Sara Millstein

When context rules: portfolio naming


In naming, sometimes context, not content, is king. And often that context isn’t a blank slate—particularly when naming into a portfolio. We are often naming into existing portfolios and the considerations we have there are different (and broader) than when we are naming something standalone, like a new company name.

Standalone naming
With a standalone name or new master brand—like the next Google, Amazon, or Apple—we consider everything you would expect for strategic naming. What are we trying to achieve? What is the goal for the name specifically? What are competitors doing? What is the landscape of names that customers are encountering? What themes or ideas are we trying to signal with the name? And then of course, is it easy to say, sound good when you say it, and have positive associations?

I intentionally mention this question last only because it is just a small part of naming strategy—often just a box to check when selecting final creative options, and less a part of the strategy that generates that creative.

Portfolio naming
Within portfolios, naming strategy is all of that, plus more.

Now, in addition to wayfinding against competitors, we must consider wayfinding within our own portfolio. How will our customers know which of our offerings is right for them? For example, FedEx descriptively names its services so it’s clear which each is for: FedEx Express, FedEx Ground, FedEx Freight. Not surprisingly, as portfolio size increases so does the complexity of enabling wayfinding within it. Imagine a library that has no apparent approach to how it has its organized books—large, poorly organized portfolios can be just as overwhelming.

With portfolios, we have an opportunity to strategically align (or not) with other existing offerings. Where do we want to make connections? Where do we want to distinguish to avoid confusion? Mainstream luxury car makers like BMW and Mercedes, for example use a Class or Series approach to align their cars. BMW uses number-based Series to align cars by size—3-Series, 5-Series, 7-Series—making it easy for a buyer to quickly compare across their portfolio. With BMW, these points of alignment have been put into a formal naming architecture or structure. But often we encounter portfolios where the opportunities for alignment are less structured and must be considered on an individual basis when each new offering is added.

With all the additional complexity, it’s often the portfolio questions that are much more interesting and harder to untangle. There is greater consideration necessary when naming within a portfolio as there are inherent relationships between the different products. Without carefully considering naming within the context of the portfolio, you can unintentionally elevate, demote, or alienate other offerings – that can put your revenue at risk. Thus, we must consider the portfolio holistically, even when naming one product. These are the naming challenges that may require seeking outside expertise.

If you have opinions on portfolio naming or would like to chat, please contact Sara Millstein at


Next Post

Big B, little b, what kind of b?

Companies that engage with big B, Brand are companies that are better aligned, more innovative, and attract top talent. Companies that make brand an afterthought about how to package a message or dress up a product are leaving money on the table. Customer empathy is critical to long-term success; de…
Read more