Naming a Product: Before You Begin

In Building a Brand by DistilityLeave a Comment

Your most important marketing tool is your name. Whether it is the name of an organization, or the name of the product, it is the mechanism by which customers gain awareness and recall your offer. In a previous post, we have outlined ten things to consider before embarking on a company naming project. But once you have a winning company name, how should you go about naming a product?

Naming a Product Takes Strategy

Make sure that you are aware of the different strategic routes your organization can take when naming a product. A dangerous misconception is that, in order to strike a chord with your target audience, each product needs its own flashy trademark. People often think this is the default approach to branding because highly visible brands like Apple and Nintendo create marketing excitement around uniquely trademarked products like Apple iPad and Nintendo Wii. But these companies have massive marketing budgets and many, many products. They can create hype around new product brands regularly, in a way that the vast majority of organizations simply cannot.

As exciting as it may seem to have an arsenal of uniquely branded products, it can in fact be the wrong approach for most companies. This post outlines when it’s advisable to use a product naming strategy that uses unique product trademarks, and when it’s better to take an alternate route to naming a product.

Sub-Brand: Naming a Product with a Unique Trademark

This naming strategy uses a sub-brand brand architecture to situate an organization’s products beneath a corporate brand name with separate, uniquely trademarked product names. Along with Apple and Nintendo, Ford is another company that uses this approach, with one corporate umbrella brand (Ford Motor Company) and multiple sub-brands for each model (Ford Focus, Ford Escape, Ford Fiesta and so on). With this approach, product names can be developed that speak to the needs of various types of consumers, while existing in harmony with the corporate brand.

Before naming a product with a uniquely developed trademark, consider the following:

  • Introducing a new sub-brand will split the customer’s attention between the corporate trademark and the sub-brand trademark. This works if you have a large portfolio of products that need their own distinct promise, position and personality. Do you?
  • Creating and managing more than one trademark is expensive. Do you have the time and budget?
  • More trademarks mean greater legal exposure. Do you have the legal resources to ensure trademarks in all applicable territories?
  • Sub-brands have the potential to increase your market share if you are introducing a new offer to a yet-to-be tapped target audience that might find your corporate brand uncompelling. Do you have a product that can truly move you into new territory?

Masterbrand: Descriptive Product Names

This approach to naming a product is far less costly than the sub-brand strategy. It uses a masterbrand brand architecture to create one solitary, high-level corporate trademark, with all offers in the portfolio linked directly to that trademark. Most telecommunications companies favour this approach with descriptive names like “mobile”, “family plan” and “pay as you go” for their services. With this strategy, all product names are descriptive in nature; they are not unique trademarks. Virgin is an example of a masterbrand, with descriptively named companies and services like Virgin Air, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Radio and Virgin Vacations. These descriptive service names work to contextualize the offer in language the customer would use, while being branded with the corporate trademark.

Before committing to a descriptive naming strategy, consider these things:

  • Descriptive names are not trademarkable due to their explanatory nature. With this approach the only trademark that matters if your masterbrand trademark, like “Virgin” or “Bell”.
  • Though the product names may not be trademarkable, this approach maximizes brand awareness by focusing brand marketing on one brand strategy and brand image.
  • Descriptive names will make for efficient customer communication. This is especially important if your products benefit by some immediate description, and you need your customer to have no fuzziness in their mind about what you are selling.
  • This strategy reduces legal exposure. By minimizing the number of trademarks, the chance of having sales and marketing stopped by trademark conflicts and trolls is virtually eliminated at the product level.
  • Descriptive names can be tailored to contain the internet keywords your customers are typing into search engines when looking for products in your brand category. This can improve your website’s search engine ranking and lead to greater brand awareness.
  • A masterbrand naming strategy can make brand transitions seamless for mergers and acquisitions or rebranding because there is only one brand to merge with or acquire.

Think Before Naming a Product

Most companies start naming their products before asking the questions above. The most important thing is not to get swept up by the excitement of the trademarked product name. Rather, it’s critical to know your product naming strategy, and why your organization will or will not benefit from uniquely trademarked product names, or descriptive product names.

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