Great marketers use the power of naming to shape consumers’ choices

Let four become one, write Sam and Nan Hua

The conversation was worryingly familiar. “Is it better to have one brand or multiple brands?” the marketing man asked me, having already settled on his answer. “I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket. If I only have one brand, then I’ll be finished if something happens to it. If I have two brands, there will be something to fall back on.”

This is a ridiculous way of looking at branding, yet it is surprisingly common. We countered his question with another question. “Do you think it’s better to have one house or several?” If there were no consequences, most people would prefer multiple houses. Who wouldn’t like a pied-à-terre in the city, a bolthole in the countryside, and a chalet in a scenic ski resort?

But there are always consequences: chiefly, cost. If you want multiple houses, you need to pay for multiple houses. Many people struggle to afford just one, in which case, there is little point of discussing the benefits of owning several residences. If I were a soft-drink maker, I’d love to have two brands on the level of Coca-Cola and Pepsi. The problem is, if I can’t even create one top-tier brand, how could I ever have two?

Building a brand takes an enormous investment. Having one unified brand greatly lowers the cost of that investment. 

The Peacock City brand

Peacock City is a classic example of using a unified brand to lower the cost of marketing and communication. By focusing its advertising investments, Peacock City was able to become one of China’s top 20 property developers in just four years.

The concept behind Peacock City is to develop a series of low-density residential towns targeting the Beijing market, all within one hour of the city.

For high-income urban residents living in the concrete jungle, this is a chance to have a home where they can step out to see blue skies and grass in their garden, part of the increasingly popular and much-desired ‘4+3 lifestyle’ where people spend weeknights in the heart of the metropolis and weekends in calmer surroundings. 

But for these customers, the cost of choosing is high. There are many projects around Beijing which cater to this customer segment, so which one is the best for their family? Which developer can they trust? No one would buy a house without seeing it in person, so what projects should they drive to for a look? How many projects do they need to see before they make their decision? There’s a Chinese saying that you should ‘compare the goods of three shops’ before you can make a purchase. But how many housing projects can you compare without going crazy? Three? Thirty? Three hundred?  

Marketers must consider how to enter their customer’s range of choice. The business that can lower the cost for the customer to select it is the business that can lower its marketing costs. 

From the start, Peacock City adopted a unified brand strategy. All four of the initial developments were named Peacock City, with the slogan: “One Beijing city, four Peacock Cities!” It gave customers the chance to choose between four options, all of which were Peacock City. 

But brand names for real-estate projects are like place names. Doesn’t it create customer confusion to have four places called Peacock City around Beijing? 

No. Peacock City uses geographical modifiers to differentiate each site. All four developments are named after nearby features or landmarks: Peacock City Yongding River, Peacock City Grand Canal, Peacock City Chaobai River and Peacock City Badaling. All of these modifiers invoke concrete geographical references that are instantly recognized by Beijingers. 

Suppose it had named its four developments using abstract concepts: Peacock City Luxe, Peacock City Comfort, Peacock City Sky, Peacock City Elegance. That would have caused confusion – a cost for the customer. 

Peacock City also uses a familiar noun for its overarching brand name – everybody knows what a peacock looks like. The geographical modifiers represent the value of each project, while also sparking customers’ imagination and aspiration. The names are the reason to make the purchase. 

Naming is an investment – not just for the company but for the customers since, in real estate, the buyer will also one day become a seller. With one unified name, Peacock City, every owner can share in the value brought by the investment into the brand. A coherent naming system lowers the advertising investment cost and makes the investment more efficient.

Framing customers’ choices

Naming is of course relevant in many other sectors. For fast moving consumer goods, the more shelf-space a product takes up in the store, the higher the possibility that the customer will see the product and purchase it. Hence why consumer goods companies develop multiple products in the same range, or even pay for shelf space – so that their brands occupy as much of the customer’s field of view as possible. 

Every purchase is a choice. Great marketing centres on designing customers’ choice by manipulating the selection criteria or even the range of options. ‘One Beijing, four Peacock Cities’ offers the Peacock City as a criterion and ‘four Peacock Cities’ as a range of options. 

On the metaphorical ‘shelf’ of low-density residential developments in suburban Beijing, Peacock City launched four products to net the biggest display area of all. It’s like having four stalls in a market, all of which are owned by the same grocer. The question is no longer which residential development to use, but which Peacock City to choose.  

— Sam and Nan Hua are co-authors of Super Signs: Taking Your Brand to the Next Level (2019, LID Publishing)