Why do you need a naming system?

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How you name your products defines how you communicate about the core deliverables of your business. A well thought-out system for naming should be a natural part of developing and managing a brand.

The first time I heard the word “nomenclature” was in high school chemistry. Mr. Platt said something about nomenclature in the context of identifying the atomic components of a given compound – and I was pretty sure at the time that he just made up the word on the spot. Flash forward a few decades, and I find myself saying nomenclature on a daily basis.

So when do B2B companies need to think about a naming system as opposed to just thinking about creating a new name for their latest product? A few examples:

  • When you have multiple products in the portfolio, especially products that relate to one another or are dependent upon one another;

  • When you offer multiple configurations of products or services or solutions;

  • When you use product names to segment or target;

  • When you have an “ingredient” or an application that comes to market in a number of different products;

  • When you’re bringing two portfolios together and you need to build a more cohesive picture.

In each of these situations, full on new names for each offering will quickly become unmanageable and confusing. Yet each flavor of offering does need to be communicated. Ultimately the goal is to create clarity for the customer while underscoring and extending the promise of the brand. A system that establishes both the nomenclature and the process for developing new names is vital to shaping the customer experience. For many companies, a simple way to get started is to focus on three core questions for any given offering.

1 – What is it? A product, a feature, a capability, a solution, a service level, etc.?

2 – Does it get a proprietary name? Only some things should; naming everything is a surefire formula for chaos. 

3 – How does it get named? Part style, part process – this will drive a more strategic approach to naming. 

 If you don’t ask these questions, the eventual outcome is an overly complex and confused portfolio filled with proprietary names that will likely require a cheat sheet to navigate – and will invariably frustrate sales teams, marketing teams and customers alike. More about that here: Don’t Name That!

Question 1: What is it?

Answering this is harder than it seems. Product Development teams tend to refer to many things as a product, particularly while still works-in-process. Product Marketing likes to productize new offerings and build sub-brands. And, of course, Sales loves to generate noise around shiny new toys. Left unchecked, these dynamics will conspire to push for more names, more bells, more whistles – and, ultimately, will confuse prospects and complicate the sales process.

The solution: 

  • Define sets of characteristics for different sets and subsets of offerings. 

    • What do we mean by product? By solution? By platform? 

    • How is it is sold and experienced?

    • What are the relationships to other offerings in the portfolio? 

    • Relative to the rest of the portfolio, how truly distinctive is it in type or business model? 

  • Once categories can be established, support them with a decision tool to further codify a framework, and to drive consistency across the portfolio. 

  • Categorization, will drive decisions around hierarchies– leading to a clearer picture of how to communicate about each of the elements the portfolio. 

Question 2: Does it get a name?

The answer is a binary yes or no, based on the outcome of the decision tool noted above. While a company may need to communicate about a broad range of features or capabilities or service levels, many of these elements should generally be labeled in plain language, while “names” are reserved for a select set – as dictated by the categories and hierarchies established in Question 1.  

The solution:

  • Work the decision tool. Create a tool that actually makes sense – and is endorsed by and understood by product teams and marketing teams across the organization.

  • For offerings that won’t get a proprietary name, create communications guidance – so sales and marketing know how best to talk and write about this set of capabilities. 

Question 3: How does it get named?

This question hits on both style and process. 
Style speaks to the type of name across a spectrum: highly descriptive on one end and evocative or abstract on the other. Acceptable names for offerings will differ by the category established in Question 1 and by an overall approach ultimately dictated by corporate brand strategy.  On the process side, the key is to force some discipline around name development, with the goal of maintaining a level of harmony within the broader customer experience.

The solution:

  • Feed all naming through a centralized body that has visibility across the portfolio. Again, this is about cohesion in the portfolio. Names don’t live in a vacuum; force a macro view to help drive a customer-centric approach. 

  • Build all naming around a brief that identifies stakeholders, objectives, target audiences, competitive issues, and acknowledges the overall context of the offering within the corporate portfolio. 

  • Training. Bring product, marketing and sales teams along with the strategy. Guidelines are important and helpful; training will foster buy-in and adoption.

  • Limit exceptions. By definition, everything cannot be an exception to the guidelines. Set the bar high – i.e. a completely distinct product category and a substantial dedicated marketing budget.

Never too soon… 

As a portfolio grows in breadth and depth – think product families, model numbers, proprietary ingredients, solution bundles – establishing naming protocols will drive clarity across the entire customer experience and make it easier for your sales and marketing teams to grow customer relationships.