You've landed here because you are either naming a product or perhaps are looking for a new approach to naming strategy. The good news is- we live in the wild world of product launch, and I've assisted in naming quite a few things, from technologies to actual product, even a division of a corporation. Notice I said assisted, and it’s for a good reason. Naming something should never be a one-horse show. It doesn’t matter if you have the genius and intuition of Don Draper; naming a product (or anything else, really) is strategic, and should fundamentally be based on data, testing, and research. (This is coming from a person who literally focus-grouped my new kitten’s name.)
In this article, I will guide you through Water Street’s approach to naming a new product, as well as share a few creative marketing tricks I have up my sleeve.
First things first— you must step out of the engineering and product development teams’ world and avoid the code names they've used during the research and design stages. Put on your marketing cap and think as your audience does. The name of your product must be high-functioning in logic or emotion. You can even make the argument of using a made-up word as long as it evokes imagination and/or strong emotions but remember—it also needs to be easily read and written.
The second biggest hurdle to naming product (besides coming up with a great name) is the legal hoops one must get through. It’s important always to keep this fact in consideration. Here are some product naming categories, listed in order of difficulty to get trademarked:
An imaginative name is one that is created to designate a product or service. The challenge is that because they are not intuitive or recognizable, one has to build a successful marketing strategy and campaign to both introduce and establish these names. Imaginative names will also most likely be the easiest type of name to trademark. Oreo® is an example of an imaginative name. Oreo is now a trusted brand that is globally recognized.
Arbitrary naming is when a brand uses a real word, but selects one in which has no tangible connection to the product. Quaker® is an excellent example of this type of naming. Quaker is a peaceful religious group; the product is oatmeal. Arbitrary product naming will also require quite a lot of heavy lifting in the marketing strategy to create an established, recognizable brand.
Suggestive names are next in strength. These names suggest, without exactly describing the product they designate or some attribute of the product. An example of this is Snapple®, Snap + Apple (get it?). Suggestive names are often easier for consumers to understand because they are somewhat grounded in reality.
Descriptive names are just that— they describe the product or service or some feature of them. Some examples of descriptive names include Wheat Thins® or Cocoa Puffs®. Descriptive names are going to be much harder to get trademarked in this very large market.
A name is considered generic if it is used to describe a literal category. If for example, one used Apple® for a business that sold apples, that mark would not be protected.
Now that you have a better understanding of the categories, you are more prepared to analyze all considerations in your strategy, and the legal hoops you may be facing along the road.
With these product naming categories in mind, here are a few strategic ways to brainstorm around a new name.
Word Cloud: Generate as many words and ideas as possible. Pull a group together and do a massive brainstorm, no idea is a bad one in this session.
Forget spell check: Flipping a letter or utilizing a letter with similar phonetic qualities could generate hundreds of different naming ideas.
Get poetic: Scour the dictionary for random words. Those words may start out as random, but they could be metaphors for the product’s function, qualities or marketing need.
Dissect: Merging and pulling apart words can generate a ton of naming options. For example, The word SPAM, America’s favorite throwback canned meat, is derived from taking the words ‘spiced’ and ‘ham’ and combining them. Even flipping two words can create unique names.
A picture can say 1,000 words: Take a visual approach. What does it look like? Can you tie its visual identity to an easily recognizable name, place, or object?
The customer may know best: Test market your product and listen to how the end user describes it. Their response may conjure up many unique naming considerations. Consider all social identity groups, who knows grandma may have just the wise insight you need for your next product name.
Product in Action: Imagine your product in the customers’ hands or being used out in the wild. Consider its attributes and benefits.
Now that your creative gears are turning, I will run down how our naming process usually happens:
Create a benchmark clearly defining what problem your product is solving in the marketplace. We use a benchmark document as our guiding lighthouse in the vast sea of ideas. This document will help get you through a brainstorm and think of important touch-points in your planning. A good benchmark document will have at least these main things:
A brief description of product or thing you will be naming
A brand mission statement
Primary & secondary audience
Your primary goal
Benchmarks that make for success
Indications of failure
Time to brainstorm. We create huge word clouds, and the thesaurus becomes our new best friend. Also, keep in mind multi-language differences and considerations; Google Translate helps a lot if you’re not sure. Bring in a few people if needed. This giant brain dump (which you'll want to make sure is documented) helps gets everything in front of you.
Focus Group (internal/external/digitally/in-person: gather them all) This gets you outside of your bubble by bringing in others’ opinions, observations and insights to your naming strategy. Your focus group can come in non-traditional ways, such as tradeshows, digital surveys, and yes, even social media. At the very least, you should run internal surveys with your in-house teams for feedback. We take all that great data/research and narrow down the word cloud list for decisive options.
Legal research should begin pretty early in the process. Your best bet is to have a legal team do the serious legwork for you, but you can do a preliminary scan by using the United States Patent and Trademark search site. Also, keep in mind: just because the name is taken does not mean you couldn't make an offer on it.
Test, and test again. By this point, the legal research has started to crush your dreams, and you have narrowed down your list to have at least 5-10 strong options. Take that list and run test marketing research on it again. Using a method as simple as a ranking system can be quite useful. For example, we've used a simple 9-grid ranking matrix with some focus groups to measure effectiveness.
Now that you have a strong product name list send it through your real legal channels. Then your product launch strategy can really begin. It’s important to remember that opinions are a dime-a-dozen in the marketing world. Having a real strategy in place to test your naming relevance and perhaps even your best instincts with consumer insight and data will guarantee you've considered as much as you possibly can to go to market, confident in your name.