A rose by any other name

Our Brand | Answering the question “What’s in a name?” is not an easy task when it comes to products, but it is an increasingly important one as companies strive to differentiate themselves in competitive environments.

When discussing names, Shakespeare´s play Romeo and Juliet is frequently quoted: “What´s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”  When it comes to business and brands however, I dare to disagree. Product naming is a much more nuanced activity, and though seemingly self-evident, has yet to be consolidated as a key factor in every business plan. An ineffective name will not necessarily destroy a product’s chances of success, but could dramatically reduce its potential.

The name is one of the first pieces of information that a potential client sees and everyone in the company uses to discuss the product internally. In a competitive environment, verbal identity can significantly affect the first impression a product makes and improves clarity in internal and external discussions about it. It is therefore essential for the name to be engaging and capable of transmitting the attributes one wants the customer to perceive from the product.

Product naming is becoming an increasingly professionalized activity, but still most organizations think about it only when launching a new product. It can seem a good idea to create ad hoc product names that address the need of the hour, but after sustained growth, companies can easily find themselves grappling with a complex and disjointedly named portfolio that has no view of the big picture; I am sure this sounds familiar to many of you! This big picture naming architecture is an essential pillar in improving communication about products, and therefore their success.

In large multinationals growth can often be by way of mergers and acquisitions. In such cases, the complexity in product naming significantly increases as it is not just a mix of companies being acquired but also their varied naming systems. If the goal is identification of one global company and its comprehensive product portfolio, then a deep analysis identifying categories and hierarchies to develop a logical structure is essential.

A weak naming architecture or the lack of one altogether can also result in customers having to navigate through confusing terms while trying to find what they are looking for, damaging the buying experience. The corporate image is perceived as untidy and disorganized, not only by customers but also by employees and stakeholders.

The optimal name should attain a balance between both extremes

While finding “the name” that fits the product’s marketing needs, it is also relevant to consider the issue of protection. A descriptive and catchy name might work well from a marketing perspective, but difficult to register a trademark for. On the other hand, a product with a highly technical name or number, such as “SE123XY,” may be easy to protect but would not serve to enhance the product’s presentation in the market at all. The optimal name should attain a balance between both extremes.

So what is the ideal situation? A naming architecture that is simple, intuitive and flexible, able to easily expand and meet evolving needs. Some companies have already managed to achieve this. Audi, for example, has a linear system of model numbering (A3, A4, A5…) which is consistent brand-wide and accentuates the focus on the parent brand. Apple’s strategy is also a straightforward and well-known example. Within the family brand, the company markets computers, phones, music players and tablets using its “i” convention (iPod, iPad, iPhone…) to designate products and clarify their product portfolio navigation.

As a company that has grown largely through mergers and acquisitions, thyssenkrupp Elevator also recognizes the value of having a consistent and clear global naming structure. We are currently experiencing the challenges associated with delivering this structure, but believe that it is a necessary investment in optimizing communication about our products to our customers as well as employees. Of course, in parallel we are working hard to reduce the complexity of our product portfolio itself, with the goal of a portfolio that reinforces our innovative approach to urban mobility.

Of course a product’s success depends on numerous factors, but I believe that the power of a name should not be underestimated either. We cannot deny that naming strongly impacts identity, conditioning the way we perceive market offerings and their value. At the end of the day, even if a rose would smell as sweet with any other name in the Shakespearean world, the same cannot be said for products in the highly competitive market outside the pages of Romeo and Juliet’s story.