What’s in a name? The 5 Unsung Challenges of Product Naming


Product Naming

When it comes to naming products, you can find a ton of useful blogs on how to come up with catchy and memorable product names that are creative and unique. But as a Product Marketing Manager, there are other tasks that take place behind the scenes to find the right product name. This blog is dedicated to those challenges that are rarely mentioned, but are critical to the product naming activity.

Challenge 1: Coming up with the name

As I mentioned, if you do a quick search of best practices of product naming, you will find a lot of good advice and tips. But it is easier said than done. Which advice to take? Should you use a verb that is common English and describes the product, or create a quirky word so that it sounds unique? Use acronyms or not?

 

I would recommend that you start by understanding your company priorities first. For example, a few points might be as mentioned below:

  • Name needs to be short (not more 6 letters)
  • Name needs to make sense by itself
  • Name needs to end with the letter “o” to maintain company naming conventions
  • Name needs to highlight the product benefit somehow
  • Name should not sound similar to competitive product name

If you have understood the company naming conventions well and have your full list ready, then it gets easier to shortlist names and get it approved. If you are deviating from the company norms, it would be a good idea to have a clear and descriptive reason why you believe this is a good idea. I would strongly recommend having at least 8-10 names up your sleeve before you go any further.

 

Challenge 2: Passing the legal hurdle

Once you finalize on a name, getting the domain or ensuring that it is not already trademarked can be a huge challenge. In today’s day and age, pretty much all names are taken.

However, there are nuances that allow you to use a name that is already taken if it is in a completely different industry and context (though the domain availability would still pose a problem). Another option is to come up with compound words made up of two or more words such as TurboTax.

There are two points to note here. First is that it makes sense to involve your legal team early in the picture since this task can take considerable amount of time. Second is to work on this together. In my experience, performing this task over email or in a silo, does not work very well. The fastest way is to make the legal team your ally and just lock yourselves in a room to brainstorm and figure it out. You might realize that a small deviation of a name that is already taken might just work for you.

Challenge 3: Deciding on the deadline

Once the name is decided, there are a lot of activities that need to be done before the final public launch that are all dependent on the name to be finalized first. To name a few,

  • Font of how the name is written
  • Logo
  • Color of the name and approved color palette
  • Usable icons or representations
  • Sales digital and print collateral
  • Marketing digital and print collateral
  • Website updates

Create this list of tasks that need to be done and talk to your creative design team to get an idea of how long they would need. Make sure you have an exhaustive list of all activities and you then work backwards to come up with a deadline by when you absolutely need the name finalized if the launch has to go on time. Always remember that there will be unforeseen delays. So add a buffer or have an idea of the things that can be dropped in case you are slipping. Remember to prepare for the worst and be ready to accommodate setbacks.

 

Challenge 4: Getting sign off from all stakeholders

The name is a creative element of the product and hence is extremely subjective. It is like trying to get a bunch of people to decide what is the best shade in the color palette.  Everyone will have an opinion and in most cases, these opinions will differ.

There is no easy way to tackle this, but the best approach that I have figured out is:

  • Have the final shortlisted names that have been approved by legal ready and begin your conversation from there rather than start on a blank slate
  • Have the list of names that had to be taken off the list due to domain unavailability or trademark infringement etc. ready. These names might come up during the conversation and it will be quick to point out that they cannot be used.
  • Create a list of stakeholders who have veto powers such as the CEO. If these veto stakeholders are available, have hallway conversations and just hint towards the name you think is the best so that the name is top-of-mind when it comes to having the final discussion
  • In the mails that you send prior to the deciding meeting, ensure that you lay subtle importance to certain keywords. For example, if TurboTax was the name you wanted to pick, then use the word “turbo” a few times in normal sentences. You will be surprised to see how much easier it is to get approval.
  • When it comes to the meeting to decide the name, bring up a few but have another small set as backup just in case all the names in your initial list get knocked-off. That way, you do not have to go back to the drawing board (hopefully).
  • Put the deadline upfront and keep reminding people about it. Bring up potential revenue loss in case the name does not get decided by that date. When it comes to actual money, people tend to compromise a bit more.

 

Challenge 5: Internalizing the external name

A common mistake is to assume that all the employees will immediately begin using the new external name. Unfortunately, this is not the case. For one, this particular product would have been referred to by an internal name while it was under development. That name would have picked up momentum and become quite popular internally. It will be difficult for people to just forget about that internal name and start using the new name. Second, internal names have a nasty habit of popping up unexpectedly in external collateral or a sales guy might let the internal name slip during meetings. Engineers are famous for never giving up the internal names.

One way to overcome this challenge is to begin sharing the name internally in advance and not just on the day of launch. Posters, mailers, brochures need to be created just for internal purposes with the message “<internal name> is now <external name>” along with something exciting such as a countdown to the day of launch, pictures of engineers working on it, internal competitions around the product launch or quizzes etc. Getting the employees excited about it as well as giving them time to internalize the new name will go a long way.

 

Good luck!  The name of the product is the first impressions your clients will get about the product and what it does. Hence it is understandably very important to all people concerned with the development of the product and all of them will have strong opinions about it. As a PMM, respect this fact and give the product naming activity its due importance. It will take time, it will take effort, everyone will want to have a say in it…..but at the end of the day, it will be worth it!

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3 thoughts on “What’s in a name? The 5 Unsung Challenges of Product Naming

  1. Nice list. You’ve hit on all the challenges I’ve experienced.

    I would add that it is helpful to select the external name as early as possible in the product development cycle before the internal name has time to take hold. Ideally the product would have an external name during the business case development phase. This is particularly important in industries where it is common to start sales activities before a product is ready to ship.

    For lack of an external name, engineers and sales teams will use the internal name, cementing it in your customers’ minds. Then you will need to spend more time and energy making the change later.

  2. Couple of other items for consideration early on: Expected lifecycle — how long is the brand expected to be in the market? Naming needs/practices for a seasonal brand are different than for a major new product introduction. Budget — following on the lifecycle, what resources will be available to build the brand? Coined terms (e.g., Google) are great but take time to build; descriptive/suggestive names are better for quickly communicating the audience but can get lost in the shuffle. Geography – where will the product be sold and manufactured? This may impact whether or not to use an English dictionary term. Channel — what will be the primary sales, promotion channels? Does it warrant it’s own domain name?

  3. A fellow Product Marketer also brought up two additional great points:
    1. Check for hashtags and handles. You get an idea of what’s trending and if the new name has any positive or negative associations.
    2. Check the meaning of the product name in other languages, especially your premium markets. You do not want it to mean something inappropriate in the language of a country that you are looking as a big market.

    Thanks Kevin Davis for your points. Very relevant and apt.

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