Personalization is becoming increasingly prevalent in categories from shoes to cars to phones. But while appealing, this inundation of choice can overwhelm consumers rather than satisfy their needs.
How can a brand provide the variety of options consumers crave and fulfill the desire for a simple customer experience? The answer lies, in part, in naming. The most successful companies drive relevance and growth in their portfolios by naming – organizing and communicating offerings in a way that prioritizes what customers want and need in each purchase decision.
When done right, naming at the product, version or feature level can simplify and guide prospective shoppers to the relevant offerings for their needs. But when done poorly, it can frustrate customers—and even inhibit them from making a purchase at all.
The 3 Commandments of Brand Naming
1. Consider the customer journey: Brands need to think about the entire customer journey, how (and when) a customer makes decisions, and how to nurture customer loyalty.
2. Ask what requires a name: Not every product, service or feature needs a name. Be selective about what truly requires a name.
3. Keep the DNA of the brand front and center: The personality of a brand should be reflected in each brand name. Use it to gut-check and filter naming decisions. And then name accordingly.
3 Brand Naming Strategies Driving Growth
Looking across categories, we’ve identified three successful brand name strategies to help customers better understand your products and support business growth.
Consider the Customer Journey: Jawbone Focuses on What’s Important
One of the most confusing and challenging naming conventions is tiering, or differentiating similar offerings within a portfolio by their power, capabilities, etc. The challenges companies face with tiering are many. Three of the most difficult are clearly differentiating between offerings, creating a tiering convention that allows the product line to expand into the future and avoiding making the lowest tier sound undesirable.
A strong tiering example comes from the consumer tech and wearables company, Jawbone. They’ve extended the simplicity of their product design to their naming convention and product architecture, choosing to quietly discontinue their line of Bluetooth speakers to focus more fully on fitness trackers.
Jawbone has four models on the market: Upmove (which is, after all, the essence of fitness – getting up and moving), UP2, UP3 and UP4. Each successive model builds on the functionality of the previous one, making the tiers a simple incline in value, rather than random sets of features customers need to understand.
With such simple product tiering and feature names, Jawbone has the freedom to be creative with color and material naming (which are paired together within the product tiers), providing customers with exciting choices like Ruby Cross and Black Gold Twist. In doing so, Jawbone simplifies the most important functional decisions (what to buy, what you need) and lets customers have fun with the more playful—and secondary—decisions.
Ask What Truly Requires a Name: Tesla Builds Meaning Into Naming Conventions
Many technological advancements have opaque names with little explanation as to what they mean (i.e. Star Wars’ C-3PO). Sometimes they’re SKU numbers, sometimes they’re abbreviations and sometimes they stand for the developer’s children’s initials. Whatever they are, they’re rarely understood and have a high likelihood of creating confusion for customers navigating between nuances. (“What’s the difference between the X1300A and the X1301B?”).
In contrast, Tesla’s naming conventions are incredibly simple. Known for its commitment to innovation, Tesla consistently defies expectations, even going so far as to publish a high-level roadmap in the form of its “Master Plan.” Tesla’s Model S P90D has all the bells and whistles, including an impressive and seemingly opaque acronym. But each component has a clear meaning: P denotes that it’s a performance model, 90 is the battery capacity in kilowatt hours and D means that the car has a dual motor. This is complemented with highly descriptive feature naming: Cabin Overheat Protection, Autopark and the famous Autopilot, and each is named for exactly what it does. Of course, this approach is supported by an extremely focused product portfolio. Tesla sells three automobile models, while many of its peers’ offerings are in the dozens.
Keep the DNA of the Brand: IKEA Aligns Product Names to Scandinavian Roots
Unlike Tesla, IKEA has a vast portfolio; the company sells roughly 9,500 products and introduces 2,500 new items per year. Its stores, despite their homey vibe and intuitive layouts, can be overwhelming even to the best-prepared shoppers.
To help IKEA put a strategy in place to guide the creation of all names, which started with its founder, Ingvar Kamprad. Kamprad is dyslexic, making it much more difficult to use the traditional method of long SKU numbers. Instead, IKEA assigned a type of name for each of its product types. True to the company’s heritage, the system is Scandinavia-centric: beds, wardrobes and hallway furniture are named for places in Norway, dining tables and chairs are places in Finland, and upholstered furniture and coffee tables are places in Sweden. Because each type of name can apply to multiple items (for example, Nellie’s apartment features a Hemnes bed, dresser and hall bench), IKEA creates clear signposts that help customers shop the store more comprehensively and connect the dots across their pieces.
While this strategy is less intuitive for non-Scandinavian shoppers, it is inarguably memorable, and makes customers loyal not only to IKEA, but to Malm, Kivik, and of course, Hemnes.
Jawbone, Tesla and IKEA share a common overarching goal in their naming: to help customers understand their products. However, how they do it is distinct, and most importantly authentic to who they are. Jawbone’s naming is sleek and minimalistic, with a splash of fun. Tesla’s naming is efficient and hard-working. And IKEA’s naming is unwaveringly grounded in the company’s roots.