Marketing News

March 30, 2011

What’s in a Name?

Naming a new product is more than just a creative exercise

What's in a name? If you're a marketer, quite a lot. The name of your product can be an advertisement of the product itself, and can sometimes do your marketing for you. While people often react to a name on an emotional, not rational, level, the actual naming process is more rational than emotional, some experts say.

"People [think] they can just get a pizza and beer and think of a name. It takes more than that," says Helen Gould, director of verbal identity at Interbrand, a New Yorkbased global branding consultancy. In other words, it's rare that a great product name can be pulled out of thin air, so marketers should tread with care.

The three factors that are most important in a good name are difference, meaning the name must differentiate a product, relevance and customer engagement, according to Nik Contis, strategy director, brand development at Siegel + Gale, a strategic branding and communications firm headquartered in New York.

A Powerful Name Can Help You:

  • Separate yourself from your competitors
  • Demonstrate to the world that you are different
  • Reinforce a unique positioning platform
  • Create a positive and lasting engagement with your audience
  • Be unforgettable
  • Propel the brand through the world on its own, becoming
    a no-cost, self-sustaining PR vehicle
  • Provide a deep well of marketing and advertising images
  • Rise above the goods and services you provide
  • Completely dominate your category
Source: Igor Naming Guide

The first step is to decide what you want the name to do for you. Steve Manning, managing director at Igor, a naming and branding consultancy based in San Francisco that named the cable channel truTV and hotels including Aria in Las Vegas and the Wit in Chicago, suggests making a list of what makes the product or service distinct from competitors. "The key is to find a fresh way into the hearts and minds of your audience, redefine and own the conversation in your industry, and engage people on as many levels as possible," he says.

Write a naming brief with your ideas. Experts agree that it's best to create a large number of names at the beginning and filter the names later. "[Don't] fall in love with a single idea or a single type of name early in the process. Having an open mind is very important," says Clement Galluccio, managing partner at Brandpersand LLC, a New York-based branding and naming firm.

Decide whether the name should be inspirational or more factual based on your product and your target audiences' needs, Gould says. For instance, Interbrand worked with Microsoft to name its search engine Bing to attract a tech-savvy audience while also demonstrating the specific nature of Bing's search results versus those of competitor Google, whose name is a play on the word "googolplex," a very large mathematical number. "Given the marketplace, we knew it had to be really short and quick. It's super-short and memorable, but it also has a nice association with 'go,' or the sound 'bing.' 'Bing' captured for us that feeling of 'Aha! It's there,' " she says.

Brandpersand worked with pharmaceutical company Pfizer to name its nerve pain and fibromyalgia drug Lyrica. The name Lyrica is meant to create an association with music and harmony, rather than describing the drug's benefit, Galluccio explains. Deciding on whether you want a real word or a made-up word, a descriptive name or an abstract name also can depend on the competitive landscape, what other products you have in the market and how big your marketing spend is, Gould says. "You can't have a highly abstract name if you don't have the money to tell people what it means."

The choice between descriptive and abstract names can be a tricky one. If you choose a name that's so abstract that it's impossible to remember, it can cause a lot of costly marketing to try to get it to stick in consumers' minds, but if your name is too literal or descriptive, it also can cause you to spend more on marketing, Manning says. "If Virgin Air decided to call itself Trans- Atlantic Air, they would have had to spend money on telling people why they're different, because their name says 'we're just like everyone else,' " he says. Some brands, such as JetBlue, take the middle ground by being descriptively suggestive.

Trademarking is the next important step in the naming process. Eliminate names from your list that have identical or nearidentical trademarks in the United States or in global markets, search for domain name registrations, conduct a search online to determine whether there's anything exactly the same or closely related, and know how the word will look in the context of a search engine. After you've done a basic screen, take your name to a trademark attorney. The complexities involved in the trademark process, like trademark classes, are best left to legal experts. "A lot of people think they can just go to the U.S. patent and trademark website and see if a name is available. There's a lot more subtlety to it than that," Gould says. Once you have the name, your trademark attorney can help you procure the URL and file a trademark.

You must also vet your name in a global context. Even if you're using an English word, make sure it doesn't mean or suggest something inappropriate in another language. "Even if it's a product that's only going to be marketed in the United States, you need to be cognizant that it's a multicultural society," Galluccio says.

Finding the perfect name often means sticking to this methodical process. "The more comprehensively you approach [naming], the more you give to the practical considerations as well as the aspirational and brand-centric considerations, the better success you will find," Galluccio says.

In the end, names need to be thought of as part of an overall marketing effort, Gould says. "What are the messages you're sending? What is your tone of voice? Look at the language. Look at your target audience. All of those pieces, they all play a role." And that's the name of the game.

Further reading: