Why are B2B brands so bad at naming?

2 July 2024

Choosing a shiny-new name for your shiny-new offering is fun. A chance to be free and wild and creative.

It’s easy to see why B2B brands get a little carried away. As soon as there's an opportunity to introduce a tasty bit of brand candy into the mix, it’s seen as a good thing. More product names = more assets to attract customers with. And more is more, right? 

Not when it comes to branding. 

No, B2B brand. You don’t need different names for your only-very-slightly different services. You don’t need different names for your SaaS offerings. You don’t need different names for your product lines. And you definitely don’t need different names for every feature – your form-builder doesn’t need to be called ‘Form Generator 9000’, for example. 

Just because you could name all these things doesn’t mean you should. Product names are an important part of your overall brand development, so introducing new assets is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. You need to approach the entire process with caution, consistency and consensus.

To name or not to name?

Deciding whether or not to christen your new offering is a political decision. It involves multiple stakeholders, each with their own individual opinions and agendas that don’t always align with the brand’s best interests. 

Pleasing one stakeholder is tough. Pleasing two is unlikely. But bring in the founder, product teams and branding experts, and you’re in for a bumpy ride.

Product teams are often the first stumbling block. They tend to be super excited about their new development – and rightfully so. They probably gave their new product or feature-set a name months ago: a project nickname or obscure acronym they’re now pretty attached to – no matter how confusing it may be to outsiders. 

But when naming decisions are made by different product teams – as is the case in many B2B brands – companies end up with a random collection of inconsistent names. One lengthy descriptor. One abstract term. One six-letter acronym. 

No consensus driven. Consistency out the window. Caution well and truly thrown to the wind.

When the product team is responsible for naming, the resulting names are often irrelevant and redundant. It’s far from best practice – so why do so many B2B brands fall into this trap? 

Many companies think that productising – and therefore naming – each ever-so-slightly different part of their offering will make it easier for customers to find what they need. But this is not the case. Clear brand architecture and consistent naming is always best – for customers and brands alike.

b2b naming productising

HubSpot is a great example of smart B2B naming.

The brand HubSpot has a SaaS solution called – you guessed it – ‘HubSpot’. Good, great, tick. Clear and concise so far. 

Their SaaS offering is then split into various ‘products’ with descriptive names that articulate what each product is used for – Marketing Hub, Sales Hub, Service Hub, for example. These names are great because they’re consistent and considered, featuring one part of their composite brand name – the ‘Hub’ in ‘HubSpot’.  

Within each product – or ‘Hub’ – there are multiple sets of features. But these feature sets are not named, and they’re not sold separately. They’re available to purchase as packages, with increasing levels of functionality denoting a higher package price. It’s as simple as that.

HubSpot’s brand architecture has clearly been carefully considered. There are no rogue naming conventions or feature-sets masquerading as products. Naming is used sparingly and cautiously. Each name is easy to understand, say and spell (which is crucial, FYI!) – and each name reflects the masterbrand, helping to build equity, rather than detract from it. 

Aim too high and you’ll fall short.

When it comes to naming, setting out to achieve something spectacular is a recipe for disaster. There are a few fantastic names, a whole bunch of okay-to-good names, and a few truly terrible names. The problem is, the surest way to end up with a terrible name is by aiming for a fantastic one. 

This is where B2B brands are likely to encounter the second obstacle in the naming process: the founder. 

No matter how grandiose your founder’s plans may be, not everyone can be Apple. While massive corporations may be able to call their new offering ‘X’ and get away with it, the same rules do not apply to a B2B brand that sells inventory-management software to plumbing-consumable suppliers. 

Founders often want their product names to be radically creative and decidedly different from everything else. They want to sound bold, brave and brilliant. Pretty out-there. Pretty extreme

But extreme names are polarising – some people love them, others hate them. What one person considers a fantastic name someone else will think is a terrible name. You can’t distinguish between fantastic and terrible – they’re the same names

For most B2B brands, a polarising product name just doesn’t make sense. Always put yourself in your audience’s shoes. If you sell plumbing consumables to traditional tradespeople, they’re unlikely to respond favourably to a super-quirky name. It may even put them off or turn them against your company as a whole. So, if your offering needs a name at all, it’s much better to opt for something that’s simple, memorable and future-proof – a name that can flex and grow with the brand. 

HubSpot is a great example of this, too. Their product names aren’t striking or polarising, but they’re effective because they work within the existing brand architecture. The inclusion of the word ‘Hub’ has allowed them to grow in a way that just makes sense

Marketers run hot.

No matter how simple and straightforward they are, all new names sound a bit gross – especially if you’re renaming an offering that already exists. You’re trying to apply something unfamiliar to something familiar, so it’s likely to feel a little uneasy to begin with. 

On top of this, everyone involved in the naming process has their own perceptions and objections – which brings us to the final bump in the ride: the marketing team. 

Internal branding teams know the stakes are high. They know just how difficult naming is and feel under pressure to come up with the winning name – it’s their area of expertise after all. But just like everyone else, branding teams need to approach the project with an open mind. They need to invite the unfamiliar to hang out for a while and let the urge to reject someone else’s idea settle down before critiquing it.

Every new name will carry a rich payload of connotations and implications. Some of these will be personal gut-feel objections: ‘My ex-boyfriend’s cat was called that,’ or ‘Sounds like a foot fungus.’ Other associations will be shared – the new name will sound active or playful or science-y or confident. 

A good name has nothing to do with personal gut-feel and everything to do with shared experience. If a name triggers shared associations within your stakeholders, you’re onto a winner – no matter who came up with it.

So what does a good B2B name look like?

A good B2B name should be easy to read and spell. Clear and concise. It should work within your current brand architecture and be able to flex as you grow. But most of all, it requires consensus between all stakeholders at all stages of the project – which is where we come in. 

At Don’t be Shy, we’re B2B branding experts. We uncover commonalities, drive cohesion and get internal stakeholders on the same page – only then do we let the names start to fly. Want to present a clear, confident and consistent face to market? Let’s talk. 

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