What’s in a Name?

photo by pareeericaThe subject of product naming came up today on the Pragmatic Marketing LinkedIn discussion board. Naming is one of those creative subject areas that in practice are a pain – but in theory are lots of fun. So what better place to discuss than my blog where I can air my opinion free of political concerns.

I’m a fan of names that have no semantics attached (Kleenex), very generic meaning (Apple), or very esoteric semantics (Google). I also go for names that are easily remembered and easily pronounced in all major languages.

For different flavors of products I like to take two tacks:

  1. generic packages with generic (standard & advanced) or non-sensical (XE, ES) names
  2. solution-based names aimed at a particular use case / segment.

So let’s assume we have a cool new product that will scan your powerpoint presentations for the detection of marketing-speak; inspired by David Meerman Scott’s “Gobbledygook Manifesto“. We decide to call it Wizzi. There will be a free version called Wizzi Basic that will only scan 10 slides a day. The full version will be Wizzi Pro. There is a package aimed at medical marketing companies which adds common phrases determined to be bullshit in this industry (the medical marketing add-on), we’ll call it Wizzi Pro – Medical Marketing Version.

Seems so easy in the abstract. Why is it so hard in practice?


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We just finished developing a number of products here, and in the developmental process, we ended up dealing with the naming issue frequently. What we found was that as you moved on the spectrum from generic/abstract names to specific/concrete names, there were two effects:

First, as is always the case when you move from abstract to concrete, you transmit better information about what your product does. So, to use your example, to those unfamiliar with the brand, “Wizzi Basic” passes on exactly squat about what the product does. The more concrete “Wizzi Pro – Medical Marketing Version” tells a buyer (even one who has never heard of Wizzi) that this is a product for medical marketers, so he should take a look if he’s a medical marketer.

The second effect, of course, works in direct opposition to the first. We found that as we got more concrete with product names, we feared that we were eliminating potential customers by giving too much in the name. We found ourselves asking questions like, “Well, will someone who sells pharmaceuticals consider his job medical marketing?” “What about someone who markets from medical care providers to the general population?” The bottom line was that every step we took toward specificity seemed to eliminate people from our pool of buyers. For an extreme example, imagine the “Wizzi Pro – Doctors Addressing Grant Foundations Not Wanting to Sound Like They’re Full of Shit Edition.” Maybe the product was designed with exactly that use in mind, but we all know that there are a number of other buyers and settings for which the product is perfect.

It’s my belief that the tension between the effects caused by moving along the scale of abstraction has a lot to do with the perceived difficulty of naming a product.

(I say perceived because I think a lot of the energy spent worrying about names could be better spent improving the product. I offer “Duct Tape” as an example of a product with a name that suggests a very specific use – taping ducts – that is still used for… well, everything.)

[…] fielding several comments on my last post regarding product naming (”What’s in Name?“), I realized that I had over simplified the problem some. I’m going to add some […]

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