What's in a name?

Claire Sharp Sundt 3/29/2023 1:42:10 PM
This article is written for e-commerce managers who maybe sit between a rock (marketing) and a hard place (product development) and who often have to deal with product naming but don't have authority to change the names.


Image similar shoes in different colors

So, what's in a name?

More specifically, what's in a product name? Well, quite a lot - as many brand managers working in large companies with fast moving consumer products can attest to. In the world of corporate marketing millions of dollars each year are used to ensure products are given names that will entice consumers to buy them.

However, in medium and small companies focus is more often on survival and basic profitability. The product name can have multi ownership and the responsibility for naming can change during the different stages of production. A lack of holistic planning can result in sub-optimal naming and confusion for customers as they move between different purchasing channels. Nowhere is this more visible than on a company’s webpages.

In my job as an advisor I often meet companies ready to either create or relaunch websites and the people we meet rarely have focus on improving product naming. Some clients want to focus on creating a great look & feel to their sites, others are more interested in the technical aspects of site architecture - and these are, of course, important areas of concern.

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The most common opportunity for discussing product names is when the topic of SEO appears, but it’s often too late in the product creation process. It’s the same as starting child upbringing when they enter high-school. Creating product names that work across all platforms needs to be started very early on in the product’s life-cycle.

It’s understandable enough - especially in companies who produce their own goods - not all products on the drawing board make it to the production line, so it could be argued the name doesn’t need to be thought of straight away. Sometimes a basic numeric system is used to give designers/production assistants etc. a convenient way of naming products with a unique identifier.

In some companies the “display” name can range from the name of the person sitting in the desk opposite to the favorite holiday resort of the CEO.

I have seen many cryptic product names but my favorite example is a designer who called a black dress “Red dress” because it was inspired by the character Red in Mad Men - it caused quite a bit of confusion..

Image of Christina Hendricks in a black dress

Take your working name seriously - it might stick

If the working product name sticks there is a high risk this is how the product will be named on the website. Rather like the affectionate nickname a child is given as a one-year old, that doesn’t quite work later in life.

Without guidelines the marketing team has no choice but to focus on descriptive texts rather than the name. Sometimes this is because the PIM enricher might not have a mandate to overwrite the name - in the retail industry there is a strong likelihood that store information - such as price tag - has already been produced so that it isn’t actually possible to change the name at this late stage. Consistency across channels trumps the need to have an understandable, sellable and logical name.

Keep a consistent product name on the customer’s journey

Another aspect of this problem, not easily caught in test phases, is that the name changes on different webpages or states depending on whether we show the style or the variant. For example, the name shown on the product page and checkout is the product style name but in the order confirmation and receipt e-mail variant name/SKU is used. Customers become unsure about what they have ordered in cases like this.

Generic names don’t solve the problem

When a PIM team is lacking good product names one approach is to use a generic name. The brand and/or subtitle is how the products are differentiated. The same confusion as above can happen here, as the brand/subtitle is no longer shown at some point in the customer journey. In addition, the customer has no reference point if they visit a physical store and ask to buy, for example, the product “modern glass” they have seen on the website, which in the store is only identifiable by a SKU code. Searching back to the product on the site only creates more confusion as often this is the display name for multiple products.

Image of a tag

In physical stores the product speaks for itself

The main reason why this problem often appears for omnichannel companies is maybe obvious?

Companies who sell their products in physical stores don’t actually need to prioritise a name for their product - the product speaks for itself. It doesn't matter what a label says because customers can both see and touch what is in front of them. Attractive packaging becomes far more important. For example a tablecloth made of linen with a tag that says “Linen tablecloth” will unlikely hinder or increase sales. In the digital universe this is a completely different scenario.

So, what to do?

As an E-commerce manager you can’t necessarily override the product name but there are certain steps you can take to help the rest of the organisation improve naming.

1. Lead a holistic approach in your organisation

Create guidelines for the whole organisation informing where the product name is used and who is responsible for it. Think about all areas in the company the product is referred to and make sure there is alignment between departments. Map all the places the name is used in the company, not just the digital channels, including for example accounting and profit analysis.

2. Create a template for the different levels of a product name

In some industries, for example clothing, a product can have 3 levels of name, the style name, the variant name and the SKU name. Make sure there is consistency across names in the levels and different systems where the name is used.

3. Add a category name to all products on the website

Online customers most often shop by category and search is dependent on this information. If there are many possible categories use synonym functionality to supplement the category you give the product.

4. Prioritise information about non-visible attributes

What does the product image not tell you? For example a customer can’t see or feel if jeans are stretchy from a photo, so a name that includes “stretch” for stretch jeans is imperative. One of our customers had a return rate of over 70% for non-stretch jeans - until they made a simple addition to the name and description.

5. Use meta-values to increase value

You don’t have to work at Procter and Gamble to understand the value of an increase in the perceived value of a product - the world of paint has excelled at finding alternative names for variations of colours, for example Blush Pink is more enticing than HGSW2046.

The demands for universal accessibility mean a number of customers also need better colour descriptions to help them understand what the product actually looks like - Ferrari is not helpful as colour, but I have had a customer using it as one.

6. Concatenate names with key attributes

If you use your PIM correctly, the different elements of a product name can be put together in a flexible way to add value to the name at different points in the customer journey. What is a “key attribute” will depend on your industry and for example whether you are a house of brands or a company selling your own products. A company selling well-known brands has no other choice but to use the brand name on the website, e.g. Levis 501s cannot be called “straight legged jeans with button fastening” anywhere, even if that name gives more information.

Product names have become more and more short-descriptions because of SEO and the weighting Google gives to product names in their algorithms. Many websites takes this to an extreme and for example Amazon product names on site are mostly a set of concatenated attributes, like the product name:

“TREBLAB FX100 - Portable Bluetooth Speaker, 20W Rugged Outdoor Speaker, 35H Battery, IPX7 Waterproof Speaker with Metal and Rubber Body, Wireless Speaker w/Powerbank for Work, Travel, Bike, Beach”

The values set up in PIM can be used in multiple ways - in filters, in product feeds, and for analysis purposes so this is one of the most important jobs you can do for your company’s product.

All of the above points will help your customers find your products. By thinking about how the product name will appear in search you will help your customers find what they are looking for.

We can help you!

If you made it this far in the article you are probably working in an organisation that needs help to work with problems such as this and hopefully I have given some insight about how to improve product naming.

At Geta we can help you identify problems and create solutions to the strangest of retail issues, so feel free to contact us for a chat about what you need help with :-)


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