What’s in a Name? Here Are 4 Things to Think About When Naming New Products and Services

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Bonus Content: Learn Strategies for Coming Up with Names

What’s in a Name?

It’s easy to think that naming a new product, service, or business simply involves brainstorming ideas, testing the ideas out on some people, and choosing a name. But to do it right, it’s more involved than that. Here are four things to keep in mind when naming new products or services.

1. Does it quickly communicate what the product or service is? Unless you can pour thousands of dollars into developing and marketing an abstract name (e.g. Google), it makes more sense to come up with a name that communicates what the product or service is. Here are two examples: PayPal and OkCupid. They’re effective because you immediately get a sense of what each one is about. They’re also effective because they’re short and punchy, and also alliterative. An example of an ineffective brand name? Verbal branding specialist Nancy Friedman recently discussed this gem: Mycestro. Any idea what that product might be? (We’re guessing probably not.)

2. Does it have “unintended” meanings (think slang)? This is something you need to be sensitive to. You might come up with a name that seems perfectly benign and unbeknownst to you, either the full name or part of the name might be considered slang. A good place to do searches on any words that you’re considering is the Urban Dictionary, which defines itself as, “A veritable cornucopia of streetwise lingo, posted and defined by its readers.” Another thing to be aware of: is part of the name too close to sounding like another product, or could the name be the source of jokes? Here’s an example: do you remember when the iPad was unveiled? So many people ridiculed the name, because it conjured the idea of a feminine hygiene product (had the company not been Apple, we’re not so sure the name would have survived).

3. Is it already in use and/or has it been trademarked? You’ve come up with a name that’s just perfect, and so you go with it. Wait! It’s not that simple. You need to see if the name is already “out there.” And if it is “out there,” you need to understand how it’s being used. Start with a Google search and put the name in quotation marks so you call up exact matches. That will give you a basic sense about whether you’ve found a viable name. But don’t stop there. You should also run the name through TESS (Trademark Electronic Search System). As the site says on its home page, “This search engine allows you to search the USPTO’s database of registered trademarks and prior pending applications to find marks that may prevent registration due to a likelihood of confusion refusal.” When in doubt about anything, consider consulting an attorney (and please note that nothing about this blog post should be construed as legal advice).

4. Is it too clever? If you clicked through on the Mycestro story above, you’ll see this is an example of a name that might be too clever for its own good. If it’s not clear how to pronounce the name or if you need to constantly explain the story behind the name, well, that’s kind of cumbersome, isn’t it? Want to read about some more examples of poor names? Nancy Friedman has a great post that talks about Smorn, Pitooey! and Ecwid, among others. (No, we didn’t know what any of those product names were for either.)

So how do you come up with a name?

Consider outsourcing to a person or firm who specializes in naming and verbal branding. It’s an investment, but it could save your business time and money in the long run (a failed brand name will hurt your company over the long-term). Note: it might not be as expensive as you think, so it’s worth at least considering this option.

If you need to handle the naming in-house, here’s a basic blueprint of how to proceed:

  • Analyze the market: Make sure you’re up to speed on all the names your competitors are using. See what people are talking about within your industry. A great place to get some real-time and free insights is on Quora.
  • Consider all the features and benefits of your product and service. Make lists. Include every detail. Make sure everyone who’s involved in the naming process has a thorough understanding of the product/service.
  • Understand the intended audience for this specific product/service. Create some buyer personas around the product or service: why would these folks need it? What pain points are you addressing? What might their objections be?
  • Brainstorm a list of the “feelings” and emotions you want this name to communicate to your audience: helpful, safety, peace of mind, fun, etc.
  • Start brainstorming names. In this initial list, don’t censor yourself. Just get names down.
  • Be ruthless in cutting down the list from there. There’s an adage in the writing biz: “kill your darlings.” You need to let go of names that don’t make sense, even if you’ve fallen in love with them for some reason (e.g. it’s clever).
  • Once you get a working list of names, this is when you should run them through Google and TESS (see point #3 above) to see what’s available. Remember, it also makes sense to consult a lawyer.
  • Test the names. Ideally, you’d want to use focus groups. But an informal group of employees and customers can also provide insight. The testing phase should help you narrow the list down even further.
  • Consider and choose. As you’re going over your final list, some things to consider include the coolness factor, the legacy factor (do you think this name has staying power), and the creative factor (meaning, how well will this name work in layout, as a logo, and so forth).

Have you ever named a product or service? What were some of the strategies you used? Share in the comments.

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2 thoughts on “What’s in a Name? Here Are 4 Things to Think About When Naming New Products and Services

  1. Thanks for the links and kind words, Allison! I second most of your advice. However, I couldn’t disagree more with your point about focus groups. To be blunt, they have no place in name development.

    By all means, use focus groups for product testing and user experience. But with names (and logos) “testing” produces nothing of value.

    For one thing, names (and logos) must be experienced in context — on the package, on the website, in an ad — to be understood and appreciated. For another, opinions about names are like birthdays: everyone has one. And there’s nothing special about them except to the opinion-holder (or birthday boy/girl).

    The only people whose opinions you should solicit are the people within the organization who have veto power. That’s it. No family members, no friends, no passersby pulled in off the street.

    This is another argument for hiring a professional naming consultant, whose experience with language, brands, and trademark will cut through the clutter and guide you to an appropriate choice.

    It’s your job, as the brand owner, to select a name that’s meaningful and authentic to your company and product. And then build awareness of that name through strong marketing and storytelling.

    1. That’s fair, Nancy (and sorry that your comment got held up in spam!). One of the writers here used to work in radio, and she remembered they used focus groups to test different station names and call letter combos…that’s where the concept came from for that recommendation, but we see your point for sure! Thanks for commenting!

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