Naming (and renaming) products

ComputerWorld reports: CA Inc. has unveiled plans to simplify the naming of its entire software range over the next 12 to 18 months to better brand its products and more clearly indicate their function. The software vendor will do away with the names currently denoting its various software families, like its Unicenter systems management offerings and its BrightStor storage products, according to a company spokesman. CA will also drop specific product brand names such as PestPatrol and FileSurf in favor of the company's name and a descriptive term for the particular piece of software. For instance, Unicenter Service Desk will become CA Service Desk, while eTrust Access Control will be called CA Access Control.

A few years ago, one of my collegues at CA told me that they estimated the cost of renaming a product at $1,000,000. As those of us who have worked closely with code know, as much as we might plan to put the product name in a constant so it can be easily changed, the product name is usually hard-coded in plenty of places. A name change isn't as trivial as it appears to marketing and management. Nothing seems difficult to those who don't actually have to do it.

So, if it's so hard and so expensive, why do it?

For companies with limited promotional dollars, we need to make every dollar count. The company focuses all of its promotion at a single entity rather than spreading small amounts here and there with little impact. Even Microsoft, with all of their marketing money, tends to invest in promotion for the suites rather than the products. That is, MS Office tends to get the lion's share of promotional spending rather than individual products like Word or Visio.

There are two strategies for naming: descriptive or unique. Names that are unique like iPod, Nuvi, and RAZR work best for B2C products. For B2B products, the descriptive approach, such as that CA is following, is best. Certainly when you have hundreds of products, the name has to carry the positioning message along with it so that customers (and sales people) know what the product does just by reading the name.

Most companies can afford to brand only one thing: the company, the product suites, or the individual products. How about you? Is your product message lost in your naming schema?

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Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson was a founding instructor at Pragmatic Institute, a role he held for more than 15 years before he left to start Under10 Playbook. In his return to Pragmatic Institute, Steve supports the complete learning path for product teams, ensuring they are fully armed for success.  Over the course of his career, Steve has helped thousands of companies and tens of thousands of product professionals implement product management processes. He has worked in the high-tech arena since 1981, rising through the ranks from product manager to chief marketing officer. Steve has experience in technical, sales and marketing management positions at companies that specialize in both hardware and software. In addition, he is an author, speaker and advisor on product strategy and product management.

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