Your product’s name is critically important. It’s what your customer sees first. It’s what they order. It’s what they recommend to their friends. It’s what they search for on the internet. It’s what they click on every day. Surely you want it to set a good impression?

Yet product naming, in the business-to-business world, doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves. While commentators around the world wax lyrical about the hidden meaning of “the new iPad” versus “iPad 3”, few people seem to care that much what the latest consulting service or ERP package gets called. I’ll always remember a Computer Associates product renaming bulletin that I had the misfortune to read, where some of the product names were so long they actually broke across two lines. The list of product names itself ran to several pages. How any customer (or even salesperson) could be expected to understand it is beyond belief.

Part of the problem with product naming comes down to poor portfolio designhaving too many product families, versions and editions (we’re looking at you, Microsoft). But leaving aside that issue, there are still a few simple guidelines that any company can follow to make life easier for its staff and customers.

  • Be consistent. If some of your product names include your company name at the start, at least apply the rule to everything. If you have “Premium” and “Basic” versions of some software, don’t then have “Deluxe” and “Lite” versions of another product.
  • Avoid generic words. Don’t call your backup product “Backup” unless you’re prepared to put your company name in front of it in every instance. You’ll confuse reviewers, customers, helpdesk staff, and people searching for your product online.
  • Keep your product names short. And by short, we mean fewer than 20 characters. Otherwise they clutter up paragraphs, are difficult to tweet, force headlines on to multiple linesand are difficult for customers to remember.
  • Don’t make me guess. Try to form some semantic relationship between the product name and what it does. I use two backup tools: one’s called “Backblaze”, and one’s called “SuperDuper” (because it duplicates disks). Both inventive, both associate themselves in the mind with what the product does, for easier recall.
  • Ditch the Rs and TMs. Some companies really go over the top and have trademarks for their company name, product family and individual product, and then insist in their brand guidelines that the special characters are used in each instance. It’s not necessary, and it ruins the flow of copy. Avoid.
  • Use words instead of numbers. Words are more memorable and easier to differentiate. Simple version numbers are OK, but don’t make me look up a 16-digit alphanumeric code to work out which product I’ve got. If you sell different versions around the world or through different channels, or if you release updates every week, that’s your problemnot your customers’.
  • Don’t use relative terms or terms that date. Calling your new product “Whizz-bang 2012” sounds great in 2012, but by the time you get to 2014, it looks dated. Calling your product “the new iPad” is great until the next one comes out and people have no idea what to call the old one. Calling your product “Cloud Whizz-bang” is great when cloud is the next big thing, but it’ll date, just like “e-whatever” dated.
  • Check how it translates. We all know the funny stories: like how the Vauxhall Nova means “no go” in Spanish. It’s worth some research to avoid becoming a laughing stock. And while you’re at it with the research, check that people can pronounce and spell the product easily. It’s never a good idea to make your customers feel uncomfortable saying the name of your product to their colleagues, or typing it into a browser. (And yes, we know we’re “Gloo”but at least that’s easy to spell out).

Product naming can be difficult. But it’s worth getting right.

Posted by John on 15 March 2012