Sara Millstein
Strategist

Strategic portfolio naming: clarity and consistency

 

Naming across a portfolio carries many more considerations than naming a standalone brand or offering because there is existing revenue at stake. There are inherent relationships between all products and between the master brand and specific “lighthouse” products that support and/or expand the promise of the value proposition, market, or target audience. By haphazardly naming a new product, you risk hurting existing revenue streams, instead of enforcing or stretching positive brand perceptions. Often, it all boils down to balancing two things: clarity and consistency.

Why clarity?

We need to call things as they are. But, accuracy and clarity can often be at odds, imagine a large portfolio where everything is named with perfect accuracy. Even with descriptive naming, you can quickly see yourself facing a long list of unrelated things—or worse yet, overlapping and confusing things.

Take Amazon Echo for example, which has several products in addition to the original Echo, including: Echo Dot, a compact Echo; Echo Spot, a compact Echo with a screen; Echo Tap, an Alexa-enabled portable Bluetooth speaker; and Echo Show, a version with a large screen. Individually, these names might be perfectly accurate in the sense that they appropriately reflect the offering in some way, whether in size or functionality. But when viewed collectively—as a portfolio—they are confusing. What is the difference between a Dot and a Spot? Without more information or investing more time, I’m not sure because the names don’t help clarify the difference.

“Mystification is simple; clarity is the hardest thing of all.” Julian Barnes

Why consistency?

Because it helps create cohesion that lessens the overwhelming list of offerings, creating connections where they make sense, helping customers see the distinctions that matter, and signaling lighthouses that seat ideas that brands want to own. It’s possible to call different products different things—analytics hub, insight center, data core—but is it needed? What if we call them all ‘hubs’? That might provide clarity for customers on what are similar offerings, each for different uses, while also establishing that the company wants to own: analytics, insight, and data.

Adobe, for example, uses ‘Cloud’ in naming its offering categories—Creative Cloud, Advertising Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Document Cloud—helping customers identify which ‘cloud’ is for them. This parallel structure also encourages cross-selling—if a customer is happy with one ‘cloud’ maybe they want to start using another ‘cloud.’

But imagine a portfolio where we over-index for consistency. In an effort to reuse common words, we run the risk of not accurately characterizing a single offering to fit a convention or diluting the value of the consistency. For example, SalesForce has so many cloud offerings (e.g. sales, marketing, government, health, financial services, services, commerce store, commerce digital, community, and more) that customers start to get lost in identifying what is for them. For example, if you’re a marketing professional for the Air Force, do you use Marketing or Government Cloud?

This is the portfolio naming challenge: striking a balance between clarity and consistency to enable naming as a strategic revenue weapon. You need to consider the entire portfolio. It is a lot to juggle, but when done right and with expert help, it can maximize revenue potential.

If you have opinions on portfolio naming or would like to chat, please contact Sara Millstein at sara@northboundbrand.com.

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