Product naming gets even more complicated

I used to say that the only thing more painful than product naming is root canal. But a few months ago I actually had a root canal, and with the anesthesia and painkillers, it wasn't so bad. Product naming is now back on top of my "most painful" list.

And the pain only gets worse when you're marketing both a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution and an on-premise application.

Let's consider just one very basic question:

Should you use the same name for both the SaaS and on-premise products?

Using the same name for both does have the advantage of putting all your brand visibility efforts behind a single label. It's difficult enough to get prospective customers to remember your product name; it's even tougher to get them to remember two names.

A single product name for both the SaaS and on-premise products also works well when you're trying to be "product agnostic." That is, you market the same set of features and benefits for both solutions and let customers choose which model they prefer.

"They're the same, only different."

But here's the downside. Even though both solutions go by the same name, they don't deliver the same features, benefits and advantages.

For one, enhancements are delivered differently. The SaaS customers typically get new features more frequently and automatically. So though the SaaS and on-premise solutions may have started out the same, they grow apart over the life of the SaaS subscription.

The SaaS solution also differs from on-premise in the way it's deployed, supported, upgraded, and paid for. You might call both by the same name, but they're fundamentally different. By trying to market them as nearly identical, there's a good chance that you'll understate key benefits of your SaaS solution.

The naming strategy should fit your business strategy

I've seen companies try a few different ways to navigate through this naming challenge. Some keep the SaaS and on-premise products separate, and they use two different names. This works, for example, when the company is targeting completely different markets with the two solutions, and they don't want any confusion about who should buy what.

Other companies use a common overall product name, but they add on labels that distinguish the SaaS version from the on-premise version. For example, the SaaS solution is called "Acme Express," or "Acme Small Business Edition," while the on-premise one is called "Acme Enterprise." This scheme does have the advantage of building visibility for a single name, but it may limit the market opportunity for the SaaS product.

Yet a third version is to use identical names. This might work if you're trying to emphasize "customer choice," though you do run the risk of confusing the customer as I noted earlier. "Same name, different solution" might also be appropriate if your strategy is to migrate on-premise customers over to SaaS. That's a heavy lift, but keeping the same name may make it a little lighter.

The takeaway here is that a product name isn't something you tack on at the end of the process. It's an integral part of your overall strategy. Different naming strategies fit with different marketing and business strategies. Choose wisely.

And might I suggest you have painkillers handy.