The Lost Art of Brand Naming

Like deciphering coffee menus, obscure business branding can lead to confusion, affecting sales.

I like to think of myself as a confident consumer, but not if I’m ordering coffee. When it’s my turn I freeze as I’m confronted with a menu of unfamiliar “specialty” drinks. What exactly is the difference between a honey latte and a golden turmeric chai? Why are there five different types of cortados? I typically panic and default to a boring “coffee with milk” rather than risk ordering the wrong thing.

This experience highlights how arcane naming conventions have real impacts - in this case, consumer frustration and lost sales for shops. Yet while the stakes seem low for my cortado conundrum, this same naming problem plagues B2B corporations with much higher consequences.

Unlike consumer sectors where clever names may briefly intrigue buyers, B2B companies require rigorous naming conventions for their complex industrial equipment, product ranges, software platforms and more. Yet despite the need for clarity, the actual naming process is an afterthought. The results? Not only confused buyers, but massive inefficiencies for sales teams struggling to articulate offerings.

I’m struck by how different sectors take drastically differing approaches to how they go about naming. Medicine and science understand that inconsistent naming conventions waste tremendous resources. Misnamed pharmaceuticals can result in patient harm or death. Duplicate species names cause misdirected research efforts. In these cases, the simple lessons of making things easier and removing friction have been learned the hard way over decades. No-one would argue that the systems we have today are better than a generic free for all, where names are trivialised or ignored.

Yet this is where we find companies selling to other companies. They’re generally oblivious to these lessons when it comes to naming their intricate product lines or sophisticated software platforms. Why is that? Perhaps it’s because the consequences are so opaque at the time of naming and don’t culminate in a singular catastrophic event. An unclear pharmaceutical name directly causes patient harm. But opaque B2B naming leads to gradual revenue erosion; frustrated sales teams who can't cleanly communicate offerings, bids lost to competitors that seem marginally clearer or partners so perplexed they walk away. The costs accrue slowly, so companies turn a blind eye.

Still, confusing naming conventions in B2B sap growth just as much as direct medical errors. The tangled web of brands, sub-brands and model numbers minimise discoverability. It requires costly sales support to explain offerings multiple times over to puzzled prospects. And it handicaps word-of-mouth, as even satisfied customers struggle to remember the name of whatever overly complex CRM, predictive analytics dashboard, or IoT infrastructure they implemented last fiscal year.

The antidote is rigorous conventions that emphasise clarity over cleverness.

A Better Approach
As brand strategists who often advise B2B clients on naming, we propose a simple convention focused on clarity rather than cleverness:

Mother brand name + description of product = name

For example, Acme Security, makers of encryption software is releasing a new automotive security system. Per our system, the range would logically be titled "Acme Security Auto" or “AS Auto” with model numbers used to distinguish specific offerings within the line.

This clear syntax enhances understanding while building ongoing recognition of the parent brand. The goal is for Acme's customers (and sales team) to immediately understand both what a product does and its source. This reduces duplication efforts from associates and confusion for clients.

Naming methodologies may not attract headlines, but thoughtful conventions underpin business success. They ease discoverability for buyers, creating organic opportunities for conversation and sales. In B2B, naming should never be an amusement or a gimmick. Given its outsized business impact, it merits time, thought and standardisation.