White Labeling Unify
The current model for most web applications gives us a trade-off: free with explicit product branding, or paid with the ability to have your way with the branding. This leads us to believe that there is some actual monetary cost to allowing a change of brand. There isn’t. So what do you get for your money? At best, you get permission to at best confuse or at worst, permission to rip-off your client. This is not creating value. This is snake oil, and at Unit we refuse to take part in this charade.
There is one very simple reason to not allow white labeling for Unify: any branding change would alter the code, and we cannot properly support our product once the source code has been changed. Beyond this, I would like to put a finer point on our position. The following are some of the common reasons that people use to justify white labeling, each rebutted by our philosophical perspectives behind Unify.
Doomsday Scenario: “My clients will get confused! They need their brand at the top of an app.”
This morning I hit snooze on my Seiko alarm, ate some Kashi cereal, drove to work in my Jeep, woke up my lazy iMac and posted this to the blog using WordPress. At no moment did I get confused… at least not about the brands I was using. (Thanks to David Airey for his similar progression in Logo Design Love).
Brands are not built to confuse. In fact, they clarify. A brand is a promise between the producer and the customer. Over time it is reinforced by good experiences and destroyed by bad ones. It is an honest face: recognizable and persistent. White labeling masks that face, and what do you consider the intentions of man behind a mask?
With Unify, we are building a brand through consistency and upkeep, and removing the brand would nullify any responsibility we take for our product. Marketing efforts, customer support, twitter chatter, blog posts on updates and improvements; all would be nullified by this obfuscation. This cost is too high to negate all of these efforts in the hopes of not confusing people who are smart enough – and familiar enough with brands – not to get lost.
The Appeal to Revenue: “You can charge tons more for a white label license! I will pay it!”
The only person who “pays” when costs go up is the end-client. The problem is, as explained above, THEY see no benefit. The only person who benefits from white-labeling is the middleman. The go-between gets to represent someone else’s work as their own, and the client pays a premium. How is this fair?
We have crafted a price and a model for Unify that correctly reflects its value. Inflating this price is not in our best interest. This larger price would communicate to those fitting the bill that there are more features, larger resources dedicated to customer service and bloated expansion towards bells and whistles. This is not our perspective on Unify. Unify is a simple tool, like a hammer; it does not bludgeon better with a different name on the side.
Also, there is an idea that comes up intermittently in our white-label discussions: that our “real” customers [designer/developers] want to be able to put their name on our product to make them look good. They are willing to pay five times the price – or more – so that they can tell their client that Unify is a custom-built CMS tailored to their needs. This, of course, is lying and is the worst possible justification for white labeling.
Truth be told, we want to look good, too. Not the “we” of Unit Interactive, but the “we” that makes Unify. We take pride in our product, and again, we want to build a brand behind that product that adds value and trust. We are not in the business of artificially inflating other people’s prowess. We only want Unify to be the best product for the people who have to use it every day.
High Anxiety: “My client will not understand why I charge my fee for a CMS when they can find that your product costs under $25.”
How a professional justifies their rates is not our business, but there is an easy answer to this: Time. Unify takes time to plan, install and to test (not much, though). One’s time is still worth money, so charge accordingly. If a person cannot rectify their rate with our price and their time, that person needs to sincerely reevaluate their pricing.
A Contrast in Black & White
“…black labeling is the practice of offering a ghosted service; where authorship, responsibility, or accomplishment (or all 3) are misrepresented in order to hide the truth of one’s inadequate skill, responsibility, or accomplishment. In plain English, by word this is known as lying; by deed this is known as deliberate deception.”
Here, Andy has drawn a decisive line between the honest uses of white labeling, and what he calls black labeling. By his definition only commodities can be appropriately white labeled. By our definition of what our actual product is – consistency of innovation, customer support, and a determination to keep things simple – Unify is a service. The code changes, but our commitment to serving to our customers stays the same.
Any attempt to white label Unify would really be black labeling, and would destroy Unify. This is not merely my opinion: it is the result of much internal debate and input from users – mostly to the contrary – that has led me to firmly stand against the ability to re-brand Unify. In most implementations, black labeling destroys brands and experiences. Where some argue that it adds consistency, it instead severely muddies the water for the people who are our main concern: the user. White labeling should be relegated to the few opportunities where it makes sense, and it is disheartening to see that it has become so ubiquitous in the life of a web designer.