How simplifying your product naming strategy supports your brand
How you name your products is an essential part of your brand experience—especially for technology companies.
Technology companies innovate, always creating new offerings. And as products proliferate, so do product names. That’s why it’s important to consider your product naming strategy carefully.
Approach 1: The master brand
Some companies take what’s called a master brand approach—where the brand is the company name, and each product name is descriptive. In effect, simply calling the product what it is. Apple Watch, for example.
We usually recommend a master brand approach for technology companies with multiple products. Here’s why:
The master brand approach…
- Simplifies strategy—since technology company products and services change often
- Makes it easier for existing customers to adjust to those changes
- Makes it easier for new customers to navigate your offerings and understand their value
- Reduces the amount of investment needed to introduce new products to market
- Reduces the creative and trademarking investment of generating new names
- Maximizes the company’s investment in the overall brand—especially when budgets are limited (If you do have an unlimited brand budget, great. And hey, please email email@example.com and get in touch!)
- Makes it easier for the positive attributes of one successful product to extend and translate to other products. When your customers love one product, it can lift up all of the rest.
- Simplifies your brand positioning and your value proposition (Companies that achieve rapid growth often do so because they’re known for doing one thing well—think Uber, Twitter, and Dropbox)
Approach 2: The house of brands
Other companies take a house of brands approach—creating a new and unique name for each product they add to their line of offerings. Large, multinational companies like Unilever, Coca-Cola, Kraft, and Procter & Gamble fall into this bucket.
Since the new product names that these Goliath-like organizations create aren’t descriptive, the company must invest in explaining what each is and does. That means spending a lot of time and resources on things like product marketing, advertising, or product placement.
While these unique names may have trademarking advantages, they can sometimes be hampered by how much work is needed to educate customers by building meaning into the name.
Take Unilever, for example. They own hundreds of consumer brands—like Axe (men’s bath and body products), Breyers (ice cream), and Sunlight (home cleaning supplies).
These brands may be familiar to Western consumers now, but it took time and money to bring them to market. While each of these brands benefits from the marketing power and resources of its parent brand, there isn’t a lot of brand value exchanged between the parent brand and sub-brands.
A pure house of brands approach is fairly rare for technology companies because they don’t sell entirely different products to entirely different audiences.
Approach 3: Hybrid
It’s not uncommon for many companies to use a mix of both approaches above. They create new product names, but the product brands still have some alignment to the company brand. Sometimes the name is aligned, sometimes the alignment is created in the visual identity. Companies need to choose how strong they want that alignment to be, and how much they want to invest in building that new brand. The key is acting intentionally.
Whether you decide to adopt a master brand strategy where all of your product names are descriptive, or you decide to create flashy new brand names for each product—actively choose your strategy. Product families developed in the absence of strategy often become unwieldy and hard to manage.
In picking your approach, consider your target audience’s current perceptions of your brand:
- Do they already know you?
- Do they use any other products you offer?
- How do they feel about those products?
- Is the new product you’re launching one this audience would expect from you (and would want)?
- Or is this product entering a new market where you don’t yet have credibility?
- Or where your current brand perception could even work against you?
Square peg, round hole
While the thought of a uniformly neat and tidy product naming architecture is a brand strategist’s dream—the reality is exceptions happen. And sometimes for good reasons. But one deviation in the rules doesn’t have to throw the strategy off.
Our advice: Approach exceptions with caution.
We know that holding the line isn’t easy. Ask any brand manager in any midsize-to-large technology company. Brand architectures are living organisms. They need care, weeding, and watching after. So it’s understandable—and advised—to protect and defend your brand architecture like it’s your firstborn child.
Of course, there may be legitimate exceptions: When you have a legacy product that isn’t worth the marketing investment to transition. Or when you have a product brand that came aboard as a result of an acquisition and you’re hoping to retain its brand equity—not to mention its customers.
The latter example—whether and when to integrate an acquired product (or company)—is where things get interesting. And that’s a topic worthy of another post entirely. But in short: It doesn’t always have to be all or nothing, nor does it have to happen all at once.
Attachment is *real*
When it comes to launching a new product, remember that it doesn’t necessarily need a flashy new brand name to be successful. In fact, it may even hold you back. A product fitting into a brand strategy and architecture actually gives it its best chance of standing out in the market.
We know that may be hard for engineering and product teams to hear. They just spent months of their lives creating an exciting new product. And now you’re telling them the product will be named similarly to other existing company products—like “CompanyName Cloud Platform” or “CompanyName Server”? Chances are, they’re not thrilled.
We get it, though. That’s your dev team’s baby. They gave the project life, put their heart into it, helped it grow into a product. You want to give it every chance of success. But you may help it grow best by making it part of the family.
The other challenge we often see in technology companies going through the process of naming new products: Internal code names.
It’s human nature to fall in love with a code name. And that love affair is fun—until that code name needs to get replaced with a real product name. The breakup is tough. That internal code name has the advantage of familiarity.
At its core, naming is all about familiarity. Explain how you don’t think twice that one of the largest and most powerful companies in the world is called “Google.” Or that people used to think of a jungle when they heard “Amazon.”
After saying and hearing a product’s internal code names a thousand times, you can’t imagine calling it anything else. All that adds to the fun and challenging nature of naming projects. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen a company bend over backward trying to keep an internal code name they knew they could never actually use externally.
Less is more
Don’t take for granted the role your company brand plays in the success of that product. A strong company brand sells not only one product, but your next five or 10. And sometimes not naming a product is the best name of all.
Want to communicate that your software products are integrated? Make sure the names of those products are all telling the same story. In other words, avoid Frankensteining your naming strategy.
Want to communicate that your software products are simple to use? Start with how you name them.
When it doubt, or whenever you get stuck in your naming process, consider your customers. Especially those who might be navigating your products for the first time. What would resonate with them? Want them to click “Buy Now” or “Request A Demo”? Draw them in and make them proud customers for life?
When your product naming is cohesive and has a clear structure, it helps your customers understand not only the value those products deliver, but the experience of working with you.
Defining your strategy from the top down will save your customers a lot of confusion. And you a lot of time and money. The simple architecture is almost always the most powerful one.