Choosing the Right Name for a Follow-On Product

Last Updated May 17, 2011 12:13 PM EDT

For companies such as Google and Apple, devising a name for a follow-on product is simple -- just slap on a 2.0 at the end.

But what would you name, say, a next-generation golf club that followed Callaway's original Big Bertha. Big Bertha 2? Callaway went with Great Big Bertha.

Naming a follow-on product is a tricky proposition given that consumer expectations have already been established with the original, according to the authors of The Best Way to Name Your Product 2.0, in Harvard Business Review. It was written by Harvard Business School's John Gourville and Elie Ofek, and London Business School's Marco Bertini.

The strategy choices aren't numerous, however -- just two. First is the "brand-name continuation," where the name continues, albeit it with a sequential indicator or some other signal that this is the new-and-improved version. Think Microsoft Office 11, 2012 Chevy Camaro or the The Cuisinart DLC-X Plus Food Processor. (This strategy doesn't always work. Remember when Motorola replaced the popular RAZR handset with the KRZR? Krazy!)

Alternative two is the "brand-name change," where a Nintendo 64 becomes the GameCube, and Anderson Consulting transforms into Accenture.

Here's the tricky part. Your customers will have a different set of expectations depending on which route you choose. With a brand-name continuation, for example, shoppers expect improvements to existing features. But a brand-name change signals fundamentally new features, and also makes the purchase decision both riskier and potentially more rewarding.

So brand managers should ask three questions before making the naming decision, according to the researchers:

  1. What is the target market's attitude toward risk and reward? Consumers' risk tolerance varies widely from one demographic to another.
  2. What are the consequences if things go wrong? Consumers' perceptions of risk depend in part on the setting. Error is less acceptable in business and social contexts than in private.
  3. What is the competitive landscape? If you are an underdog in the market, continuing the same name might not be the best strategy.
What are some follow-on product names you liked or didn't?

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(Photo by Flickr user techedlive, CC 2.0)
  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.