November 29, 2022
Cece Lee

4 Step Process for Product Architecture and Naming Framework

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On the PMA Slack channel (a leading community with over 30,000 product marketers), a question came up about product architecture and naming. Through my various roles, I’ve organically created a presentation that I’ve used to provide structure to product naming at several companies. This presentation had two purposes:

  • Educate stakeholders and executives on the process behind the proposed product architecture and naming
  • Gain alignment with stakeholders and executives on the final recommendations

Depending on your organization and complexity, this process can be done in a few weeks or even take months and years. 

Please note, I will walk you through a sample company as a way to highlight the process. As such, you can determine the best way to leverage the presentation based on your company and needs. 

Don’t have time to read the entire blog? Download the Product Architecture and Naming Framework.

4 Steps to Create a Product Framework

The company had purchased several single-product companies and merged them under a single entity. Each company had a solution that addressed a specific segment of the industry and buyer. The intent was not to merge these disparate products into one mega platform but rather to create a taxonomy so we could communicate our offerings to the market simply. 

Step 1: Solution vs Platform

Think of your product structure as a pyramid, with the top as the umbrella for all the underlying products, modules, features, and functionality. In most instances we looked at platform vs solution. According to Webopedia, an online tech dictionary for IT professionals, here is the definition of each:

  • Solution: In business computing a total solution is one that contains all products and services in one delivery that meets a specific function or provides one solution or system to solve multiple problems. For example a computer system with all software and applications pre installed and the installation of that system on the network would constitute a total solution product.
  • Platform: The underlying hardware or software for a system. The platform defines a standard around which a system can be developed.

For example, if your company is not creating a single system or platform for customers to access, but rather grouping software under a common umbrella; then you would start with solutions. 

Pro Tip: With SaaS companies, the use of “Cloud” is popular to describe a company’s offerings. Heck, I’ve used it. In this case, I view Cloud as an alternative to Solution in product naming. 

Step 2: Product, Software or Application 

The next step was understanding how to group the specific features and functionalities into what was sold to the market. We considered three options of Product, Software or Application, defined by Wikipedia as: 

  • Product: In marketing, a product is anything that can be offered to a market that might satisfy a want or need
  • Software: Computer software, or simply software is any set of machine-readable instructions that directs a computer's processor to perform specific operations
  • Application: A software application is a program or group of programs designed for end users. Applications can be systems software or applications software.

Since our offerings were designed to be sold either individually or packaged together, we opted to refer to our go-to-market offerings as products. “Software” or “application” implied that our prospects purchased all of the offerings as one. 

Step 3: Family, Set or Suite of Products

Whether you have a solution or platform, you may expand your offerings to have several products. In this case, how do you refer to several products under a solution or platform? 

We looked at definitions for family, set or suite (Source: Dictionary.com and http://www.merriam-webster.com) and aligned on using family or set - The [Solution] consists of a family/set of products, all designed to help organizations manage their events.

  • Family - a group of things related by common characteristics
  • Set - a number of things of the same kind that belong or are used together. Example: <an electric train set> / a number, group, or combination of things of similar nature, design, or function Example: <a set of ideas>
  • Suite - Computers. a group of software programs sold as a unit and usually designed to work together.

Step 4: Module vs. Feature

In my experience, there is confusion regarding product, module and features. Here’s how we thought about it:

  • Product - this is what you’re selling to the market. A customer may purchase all the features and functionality OR you provide a set base of functionality with the strategy to upsell customers for advanced features.
  • Module - the concept behind “module” is to group like features and functionality together that cannot be sold standalone. Rather, it’s part of a product that may be included or sold ad-hoc. 
  • Feature: (n.) A notable property of a device or software application.

In our example, the products sold a group of features and functionality under specific categories (e.g. mobile app, meeting inventory, etc.). As such, module was the best term to describe the unique group of features that could be sold separately to customers.

Overall Product Naming Solution Hierarchy

Product Naming Cliff Notes

While there is a whole industry dedicated to naming, I’m presenting an abbreviated version to guide you through the key things to consider when looking at how to name your solution, product, modules, and features. 

What is Your Brand Architecture

Assuming you have a larger portfolio, you have to consider what type of brand architecture you want to implement. 

  • Branded House - under this structure, your corporate brand leads in your solution and product naming which optimizes your marketing efforts. This typically uses general, descriptive terms to extend the main brand. However, if a product performs poorly, this may impact your corporate brand. Example: FedEx precedes each of its offerings - FedEx Express, FedEx Freight, FedEx Ground, etc.
  • Endorsed - In this situation, multiple sub-brands are supported by the corporate brand, which provides a “stamp of approval.” Each sub-brand has individual identities. In this case, if a sub-brand underperforms, the impact may be minimal on the corporate brand. Example: Marriott has several hotel sub brands that have a distinct brand and value, yet are linked to Marriott: Courtyard, Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn & Suites, etc. 
  • House of Brands - In this case, the corporate brand is a holding company for individual product brands that have unique names, brands, and marketing. In this case, the products have the brand value vs the corporate brand. The drawback is the investment needed to maintain the brand value across all the individual products. Example: Unilever has brands in food, beverages, health and beauty and more. \

4 Product Naming Considerations for Communications and Trademarks

Product Naming Considerations for Communications and Trademarks

When it comes to product naming, there are 4 types to consider (Source: Naming Architecture: A Blueprint for Portfolio Simplicity):

  • Generic - Industry-standard terminology, usually the common or class name for the goods or services
  • Descriptive - Real, recognizable words that describe a product’s function or form; explains what a product is or does
  • Suggestive - Recognizable words that suggest a product’s attributes or benefits; evokes an attitude
  • Arbitrary - Something new; unusual or invented words that acquire meaning over time

The more “generic” the name, the less likely you're able to trademark the name, while “arbitrary” names have stronger trademark opportunities. The trade-off is the time and investment to educate and market your names to your audiences. 

Pro Tip - If your company likes to abbreviate solution and product names, make sure to review all potential abbreviations. The last thing you want is a NSFW or embarrassing name used by your employees and customers!

Conclusion - A Foundation for Today and Tomorrow

Congratulations - you’ve spent time figuring out your product architecture and naming framework and secured buy-in from all your stakeholders. Once everyone has aligned, this provides a blueprint for product naming in your organization today and tomorrow. 

When you get questions (or requests) to name a feature or how to structure a product name, you can turn to your product naming framework as the single source of truth. 

Download your complimentary copy of the Product Architecture and Naming Framework presentation.

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