What’s in a name?  12 Immutable Rules for Naming Your Next Product or Venture. 

When you’re starting a business or naming a product, you need a name. Scratch that…you need a great name. You need a name that will make your company or product memorable – one that helps get people excited about what you have to offer. But coming up with a great name is not that easy. There are a lot of considerations that go into selecting the right name, many of them you might not think of until after you’ve finalized on a name choice, or worse, after you’ve spent a lot of money on logos, business cards, signage, and such. So let’s look at eight rules for naming.

  1. A great name must be memorable. If your customers can’t remember it, what’s the point? Too often, names are too generic or two clever by half to be memorable. That’s a big fail.
  2. A great name must be easy to spell. Spelling? Really? Yep. If they can’t spell it, intuitively ,when hearing your name, how will they find you online? Avoid deliberate misspellings of words, just to get a URL or trademark. Unless you wanna spend some serious coin, getting people to remember how to spell it.
  3. A great name is easy to pronounce. If you’re naming an expensive item (like a car) you probably want to pick a name that’s easy for people to pronounce, when they see it in print (or in chrome, on the back of your product). You do you pronounce Volkswagen’s “Tiguan”? If a prospect can’t pronounce your name, how can you expect to get word-of-mouth?
  4. A great name must be unique. If you’re opening a burger shop, and your last name is McDonald, don’t think for a second that you can call your place “McDonald’s,” “McDonald” or “McD’s”…the crack legal team at McDonald’s corporate will be on you like white on rice. The legal term is “confusion in the marketplace.” On the other hand, you could do BurgerMD and call your employees the “burger doctors” and it might work. Then again, as long as you’re not making airplanes or fast food, “McDonald’s” would be okay for just about any other industry.
  5. A great name is NOT generic. Sure, there’s “General Motors,” “General Mills” and “General Electric.” Ho-hum. Not a good way to get into someone’s head and stay there.
  6. A great name is not literal. Lets say you want to create a product for lubricating mechanical parts, and you want to get a U.S. trademark registered for the name. Good idea. But your product name is “GearLube.” Bad idea. The patent and trademark office frowns on granting registered status to marks that literally describe what your product does. WD-40 was an easy name to trademark (but not that great a product name). GearLube would be almost impossible to get through the USPTO.
  7. A great name is available as a URL. Okay…you wanna call your company something cool. You’ve got the perfect name. Let’s say you make guitar strings. So you’ve come up with the idea to call your company “Stringz.” Not terribly original, but it could work. But stringz.com is taken. Whoops? Do you get stringz.net or stringz.co? Well…maybe. But ONLY if the people that own stringz.com sell something completely unrelated to your products. Otherwise, you’ll lose a LOT of business to people that still think the .COM extension is the only valid one on the Interwebz.
  8. A great name resonates with your prospects. And your customers, for that matter. “Mustang” is a great name for a car. It calls up imagery of “fast,” “fun” and “freedom.” On the other hand, “Edsel” is not a great name for anything. It’s sounds stodgy and old.
  9. A great name should work everywhere. The classic example is the Chevy Vega. In Spanish, the word “vega” sounds a lot like their word for “doesn’t go.” Hardly the name you want for an automobile. (But, as it turns out, pretty accurate.) Pick a name without strong negatives across the globe, for in today’s web-based economy, ALL products are international. I once traveled to Japan. They sold a product called “Pocari Sweat.” Why would ANYBODY want to drink a can of sweat? Turns out, it’s Japan’s answer to Gatorade. (For that matter, why would you want to drink a can of liquified alligator?)
  10. A great name should have only positive connotations. Years ago, when I worked in the software publishing industry, one of our competitors had a line of products they named by combining what the product did with the word “IT!” So they had “Draw-IT!” and “Paint-IT!” and “Chart-IT.” But when they got to desktop publishing, it was pretty obvious (to us, anyway) that nobody thought to say the name out loud, before settling on it. “Publish-IT!” looks fine in print. But say it out loud several times, and you’ll understand why it’s a lousy name for a product. Then there was the American Motors vehicle, the Gremlin. Probably not a great idea to name a car after a mythical being responsible for problems and glitches. Especially when that model was prone to having them.
  11. A great name is emotional. There are features…and there are benefits. Great names make you think of benefits, and not features. “General Motors” is a terrible name for a car company. “Tesla” is great – if you know who Nicola Tesla was. Tesla sounds cool…the word falls trippingly off the tongue. General Motors sounds…generic.
  12. A great name is only part of the battle. Once you have a great name, unless you have a great company and great products, that name is only gonna get you so far. If your product doesn’t work, isn’t reliable, or isn’t best-of-breed, a great name won’t solve your problems. But a great name will help you get any product or venture noticed.

How does this work in the real world? Well, coming up with the perfect name is…challenging. A great name can help get your product or venture noticed. A bad one can sink it – or force you to spend big bucks advertising it, just to get noticed. Here’s a series of examples of real product names, ranked in worst-to-best order. In this instance, we’re talking about business graphics/charting/presentation programs.

  • Generic: “Graph Plus” – you can’t get more generic than that.
    Generic & Pretentious: “Harvard Graphics” – It was written by people who’d gone to Harvard, and it was a graphics program. Boorrrrrring. And the whole tying your name to a University? Puh-lease.
  • Feature-driven: “Powerpoint” – Yeah. We get it. It makes the points on your slides more powerful. Uh huh. This is the follow-the-herd name for the follow-the-herd product.
  • Benefit-driven: “Keynote” – Lots of people live in fear of public speaking. Gutsy move on Apple’s part to tie their rep for giving their universally-praised, best-of-class keynotes to their product.
  • Emotional: “Charisma” – What do you want to add to your talk? What do you wish you had? How can you make your public speaking rock? Add Charisma. Great product name. Also-ran product. Which just goes to show, having the best name for a product won’t get you to the finish line, if you don’t have the best product, or at least the one with the biggest footprint from a marketing perspective.

So let’s review. You want a name that strikes an emotional chord with your audience. You want one that’s easy to spell, easy to pronounce, and is available as either a .COM or at least if it’s not, the folks that own the .COM don’t compete in your market segment. It’s harder to do this than it looks.

Not to sound self-serving here, but if you need help with naming, we do a lot of it. And we’re always glad to help. Helping come up with a great name is one of our favorite Novel Ideas.

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