The name you give your product, service or company today is going to stick with it.
Much the same the way that “Joanna Banana” and “Dweeb Wiebe” have stuck with me.
(Yes, I realize putting “Dweeb Wiebe” out there may not be helping the cause to wipe it from the face of the earth.)
We all know that names stick around.
Bad or good.
And, in most cases for most startups, we immediately think of longevity as soon as we consider naming our businesses and our products.
Will the name stick? Will people like the sound of it in 2 years? Will it continue to describe what we do and offer? Will it be outdated like MySpace tomorrow?
Those are good qualities for names. Great qualities! Fan-freakin’-tastic qualities!!!
But what about all the OTHER things you should be thinking about when naming?
The list of what to do – and what to avoid doing – when it comes to naming isn’t uber-long… but it’s definitely worth reading as you:
- Name a product or company
- Optimize your product names
But before we get into ye olde list, first things first! We’ve got to think about the entity we’re naming, so…:
Ask Yourself These Questions Before You Tattoo “ZeebleDoDo.com” on Your Arm
What follows here is a list of REAL questions from a REAL brief a REAL creative agency would send to you before they started working on naming your product.
Let me repeat because I know you like the sound of my nagging voice: This is not just a checklist on a blog post – so be a good copy hacker and read this then act on your answers to these Qs.
- Am I naming a product or a company?
Products can be discontinued or sunsetted down the road. And digital products – which don’t normally have packaging – can have their names switched with ease. But company names are the foundation of both your brand and your future earnings.
- Should the name be long or short? What’s the character limit?
If this product is going to be listed in a catalog online, you will likely have a character limit. Few names on software catalogs wrap. And consider the digital side of your product marketing! If you’re writing about the product in a subject line, you don’t want it to be 25 characters in length – ‘cos your subject line should be 50 characters or fewer. (Yes, that rule still applies.) Know your limit; name within it.
- What is the purpose of the product I’m naming? What is its value?
If you’ve got a brand new offering with no competitors, as with inventions, you may want to opt for a more descriptive name. If you’re entering a space with lots of competitors, you may want to keep your USP front-of-mind when naming; think FreshBooks vs. QuickBooks.
- Who is my target audience? Who is most likely to see the name and buy?
What’s more important when naming than the audience that’s looking to buy your solution? Don’t ask them what to name it. But DO ask them other questions in surveys, like Ruben Gamez did. (He went from the names “Basic” and “Premium” for his products… to the names “Freelance”, “Studio” and “Agency” – all based on what his users told him in a survey!)
- How does my target audience talk? What is their education and reading level? What are the names of products they buy and love?
I’m thinking “OMGfacts” here. Need I say more?
- Would my audience be more receptive to a real word or a brand spankin’ new word that I make up?
Graduate students may expect a name that’s more X, and tweens may expect a name that’s more Y, and tweens who are planning to go to grad school may expect a name that’s more Z.
- Should the name evoke some sort of emotion?–is emotion important to converting people?
Huggies comes to mind. It’s a freakin’ diaper… but the name doesn’t sound like that’s all it’s about.
- Should the name consider gender?
This could be important if you’re introducing a product that is well-known as serving one gender to the other gender. Like undereye cream for men.
- In what channels will it be used? Only on my site… or in print materials, in packaging, on T-shirts, on TV commercials, on the radio?
When designers create logos, they think about how it will look when stitched on a hat and when displayed online. You, as a copy hacker, need to think about the words – particularly the sound of the words. The pronunciation. Is it easy to pronounce? Easy to repeat? Or is it a tongue-twister waiting to happen?
- Will people outside my country see it?
Globalization, folks! If it can be found and bought online, chances are good people from Egypt, Korea, Scotland and the Ukraine will see it. They could be customers (in some cases, like digital products). So, what might your product name mean in their language and unique cultural context? I was once naming a product for banks in India, and I recommended “MoMo”… which I quickly learned is some kind of dumpling. The banks did not want to be associated with a dumpling. So that was the end of that.
- If there’s a larger family of product names, what common thread runs through those? Am I willing to change all the names, or should the name instead fit the family?
Once Apple named the iPod, the rest of the family that followed it had to lead with the “i”. Including the iPad (of course). Interesting fact: before the iPad was launched, naming guru Hayes Roth of Landor noted that there was concern it sounded too much like a feminine hygiene product. Once the product launched, it never came up again. Read more about this on The Atlantic
- Are there competitors in this category with names I should be considering, whether I’m planning on steering clear of those names or copying ’em?
If you’re naming a car, you might not want to start it with an “F” unless you’re naming a card for Ford — Fusion, F-150 and Focus. On the other hand, if you’re naming a car and you want it to be considered in the league of BMW, you may want to number the car and the others in the family.
- Does traffic generation matter a lot to me?
An often-overlooked way to arrive at a name is by doing some keyword research. After all, when your product’s name appears on your site – and it normally appears in numerous places – that’s an organic keyword. Consider keywords – like “Free Invoicing” and “Universal Phone Charger” – when taking a more literal spin with your naming.
May seem like a lot of questions.
But I’d put money on the likelihood of most people – including you – actually thinking about this stuff when it comes time to name something in business. You just don’t write the questions down as I have above.
Assess Your Shortlist of Product Names
Once you’ve brainstormed using the above list, name ideas may start popping into your head. Write them all down. This could mean writing down 100s.
Trust me: agencies go through HUNDREDS of names in this process.
Your startup should do the same.
When you’ve whittled down your list, assess the shortlist against these questions:
- Is it easy to remember?
- Is it easy to understand?
- Is it easy to pronounce?
- Is it accessible to my target audience? (That is, do they need to have special knowledge they don’t have to ‘translate’ it and understand. Think Google, Nike and Kijiji.)
- Is it trademarked or copyrighted?
- Is the domain name available?
- Are there any negative connotations or associations with it?
Choosing Your Name: What to Do… and What to Avoid
WHAT TO DO
- Be more memorable with alliteration, like PayPal and Lincoln Logs
- Keep it short
- Make sure it’s easy to pronounce
- Make sure that, when you pronounce it, it doesn’t sound like something else
- Make sure that, when it’s written in a domain name as 1 word, it doesn’t look like something else
- Test the name in context – like on your website “Plans & Pricing” page
- Consider how a tagline might fit with it (and remember that abstract names often require descriptive tags)
WHAT TO AVOID
- Generic, soulless names
- Proving how clever you are – “clear” is still a great copy strategy in naming!
- Knocking off the competition / Playing the copycat
- Asking people explicitly for feedback on your name – especially whether they “like it” or not
- Using literal or highly descriptive phrases/words your competitors can imitate
- Words that are commonly misspelled (e.g., “public” often loses its “l” – I’m not kidding… I’ve seen this 2x in publications recently)
As a final thought today, consider this: over 260,000 trademark applications were filed in the United States in 2003 and over 98 percent of the dictionary is registered as a “dot com.”
Moral of the story: naming is hard!
But when you put in the time upfront – without losing your passion, vision and creativity – you can land on a cool name… which you can then test with customers by scoring memorability, suitability and neg/pos associations. Fun!