Naming is naming, right? Wrong. In fact, company naming and product naming differ significantly, from naming strategy and name development to the logistics of your name launch. Here are the top five ways they vary, and some tips for navigating those differences.
1) A company name is an umbrella. A product name, a hat.
A company name generally needs to cover a range of products or services, and sometimes even a range of subsidiaries. So its inherent meaning can’t be too narrowly descriptive, or it could become outdated fast if the company expands or changes direction.
On the other hand, product names only need to cover one thing—a product, or perhaps a product line. So product names can be more specific. Apple, for instance, uses a highly descriptive product naming approach with its iPod, iPhone and iPad products. And OXO’s product line names—like GoodGrips, Touchables, SteeL and Tot—while less descriptive than Apple’s product names, still strongly suggest what distinguishes the different lines.
2) Company naming speaks to values and vision. Product naming, features and benefits.
Because company names have a longer shelf life, they often speak to the enduring principles or broader mission upon which a company is founded, while product names are more likely to be grounded in the here and now.
For example, Research In Motion (RIM) and Method (the company that makes non-toxic home cleaning products) are company names that speak to long-term vision. On the other hand, Zippity (Leapfrog‘s lively educational game for kids) and vSafe (Wells Fargo‘s online “safe” for sensitive documents) are product names that evoke something particular about their respective products.
There are exceptions to this rule. If your company’s niche is narrow and extremely unlikely to change, taking a more descriptive or suggestive approach to company naming can be just the thing. ProteinSimple works as a name for a company whose mission is to simplify protein research, pure and simple. Microsoft is a fairly suggestive name, but even though the company is now gargantuan, the name still fits (although it lacks the depth and evocativeness of a more abstract name like Apple).
3) Company naming has many drivers. Product naming, not so much.
Product naming is aimed at customers, and the Marketing VP or Director usually drives the process. Company naming has a variety of internal audiences, in addition to its external ones. Founders, CEOs, board members, key executives, and stockholders will all have different concerns and opinions. Ignore them at your peril. That’s why naming companies may ask briefing questions to get at things like the hobbies and backgrounds of founders, their values and vision for the company, and their stylistic naming preferences. It’s their baby, after all.
On the other hand, product naming, in part because there are fewer constituencies to please, often provides more creative latitude. Puns and other forms of wordplay, slang, well-known phrases, numbers: all are fair game in product naming, as long as the tonality and messaging are on target. The product names Razr and Red Bull, for instance, both take chances and rightly so, considering their core audiences.
4) Companies may require the exact domain name. Products usually don’t.
With company naming, you’re more likely to want or need the exact domain name. If so, beware. You’re entering the Bermuda Triangle of naming. Many a company naming project has foundered in the quest for an available exact domain name that does the job. Your naming process will need to be exhaustive in the extreme, and you’ll want a long list of concepts you like before you even start screening, as most of your favorites are likely to be taken.
This is one instance where if you have the funds, you’ll almost always do better with the help of an experienced naming specialist. (And if they’re good, they can also save you money negotiating for the purchase of a domain that’s taken, if that’s what you want.)
A naming company can mine a wealth of possibilities you might not ever think of, from clever coinings (like Travelocity) and metaphorical territory (like Virgin) to foreign words (like Asana) and transparent concepts (like Deem). So at the end of the day, you should have a variety of strong options to choose from.
5) Launching a product name is a piece of cake. Launching a company name, a piece of work.
Think you’re done after you’ve named or renamed your company? If only. Even after a company name has been vetted by attorneys, there are a lot of steps to ensure a company name’s smooth adoption. Besides registering the name as a trademark, registering the domain (if applicable), and filing the name with appropriate government authorities, you’ll want to update bank accounts and phone listings, create a visual brand identity and stationery, communicate the new name to employees and customers, announce it in the media—and much more.
So if you’re naming your company, don’t rush it. Give the process several months, and you’ll stand a much better chance of choosing a worthy name, and milking it for all it’s worth.
A final word, whether you’re company naming or product naming. Don’t settle. Your new company name should last as long as your company and do you proud. And your new product name should fit that new product of yours like a glove. Um, hat. Um, whatever.