Brand Names – The Root of Good Brand Architecture

brand names

Most companies operate something like this:

  1. Invent or develop something the market wants
  2. Give it a brand name
  3. Get it out there and sell it

There is so much involved with 1) and 3) that 2) can just seem like a natural and straightforward bridge between the two.  You’ve got a great product, the engineers say it’s just what the market needs, so they give it a name.  Marketing begins putting together campaign and sales materials so you can get some revenue in the door.

Do this over and over again, and you have a stable of products with lots and lots and lots of brand names. Add in the wrinkle of M&A activity – adding to your operation products and services that someone else has named – and things get complex quickly.

But are all these names helping customers understand what you have to offer?

They do if you have good Brand Architecture.

Brand architecture is the way in which a company’s corporate brand and product brands relate and support each other. Think of it as signposting for your customers, helping them navigate what you have to offer.   

Many factors contribute to good brand architecture, but it begins with product naming.  Here are a few tips:

  • Think from the outside in

Imagine yourself in the customer’s shoes. They want to associate the unfamiliar with something familiar, they want to know what goes with what, how things differ, where they came from.  

Do your product brand names help with those things, or get in the way?

  • Keep it simple

Brands – and brand names – cost money.  They have to be thought up, legally cleared, and supported in marketing.  Especially in the B2B world, where budgets are much smaller than in consumer goods, we have to be careful with our spends.

Regardless of how proud we are of our new widget or technology, it may not need a brand name.  Is it really new, or is it something the market will think is very similar to other offerings?  

Customers like descriptive terminology for this reason.  We need brands to be able to distinguish ourselves from the competition, but our company name can do that very well.

Assume I have a company that is known for making great explosives – Dave’s Inc.  I want to sell the coyote from the roadrunner cartoons my brand of dynamite.  I could call it Dave’s Xplodirantic®, or whatever name I could get legally cleared, or I could call it Dave’s Dynamite.  I already have the name Dave’s for my company, and the descriptor tells my customer exactly what they need to know.

  • Put like with like

Existing equity is very important – it is much easier to leverage a known brand than to create a new brand from scratch. And of course all your products should help to build your corporate brand.

Let’s assume that I already had Dave’s Xplodirantic® and it was doing really well, outselling Acme Dynamite 10 to 1.  Now I have a new, improved explosive.  My engineers tell me it is revolutionary in what it means to coyote/roadrunner warfare. But is it really, or will my market think it is just an improvement to what they already love?  The best route may be to disappoint my engineers and call it Dave’s Xplodirantic® Plus, or something similar.  This goes for add-ons, too; my customers will much prefer to buy Dave’s Xplodirantic® Blasting Caps to go with it, rather than have to look in the catalogue to figure out that Dave’s Top Hatters® are the blasting caps they need for their Xplodirantic® applications.

  • Consolidation: build on your strengths

If you have several different product brands that are poorly differentiated, either through natural growth or through acquisition, it is possible to put them together to be more effective.  Let’s say I buy Acme because they see that I am cornering the coyote/roadrunner market and resistance is futile. Here is what I have for product brands:

Dave’s Dynamite

Acme Dynamite

Dave’s Xplodirantic®

Dave’s Catapults

Acme Catapults

Acme Dynamite is not selling well, so that is collapsed into Dave’s Dynamite, which is getting a halo effect from Dave’s Xplodirantic®, the market leader. But I had launched a line of catapults that is not doing well against Acme’s market leader in that field.  I then collapse my catapult line into the Acme line, perhaps as the budget model to Acme’s high-end technology, but all called Acme Catapults.  Here is where I end up:

Dave’s Dynamite

Dave’s Xplodirantic®

Acme Catapults

    • Value edition
    • Classic edition

So it is never too late for good brand architecture, but naming is the key. Good brand architecture:

  • Is based on a customer’s point-of-view, and requires an outside-in perspective
  • Ensures that target audiences understand the breadth and depth of value you offer them
  • Transfers and leverages brand equity where appropriate
  • Makes your offerings simple and easy to navigate

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