By Any Other Product Name

January 12, 2009

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We went through a small naming exercise at the new gig last week and it went smoothly. I was slightly surprised. Naming products ought to be fun and easy. Sometimes it is. But why is it sometimes like a root canal?

If you’re like most marketers, you’re tempted to say “because everyone gets involved instead of standing back and letting the marketers work their magic.” If so, you’re wrong. I’m not offended when people (marketers or otherwise) bring opinions to the table about anything. You’d think metrics, for example, would be cut and dried – but people have a host of opinions about why we hit or missed the lead goal. That healthy discussion is how things get done.

The reason we marketers don’t like naming discussions is because our opinions on naming are rarely any better or more informed than anyone else’s. It’s fun to be the marketing guru holding court on how the recent change to Google algorithms affected traffic. It’s much less fun to be on equal footing as people trash the naming idea you thought was really cuil. C’mon, it’s pronounced ‘cool’ and means ‘knowledge’ in Ireland. Don’t you people get it?

Thing is, cuil really wasn’t a bad name…if they had traction. Google wasn’t inherently a great name for a search engine. It’s a great name now because you know it. My friends from Apple tell me that the name iPod was not well received internally at first. The cry went up (as it always does)  “The name iPod doesn’t say what it does!” The fact is that most “good” product names are neutral, at best, until the product succeeds in the market.

So your new product name probably won’t be great unless your product is. Work with others (remember, you’re equal to everyone else in this endeavor) to generate a long list, and then put the candidates through the following tests:

  • Does the name work in all relevant contexts? Pen Island was great for a custom pen seller – until they went online. I don’t care how great the product is, I am NOT going to that url
  • Is there potential for confusion? This is most likely to happen with things that seem obvious internally but aren’t well known to external audiences – in the case of last week’s discussion, a number as part of the name that could have been confused with a version number
  • How does it test with a target group? Find a few people who fit the customer profile and run it by them. Don’t ask your mom unless she is part of the target market. I trust my mom’s advice on many things, but she doesn’t buy network management software, so I’ll go to my geek friends instead

Name it, don’t sweat it. Launch it. Market it. Google, Apple and Amazon took decent naming choices and made them great in the marketplace.

Photo by ViaMoi

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2 Responses to “By Any Other Product Name”

  1. Rob L. Says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with the main point of this post, but I think one of the examples doesn’t work:

    Google wasn’t inherently a great name for a search engine.

    Sure it was! Maybe a lot of its users today don’t know the word “googol” from which it was derived, but you bet your PageRank that it resonated with a great number of the early adopters in computer science and academia who built its market share by word of mouth and rampant linking. I viewed their name, from the first time I heard it, as a winking acknowledgment that this WWW thing was soon going to swell to near-infinite proportions and that Google would be right there indexing it.

    Not to mention the fact that it so easily adapts to use as a verb, which they officially have to object to but you know they actually love.

  2. rsomers Says:

    Hey Rob!

    It does work very well with both the early adopters who get the mathematical reference and the latecomers who turn it into a verb without knowing the source – true that not many names move along the adoption curve as smoothly. But that view as a ‘winking acknowledgement’ isn’t possible to understand without the rearview mirror context. At the time it could have been (and I’m sure was) challenged as easily as the iPod was. That’s my point about ‘inherently’ great – the greatness of the name often depends on the context.

    Perhaps I should have said, instead of inherently, ‘undeniably great even before one knows whether the product will succeed or not.’ A name can be cuil without that knowledge, but I’d argue that it can’t be great until one knows whether it gains traction or not.

    BTW, I give you MAJOR geek bonus points for knowing the proper spelling of googol!


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