What’s In A Product Name?

A client (who happens to be a brilliant engineer) recently asked me if his product name really mattered. Great question—and I wanted to jump up out of my seat and shout hell yes! But I sometimes overdo it with my enthusiasm. So, instead, I asked why he didn't think the product name mattered. He said he believed that a product succeeded on the basis of features (innovation) and not the name. He explained, “Customers will try the product first and dig into the features first and won’t care about what it's called."  I found myself leaning in and listening with a serious case of marketing sadness. Trying to find some common ground, I asked him if he remembered the names of products he had recently purchased. "Not really," he said, “I don’t think people care.” Taking a different route, I asked if he could imagine recommending our strangely named product (an acronym with a few numbers) to a friend. “I wouldn’t care about the name. If it is a good product I’d recommend it.” he said.

Dang, I began to wonder; maybe only some of us care about product names, and maybe I’m biased because I’m a marketer. I think about brands all the time and the relationship customers form with them. I can also think of examples where product names don’t matter as much because they are either so widely recognized that they fade into the background (e.g., eBay) or the product name functions as more of a SKU than as part of the customer experience (e.g., Sony BRAVIA KDL-55EX500 Series 55-Inch LCD TV, Black).

Then again, if you are looking to launch a new product and want every possible advantage for both product and company, maybe it is worth spending a bit more time developing a solid brand name that will mean something to the customer, that will allow you to expand your future offerings, and that's future-proofed for SEO. You might also want to consider that not all customers are technical and to improve the chances of your product really taking off, make it easy to recommend.

With that in mind, here are a few guidelines I would urge every entrepreneur to consider when naming their product, product line, or company (even when it seems like every idea is taken!).

Let’s dive in.

Memories on My Mind

A memorable product name will help your customer's overworked brain and give them a chance to remember and even think about your product/service. Clever names can be memorable, but it is easy to be too clever. What’s clever enough? I don’t know. You have to test it out a bit.

SayMyProduct'sName.png

Technique: Try a word cloud (image of word cloud) full of adjectives that describe the product and the solution or the delight your product delivers. Push your thinking and involve a group of trusted friends or mentors. Look at your competitors (but try not to copy or be derivative). Customers are quick to smell a copycat or phony. When it comes to testing what is memorable, it can be highly personal. I like to sleep on a list of my top two or three candidates and ask others to do the same. Does it pop to mind easily for your test group? What associations do they make with the name? Speaking of…

Got Baggage?

Customers can be very literal when they look at a name. Names create expectations and can also invoke strange/personal connotations you might not have intended. Make sure and google the product name, including the easy keyword test of typing slowing into Google’s search bar and seeing what other suggestions come up. Test the name offline too, with at least a couple different people within your target demographic.

 Drawing by W. Clinton Mainland

Drawing by W. Clinton Mainland

SEO (search engine optimization) is another huge consideration when picking a solid name. This is why many companies stake their web claim with unusual spellings and/or nonsensical words. Many product owners are seeking a competitive advantage within the name itself. If you can “own” the URL and related search results, you can achieve a mini-monopoly, making your product the only one of its kind to show up in search results. Most generic words are really hard to rank on page 1 of Google search results, as they are taken already. But don’t give up too easily. You just have to make sure you spend some time Googling, which feels obvious, yet is sometimes skipped. The problems with poor SEO potential can linger for years or even the life of the product. One tough example from my past includes the Emmy award-winning audio software by iZotope called RX. RX is an audio repair software (like Photoshop for sound), so the RX was meant to be clever, as in the drugstore to get your fix. Unfortunately, RX is such a spam target due to the billion dollar pharmaceutical industry, that it became a hard term to advertise and promote. The product pre-dates the concept of SEO, and I was not working for the company when it was created (not trying to pick on you guys!). But we considered changing the product name many times… and then we won the Emmy. Hard to change once you are the industry standard. But hopefully, this serves as a lesson to you.

Make sure and google the product name, including the easy keyword test of typing slowing into Google’s search bar and seeing what other suggestions come up.

Once you have a couple names that pass muster internally, test them with online audiences on a landing page or two (even a fake one). Make sure and ask friends, family, and social media communities, too.

Have You Heard of OLPC?

Probably not. In short, please beware of acronyms or product names with lots of numbers. They often need additional explaining and assume your customer is inside your office. Sometimes with technical products, these can work or even appeal to a technical customer, but make sure you aren’t appealing just to your “power users” or folks in the know. Talk to a few new prospects who have never heard of your product and see if they understand the acronym or name right away. By the way, or BTW, the name OLPC is One Laptop Per Child, which is a great initiative if you ask me, but would I ever casually say OLPC? Note: Memorable brand/product acronyms that tell a product story are possible. One solid example is MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). Just use with care.

What’s Your Story?

Ideally, you can even tell a story with a product name. For example, Lyft gives me an idea of what they do. Uber makes me think but doesn’t reveal much.

Take a look at the problem/solution your product solves/enhances. Puns and sound-alike words can also work and even show your customer you care. Don’t be afraid of the obvious. Simplicity is powerful in a name. Another example: Nest is a recent favorite of mine, though I don’t own the product. Nest gives you an image of a warm cozy space, and who doesn’t want that when they are thinking about their thermostat. LinkedIn and Facebook are two solid names in my opinion that tell the product-solution story.

One of my favorite product names that was named by my talented Marketing Director Melissa Misicka was the software synthesizer called Iris.

She helped remind me of the process we used: “Iris was a software synthesizer that relied heavily on detailed visualizations. A tagline emerged to “see music in everything,” which led to name idea of Iris, inspired by the intricacies of the eye. Because Iris allowed for such lush and beautiful sounds, it even called to the mind the flower for some of the design team, and some flower imagery could be found on the packaging as an homage.”

Iris is an incredible product, and it had a very successful launch--and I think the product name definitely helped.

In my experience, most product names take about two or three weeks to create, test, and explore alternatives. Here's my preferred process: Move fast, listen to feedback, and iterate as needed. Try to converge rather than keep adding to your list. Look for variables of your best ideas and make sure you Google a few different spellings of your best results.

Here’s a quick bullet list of brainstorms to get you unstuck the next time you need to name a product:

 An iris flower

An iris flower

 The other iris; Iris of the eye.

The other iris; Iris of the eye.

Product Name Brainstorm Ideas

  • What does the product do, in one or two words?

  • What is the benefit to the customer?

  • What would be the simplest way to describe your solution?

  • What search results come up when you type what your customer might type?

  • What are the top three competitors and how do their names compare? (how can you stand out?)

  • Google your name and misspellings!

  • Plan on marketing or selling to an international crowd? Make sure and test the name internationally for hidden meanings to avoid embarrassment.

  • Here’s a long list of more brainstorming and creative ideas including using names, cities, and of course, the dictionary.

Hopefully this gets you started or gives you some new ideas on naming products. I like to stick to the rule of memorable, baggage free names and then strive to have the name also tell the product story. It’s not always easy, but can be a rewarding feeling when you find a name that works great for your target customer.

Epilogue

So what happened to my brilliant engineer friend and his obscurely named product? Unfortunately, he was unconvinced and was too worried about the work that would be involved in renaming the product. Sales-wise, his product did just OK, and I was left wondering if the poor name didn't have something to do with it. I will never know, but what I do know is how easy it is to buy, recommend, and market a product with a great name. Anytime you can invest in making things easier for your customers' busy and overburdened brains, it's a good thing. I hope you all have more luck convincing your product managers and investors that throwaway names show a lack of passion and creativity. And who wants to market that?

Thanks for reading and if you need help naming a brand, product or service, I’m always here.