If you’re launching an innovative product in a nascent industry, it’s important to understand — and take advantage of — the dynamics through which new product category labels emerge.
Have you ever bought a snurfer? Probably not, although in 1966, the snurfer was advertised as “the greatest word in downhill fun” and described as combining the “thrills of skiing” and the “skills of surfing.” It’s much more likely that you have bought a similar product under a different name — a snowboard — which was the category label introduced in the 1970s by Jake Burton Carpenter. His company, Burton Snowboards, went on to dominate the snowboard industry.
What’s in a name? Although Shakespeare claimed that a rose “by any other name would smell as sweet,” over the last five to 10 years, significant research on category labels has shown the opposite to be true.1 This research finds that a company’s labeling strategy can have important performance implications for products in nascent markets. As part of our research in this growing field, we followed the more than 200 category labels that smartphone producers used to introduce new products since roughly the beginning of the 21st century. (See “About the Research.") We also studied the labels used in almost a dozen other industries. What we found may surprise you.