the Kindle people.

User Unremarkable, from ArsTechnica

At the end of the day, the (arguably) horrible pickup line still applies: “Hi, my name is Joe, but you can call me anytime.” As long as your members are aware of and getting great service through your credit union, does it really matter what they call it?

All brand names copyright their respective owners and are referenced in fair use, but, I’m no lawyer, so who knows?

Image credit: Mike from Vancouver, Canada, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons