Ask Steve: Naming and Branding
A reader asks: When are branded names preferred over descriptive names?
There are two approaches to naming: unique (ie., branded) or meaningful (ie., descriptive). A lot of consumer products go with unique (often meaningless) names like Jira or HubSpot. Business products tend to go with meaningful.
Apple is a great brand but I'm not impressed with much of their naming. Apple itself isn't really a good company name (or record label name, if you prefer). I'm not wild about iPod or iPad or iPhone or any of the "i" stuff. However I do like the naming for their Office applications: Pages, Numbers, Keynote.
On the other hand, "AirPort" (Apple's WiFi Router) is clever and maybe even meaningful but it causes a lot of confusion with consumers: "Does this come with WiFi?" "Yes, it has an airport." "Do you also sell routers?" "Yes, you should buy an airport." "Isn't that already on my computer?" "No, that's an airport card, not an airport extreme." WTH?
For B2B, buyers tend to prefer the meaningful approach, like SalesForce or Solution Selling. For business users, meaningful beats unique. If you can do both--meaning AND unique--you've really got a good name for a feature or product or company. A great name is unique, meaningful, can be spelled easily, and has a recognizable URL.
For your naming strategy, you should attempt to brand only one thing. Which will it be? The company, the portfolio, or the product? Or said differently, which are people buying?
Large companies like Oracle, SAP, and Microsoft are selling their entire sets of portfolios as a one-stop shop. However, for smaller enterprise players, positioning and naming the portfolio of products is often the best approach, with the "products" really being more like features of the portfolio. Small "utility" companies with only one or two products should focus on branding the individual products.
How do you decide? Consider this: what is your exit strategy? If you're a large company, you want people to know your company name so they'll buy your stock. If you're hoping to sell your portfolio or product to a larger company someday, put all your brand equity into what they will buy: the portfolio or products. After all, they don’t want your company name; they want the customers and the functionality of the products.
Focus your brand efforts on what buyers are buying.