Naming strategies are usually devised during a brand strategy phase and before the brand identity phase. They often come about directly following a strategic audit, where it is identified that there is some confusion between products, services or brands within a defined range. While there are similarities between a naming strategy and portfolio hierarchy, they serve very different purposes and it is recommended that both processes are undertaken at the same time.
Without clear naming strategies, many businesses, products and services would be lost among an increasingly noisy marketplace. Brand naming is an important process that every business should explore to add clarity and consistency to their products, services and brands. In this article, we will explore what naming strategies are, how they work and why you need one for your organisation — particularly if you offer more than one product or service.
A name, whether attributed to a person, place or company, becomes intrinsically synonymous with its’ holders identity. A good name can conjure powerful memories that help the recipient become loved and remembered. Naming is also a useful tool to help consumers or clients immediately understand a business, product or service.
Using the example of a TV character, a good first name can help build up a picture of that person. Add to this a second, or family, name — this can often instil certain perceptions (often wrongly!) that help provide context and a platform through which to understand someone. You know that they are, whether willingly or not, associated with the other characters with that name. You can then deduce that they probably originate from the same place, share some values and move in the same circles. Brand naming is no different to this, albeit on a much more complex scale.
For example, Apple categorise many of their products under a single naming convention, ‘iPhone’, iPod’, ‘iPad’, ‘iTunes’ and ‘iMac’. The words ‘phone’, ‘pod’ and ‘tunes’ don’t have much meaning alone (Mac does, I concede), but because they are wrapped under a single uniting naming strategy, they can all borrow values and meaning from each other. They become a range in itself. In fact, you don’t need to use the word Apple at all — the ‘i’ in front does the job for them, expressing the company and product proposition instantly.
We call this is ‘linear naming strategy’. It is linear because all products are presented on the same level. Sticking with the Apple example, we can find other examples of linear naming conventions when we look at their operating systems. Focusing on Californian mountain ranges, they have been called Mojave, High Sierra, El Capitan and Yosemite. Other examples of linear naming strategies include Android and Rolex. For many years, Android used an ownable and identifiable naming approach to support its product family by using an incrementing alphabetical dessert theme for its release names: Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean. 2013’s Android 4.4 brought an interesting shift to a protected trademark, partnering with Nestle to call the release KitKat; this was followed by the more generic Lollipop, Marshmallow, and Nougat until 2017’s 8.0 release returned to co-branding with Oreo. Rolex, on the other hand (sorry… ), used nautical names such as Yachtmaster, Submariner, Sea-Dweller and Explorer to help reinforce their link with classic adventure.
In short, a naming strategy is a structured hierarchy of brand, product or service names in relation to the ‘master’ organisation. This strategy or ‘convention’ takes the form of a set of names that deliberately relate to one another, often using focused market research to determine which type of strategy will resonate with an audience.
There are many types of naming strategy, from naming a range of products after colours, flowers, animals, people, places and buildings right through to words that sound similar or have less obvious commonalities. The important thing is that the system used positively reflects the traits within your products and helps your audience understand and remember them.
Recent examples of brand naming strategy work that we have undertaken include a full naming exercise for Halley Stevensons new range of sustainable fabrics, restructuring the word of Max McCance into three distinct categories of Flora, Fauna and Cosmos (along with the product names) and a simplified naming strategy for The Feather Company.
There are many types of naming strategy, from naming a range of cars after colours, whisky variations after flowers, aircraft after animals, trainers after people, operating systems after mountains and coffee after buildings. This extends right through to words that sound similar or have much less obvious commonalities. The important thing is that the system used positively reflects the traits within your products and helps your audience understand and remember them.
Ultimately, there may not be a one-size-fits-all strategy for naming a product, but there are a few crucial principles worth following. For example:
Naming strategies must be easy to follow: If your name is hard to pronounce or type, then people won’t talk about it. That’s the last thing you want in today’s era of online sharing.
Naming strategies must be unique: It’s important to focus on the qualities that unite your products or services. This is the thread that runs through everything. If you can find a link to help categorise these, then you will find a unique angle that you can exploit.
Naming strategies must be short and memorable: The longer and more complex the naming convention is, the harder it will be to remember.
Naming strategies must look and sound good: Your product names should feel like a natural part of a sentence, whether written on a piece of paper or spoken out loud.
Naming strategies must be evocative: Your names must make customers feel a certain way or think about something. How do you want people to respond to your products or services? Put that into your naming process.
If your business would benefit from a new approach to strategic development, please get in touch and we will be happy to advise on the best route forward. We recommend that a strategic audit is undertaken before starting new strategic work to ensure it uses a solid evidence base.