Using numbers for product names

By Burt Alper

November 28, 2007

Product names can take many forms. There are fancy product names, like Blackberry. There are descriptive product names, like Raisin Bran. And of course, there are product names that aren’t really names at all, just model numbers. Some of these product names fade into the woodwork, serving only to help customers by the specific product they want. Others serve a vital role in the branding process, and if not taken seriously, these product names (for that is what they really are) can mess up the program.

Take the aircraft industry. In recent years, both Boeing and Airbus have made significant errors in their product naming efforts. Earlier this year, Airbus launched its newest, and biggest airplane, the A380.

This thing is so massive, it hardly looks like a commercial plane. Sure seems like it would be worthy of a more significant number. Maybe a 400? Even a 1000?

But of course, Airbus is merely following suit to Boeing’s now-ancient product naming blunder. When Boeing introduced the 747 decades ago, it should have used a more significant number. Had they switched to the 800 series, they would have left room for future planes to fit in the system. Now, they have smaller planes with bigger numbers (757, 767).

Free naming advice to both companies: Maybe you could use different series of numbers to indicate the double-decker shape or the four-engine power. Now THAT would make sense. Am I asking too much?

Ok ok – I know Boeing and Airbus are not exactly selling to average consumers. Maybe they are excused from the rules of intelligent product naming. Maybe we can cut them some slack. But Canon has no such excuse. If any of you have tried to sort through the line of Canon digital cameras lately, you surely share my confusion over how the heck they name their products. It’s almost like they are throwing darts at a wall of numbers. No logic to the system whatsoever. As a naming consultant, I want to offer my services.

Dear Canon:

Please call me. You need help naming your products. Let me offer some free advice.

1) Start by grouping your products into logical families. Calling everything an Elf, then switching everything to Powershot does not help your consumers understand the differences between Camera A and Camera B.
2) Once the families have been established (based on size, features, or even target audience), use consistent numbers to reference each one. Group all the products without a viewfinder in the 700s. Group all the products with image stabilization in the 800s. Use a system that your consumers can digest and understand so they can find the right camera for their needs.
3) Use product numbers to correspond to feature upgrades, not just date of introduction. It sure would make sense if the Powershot 1000 was a better camera than the Powershot 850. Maybe using the biggest number for the smallest camera is not the best idea.

That’s it for the free advice. If you want more naming help, please feel free to call me. I’m a professional naming consultant, and I am here for you.

That goes for the rest of you too.

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