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To Communicate What Enterprise Communications Is, Start With the Name

The Enterprise Comms Paradox

I tell people that I work in enterprise communications, but no one really knows what that means. That’s fair, both enterprise and communications are subjective terms, and disagreements occur even among enterprise communications professionals. Communication technology vendors, platforms and services can include big brands like Meta’s WhatsApp, Apple’s iPhones, and Alphabet’s Gmail as well as lesser known brands and modalities that can be missed in a eye-blink.

Not to mention the industry has a tendency to rename brands. I am not sure how many names has given its office productivity suite. Last month, Zoom renamed Zoom One to Zoom Workspace, and RingCentral rebranded MVP to RingEX. Facebook became Meta, and Workplace by Facebook, or Workplace by Meta, is no more. Technically, Microsoft Teams is separate, but its predecessor, Skype for Business, was previously named Lync, OCS, and LCS.

IT and enterprise comms needs to do better with names. Here’s a shortlist of suggestions to make our brands more durable.


Avoid Common Nouns and Verbs in Product Names

Every brand manager wants their product to become a verb, as in “Skype me.” It’s amazing when it happens, but also a mess as it’s hard to protect trademarks of common verbs. Vendors increasingly are taking a shortcut to the mainstream vernacular by simply naming their proprietary products and services with common nouns and verbs.

The creative folks at Google named their meetings product Meet and its chat product Chat. (Guess the name of their voice product). This makes it really hard to ‘Google’ for tips and tricks, “tips and tricks on Chat.” Imagine if this was a routine process. New car models would be named “Car,” and a footwear company might offer “Shoes.” Every other sector seems to know this is a bad idea.

The name Microsoft Teams is a very confusing name for three reasons: Teams is a common noun, it doesn’t mean what the noun means (a group of players forming one side in a competitive game or sport), and its plural though a singular product. Microsoft has another product that offers helpful tips while writing that consistently tells me (and presumably others) that my use of “Teams” is wrong.


Avoid the Use of Other Brands in Names

Despite its poor name, Microsoft Teams has done exceptionally well. Evidently, so well that Cisco and Zoom felt obliged to rename their products with the word Teams in it: Webex Teams and Zoom Teams Chat. I’ve lost track of how many vendors have adopted the name’ Copilot’ for their AI solutions.


Avoid Hybrid

We’ve been using “hybrid” to loosely describe a little bit of this and a little bit of that, all mixed together. This definition is wrong: a hybrid is not a combination, it’s a whole new entity with traits from its progenitors. Think of it this way: a combo pizza has multiple complementary ingredients on a pizza. A hybrid pizza would combine some traits of a pizza and some traits of something else. This is how you get calzones. (A combo pizza is more appetizing than a hybrid pizza.)

The Google Search autocomplete trick reveals that hybrid is mostly associated with breeding: An offspring of two animals or plants (noun), or relating to parents of different species (adj). That’s a compelling reason to bypass the term “hybrid” in enterprise communications: In-person and on-line meetings typically don’t involve breeding.

It’s more than breeding, we also tend to use hybrid inconsistently. Seriously, we talk about hybrid PBX (part digital part IP), hybrid cloud (cloud-delivered and premises-based), hybrid work (partly in an office, partly at home), and hybrid events (partly in-person and partly virtual).

It is better to just come up with a new term. Consider brunch istead of a hyrbid breakfast that no one will quite understand.


Say What You Mean

I am regularly surprised how many product names are completely unrelated to the product. Slack, for example, promises more efficient productivity and collaboration. Yet, Slack is defined as the loose, unused part of a rope or line.

Agile means to move quickly, easily and flexibly. It is used to describe dancers, ships, acrobats, and some animals. An agile mind is one that is open to change, embraces uncertainty, and values collaboration and feedback. Thus, a bit odd that we also use agile to describe a rigid software development process. “Fragile” would be more accurate than “agile” to describe modern software development.


Avoid “Tech” in the Name

Before I told people I’m in enterprise communications, I used to say I was in telephony. But telephony, like most technologies, evolved. Tel has become a legacy suffix.

It’s a bad idea to put the technology in the name, because the technology invariably becomes invisible or obsolete. If USB was truly a universal standard, why are there so many incompatible USB connectors? Universal shouldn’t have multiple versions like replacement starships. (Oops, that’s a different type of Enterprise.) AI is also about to become obsolete. The term now applies to everything and anything, and that’s not meaningful.

One exception: Netflix. The DVD-by-mail service put net in its name because its catalog was online. The business model completely changed, and the net replaced the mail part of its business model. #Luck.

There are many examples of names that make no sense today. Good luck to future generations explaining the etymology of the word ‘Podcast.” Somehow, the world agreed to name a recording after one of many devices that could play it: the Apple iPod. Most of us remember the iPod, but future generations won’t. Apple discontinued the iPod product line two years ago.

Though podcasts will live on. Kind of like the phrase “penny wise, pound foolish” which makes no sense in America or other countries where the currency is not measured in Pounds.


It’s Not You, it’s English

Enterprise communications is hard to describe, in part because there’s so few words to choose from. American car makers find model names in the dictionary, but European and Asian car makers have many more languages to contend with, so they rely more on numbers.

Maybe we should just avoid English terms and refer to UCaaS and other products with alphanumeric identifiers such as XP4270. That may seem odd, but no one seems to agree what CPaaS is. It’s one of those “I know when I see it” things.

I do love enterprise communications. While we don’t necessarily agree what it is or how to count it, there’s insatiable demand for it. It’s an industry that keeps the doors open, even when the doors are locked shut. In 2020, enterprise communications kept businesses open even when the customers and employees stayed home. It’s all about giving everyone a voice, even though “voice” is now just one of many supported modalities. What we have is a failure to communicate what “enterprise communications” means, but we can agree it enables success in multimodal collaboration and productivity from anywhere.

Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.