7 Common Cents Insights for Naming Your Product / Company

Naming a better mousetrap

Part 1 in what is likely to be an ongoing series across multiple blogs on naming a company.

Naming your company or a project is serious business. If you’re anything like me naming the beast is on the critical path to designing the website or lay out. I’ve gone through this experience recently with Jon Pincus and the process is on going.

I’ve gone through the naming process more than a few times, with everything from BlueLounging (Brandon, and my first project together a textbook exchange hub) to this blog to StickyTAG. Its always an interesting experience. I’ll speak to some of my lessons.

  1. The product is what matters. I want to put this upfront to make it clear, that a great name and a bad product is about as useful as sunblock in a snowstorm. So yes while naming the beast matters – you always need to put things in context and understand that its one component of the overall brand.
    (continue to read six more Common Cents Naming Insights for your product or company)
  2. There is no best way. There is no best naming strategy. There are a series of things that have proven to work and a list of things you should avoid doing. Other than that – its all a matter of preference and your brand identity. I’ve used a range of tactics in the past – you always keep in mind the competitive environment (its not a crowded field you have more wiggle room), the marketing resources (if you don’t have a large marketing budget you probably don’t want to invent a name – unless its easily understood) and the brand identity.
  3. A name is just one component of a brand. Yes a name is what people hear and for some will be the first interaction people have with a brand. But hear me out. A name always is presented in context (I believe this is a concept I’ve read up from Ries). Its always XYZ company they make spacely sprokets for segways. Or a name is presented with its logo, or there is a description of the industry or product, or even a screenshot or photo of the accompanying products.
    This context surrounding a brand is – all influenced by you the company. So while a name might be imperfect by itself, the tagline you develop, your logo, how you develop your products, or even describe your industry can all fill in the gaps and make a name come to life.
    I think Amazon.com is a good example of how the context surrounding a name can bring the name to life. Now when I hear Amazon.com I think of a smiling logo that makes shopping for media and electronics online a breeze (after all these years media still accounts for the largest chunk of their profits). iTunes is another good example Roxio iTunes would’ve implied crappy software that tries to do something with media but Apple iTunes – that’s something that I want to try.
  4. Do a competitive analysis. Compile a list of the names of companies in the space or offering similar services. When you write out the list it should be clear that there are words that your competitors have been drawn to (probably descriptors). Identify the reoccurring words or word variations – you probably shouldn’t use those words.
    For example: If everyone in your industry is called some variation of a single descriptor : careerbuilder, careerjournal, jobdango, hotjobs, truecareers, alljobsearch – don’t do the same. Your brand should be one of the distinctive ones in the space. An example of a company that’s done well is The Ladder.
  5. Don’t commit any fatal errors. The fatal errors in order are: it brings to mind negative connotations, I can’t spell it even after I see it once, its too long, it doesn’t match your brand, it sounds phonetically ugly, even if I tried I couldn’t find it on Google (too similar to competitors or a lot of noise around the keyword)
    There are probably more but don’t do any of these. I’d also recommend you not get cute and try to name every feature of your product or service with a unique variation, only do this for at max one aspect of your business, until you grow.
  6. Consider tying to something already understood, a saying, a memory, or word. Let your name take on some of your marketing responsibilities – a name that works well should reduce the amount of marketing effort (or PR effort) necessary to inform your customers, partners etc on what your company or product is all about (beyond functional descriptors).
    How can your name help with this? By associating itself with things that are already in your memory bank. The Knot is an excellent name for this example (as in tying the knot). I think TreeHugger, Gawker, Kindle, eHarmony, WWTDD (What Would Tyler Durden Do – I’m a Fight Club fan) are other good examples. Not so good examples: Squidoo (and from their page viewership you can see that its possible to succeed without a ‘good’ name) – or any company name that just included multiple descriptors CareerBuilder.
  7. A great name will help you, everything else is incremental. A great name – like twitter, will do a lot of work for you. You can’t even describe a twitter like website – or a site that offers twitter functionality without using the word twitter. But as far as results there isn’t much difference between an average name and a good name – just a good name doesn’t get in the way (of customers talking about you, marketing goals, and customers finding you) and an average name doesn’t get in the way too much.

You want a name that differentiates your product, aids in pass along-ability (basically is something people want to say or encourages people to say), and represents the key elements of your company / brand. But a brand name is particularly noticed – for me at least – when it actually hinders your product by being impossible to pass along or associating your brand with negative connotations.

Here are a few resources:

  • Al Ries – 22 Immutable Laws of Branding; the law on naming your category stays with me
  • Igor InternationalBuilding the Perfect Beast Naming eGuide and their blog snarkhunting (they have the best package of naming insights to me)
  • DomainTools and Instant Domain Search – cause you’re going to have to find a domain that’s not taken
  • Google Docs – for compiling your list of domain names – mix and match your descriptors till you find a hit
  • TDNAM.com – the domain name after market can often find good deals on short character keywords for a low price
  • NameThis – naming from the crowd. $99 to get a ton of ideas for naming your company (I’ve never used it but there are definitely worst ways of generating ideas)

Some red herrings – no it doesn’t have to be a verb, that’s optional at best. Yes its cool if they can say ‘Google’ it or ‘Xerox’ it but who’s to say being a verb is the right word type to own? I make a PowerPoint, I don’t make a Google. BTW the verb/noun thing only occurs with market dominance it doesn’t cause market dominance – your product does.

And in general I usually disagree with Seth Godin’s insights his insights on naming also fall into this bucket (I think its because I’m an academic at heart and it feels like he makes a lot of assumptions in his correlation between cause and effect). Even if exponentially more people listen to him for business advice than me.

What are some company/product names that you like? And why?

Update 5/18: MarketingProfs has a great article on naming that goes into great detail.

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