CatchThis Naming Company Blog

The Top 5 Ways That Company Naming Differs from Product Naming

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 So its inherent meaning can’t be too narrowly descriptive, or it could become outdated fast if the company expands or changes direction.

That’s why metaphors like Apple or Amazon, or abstract coinings like OXO or Intel are popular company naming approaches. They provide a broad umbrella that covers a multitude of offerings.

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.

Given all of the different stakeholders involved, it’s not surprising that company naming can skew towards inoffensive names that speak to universal themes, like Bridgespan, Ingenio and Altegrity.

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.

All trademarks & logos are the intellectual property of their respective companies and hereby acknowledged.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted: Wednesday, March 14th, 2012 at 10:54 am

Beth Gerber

Veteran creative director and all-around brand strategist
  1. Brent Laymon

    Interesting and very helpful, Beth. What about companies with families of products and product lines and need product architectures? And the issue of whether the the company name should be part of the product name? And if the company name is part of the product name, should the product name be purely descriptive — and not necessarily trademarkable?

    • Beth Gerber

      Great questions, Brent!

      If you want an overview of naming architecture issues, our naming guide (which you can download for free) is a good place to start. Pages 9 and 10 touch on some of the factors that go into the decision as to whether to have a house of brands (where each product name is distinctive and separate from the mother brand) and a branded house (where each product name is paired with the company name).

      As for how descriptive a product name should be when paired with a company name: that can depend on a lot of things. In general, if you have a lustrous company brand and straightforward products whose biggest selling point is the reputation of the company that manufactures them, then having highly descriptive product names that are always paired with the mother brand is a smart play. (The HP LaserJet 1320 and HP LaserJet 1020, for instance.) On the other hand, if you feel a product deserves a lot of fanfare but you still want the imprimatur of the mother brand in the name, you can pair a company name with a more evocative product name if you do it carefully. The Palm Pre smartphone is a good example of an evocative, trademarkable product name (Pre) which is paired with the mother brand (Palm). It works well in part because it’s so short. Also, the word Pre pairs well with Palm (they’re both one syllable and both begin with “P”) and Pre doesn’t bring up associations that fight with the mother brand. (The Palm Eye, for example, would be a terrible name.)

      In general, though, the more evocative the product name is, the less likely it is to work when paired with a company name, as each name tends to steal the other’s thunder and the name as a whole becomes cumbersome.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>