A while back, I got a call from one of my B2B clients. They said “One of our competitors just came out with a branded product so we need brand names for our products too”. I asked them to tell me a little more about the situation, and they explained: A competitor’s new, branded product met a longstanding unmet need in the industry and it was causing quite a stir. So my client wanted to brand its products, too.

I asked my client if, perhaps, the takeaway here was not that brand names generate buzz but that products which meet heretofore unmade needs generate buzz?

The danger here was that my client was getting caught up in the sexiness of giving a name to products in a business where not many products have names. It’s easy to see that, in this case, attaching brand names to products was going to be a whole lot easier than actually identifying an unmet customer need and then developing a new product to meet that need.

B2B companies aren’t the only ones guilty of this kind of thinking. It’s often easy to see when a company is relying on the window-dressing of brand names rather than doing the heavy lifting required to develop useful new-to-the-world products.

My favorite example of this is the contrast between Vanilla Oreos and Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. The creation of Vanilla Oreos clearly stemmed from a manufacturer’s need to squeeze as much revenue out of the Oreos brand cash cow as it could. I sincerely doubt that consumer research showed that millions of snacking Americans were wishing fervently that their favorite chocolate sandwich cookie came in vanilla flavor.

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, on the other hand, is a unique product, developed to solve the problem of wiping kid’s scuff marks off the walls without removing the paint. The product was developed first, and then it was given a brand name which best fit with the product’s benefits.

Brand names don’t solve problems, products do. In the long run, what the product is called matters less than why your customers will want it.