How do I: Name a Product

Naming a product is one of the single most difficult things you’ll undertake in product management. The right name can help contribute to the overall success of the product. The wrong one can help sink it faster than just about any other misappropriated investment. The list of classic name fails over the years is well documented and always humorous be it phonetic mispronunciation to awkward translation to being just plain wrong.

So, how does one get it right?

Well, the #1 and possibly only constant in selecting a name – don’t insult anyone. Other than not being offensive (notice, I’m not defining what offensive actually means, btw) almost anything else goes.

I work as a product manager for a range of web and mobile apps and most of our product concepts come out of other people’s minds – not the product team. Our developers and engineers have fantastic game ideas and other apps but rarely is it wrapped completely in a brand identity, so we’re starting pretty close to scratch in the process of building the app brand, but not without restriction. We cannot re-envision the product, so whatever the creative team behind it has come up with is where we’re drawing inspiration from. Also, from an ethical standpoint and for legal reasons, we’re adverse to deceptive naming practices. While these might work for some, it’s not for us.

Define the business the name will be used in based on the product prototype. It is really important to understand how competitors have structured their naming conventions. Think of competitors on both a broad term, such as “gaming” and in a more specific term like “mobile, casual, puzzle, match-3 mechanic games” since this will influence how you’re interpreting your competitive set for this type of research. Likely, but not always, there’s consistency between how competitors name are done within a market and understanding the competitive landscape’s naming logic can best help you determine if using a very ambiguous or made up word versus something very plainly descriptive versus something creative. Not to say you must stick with the industry convention but it’s best to start by identifying it.

Next, refine your audience profile and determine the kinds of elements that are typically appealing to them. This early audience research can include demographic and psychographic profiles you’re putting together for other elements of the product roadmap and marketing plans as well was other business intelligence around your consumer segments, such as competitor penetration or usage stats, etc. The more you know about who you are trying to appeal to the more accurate you can tune your name for them.

Once you have these three elements it’s time to pull out the white board and begin brainstorming. It is important to plan your brainstorming session out before you begin. Failure to do so will pull your whole process out of line and not only waste time and money but deflate the team’s creative psyche.

First and foremost, set a goal for the meeting. What are you trying to accomplish? Are you crafting some initial ideas and need creative lists or are you refining a concept and need some honed down targeted suggestion? Knowing what the output should be will help you get there.

Second decide on the format of the brainstorm. There are lots of references on how to develop good group brainstorming methodologies to pick up different styles of setting up sessions. While there are no right or wrong answers to brainstorming certain techniques are better for accomplishing certain goals which is why knowing your output is imperative.

Third. it is important to create the right brainstorming team. This includes trying to find the intersection of members who best represent your target audience combined with project stakeholders who will inevitably be using the name on a daily basis to do their own jobs. Failure to accommodate either in the process will inevitably cause problems.

Finally, make sure the brainstorming team are prepared. They should know the goal of the session and the format as well as be familiar with the product itself. It can be very difficult to contribute good ideas blindly so allow for adequate use of the prototype or alpha demo if possible.

Typically, my teams will begin by discussing product attributes such as the look and feel, the core features, etc. The generic list is complimented by descriptive adjectives and finally we try to capture the emotion it evokes. This last part is crucial because it speaks to the value proposition of the product which, until now, we’ve based on our own notion of what the product should be, not in what it actually accomplishes. The learning should not only be applied in the naming process but carried over later to other aspects of product development marketing. Also, by driving to the value proposition even the most keyword stuffed name will have a better chance of describing the most compelling aspects of your product, because, after all, a human is still going to read the name after the search algorithm delivers the results.

During the session I record the conversation as well as take my own notes for future reference. It’s valuable in case we realize we forgot to catalog all the ideas or go on a tangent we want to revisit or redraw from an inspiration again later. I will tend to group concepts and ideas sometimes using different colored pens or different note piles on a table or whatever. After those are organized we will whittle it down to a half dozen or so concepts, maybe 12 to 15 combinations to further research.

At this point the order of the next steps is very dependent on what the outputs of your meeting are.

Begin with Google Translate or another similar service you trust, or better if you have the ability, contact a native speaker who can help you with a basic translation of your outputs. You’ll need this for several reasons. One is so that you can check if what you’ve created in your native language can be translated into your target languages. Some words are not easily or directly translatable and knowing early can help you make smart choices. It also gives you a basis for how to search the mark you’re proposing if you’re translating the name or related brand assets into other languages. Finally, it is a good time to check to make sure your proposed name or name fragments aren’t offensive in another language (ie: the Ford Pinto in Brazilian slang).

When we have names or name fragments we are interested in it is best to do a quick check of the availability. Begin with a quick search of the USPTO database to see if the mark is already in use as well as any other trade mark registers for jurisdictions you are planning to distribute in. Remember to run the mark search both in your base language and in any other languages the mark will be directly translated in. Trademark law is vastly different from jurisdiction, as you can learn by a quick glance of the WIPO website, so don’t take your results as a be all, end all, it’s just a first pass for now and consult an Intellectual Property lawyer later. Run a Google Search to see what comes up in the results – scan to see if the brand is already in use, who is using the keywords and how, etc. Reference WhoIs to find out if your brand URL is in use or not (and if it is, who owns it). Check it on the big SocNets like Facebook and Twitter for handle availability. And finally, and most obviously, the store fronts you intend in distributing in to see if the mark is in use there and what comes up competition wise. If everything comes up clean we typically will move forward on the research for those names, if not I hold them aside with explanations on why it might be blocking and we make business decisions on a case-by-case basis.

I also run all the individual words from the brainstorm into engines like AdWords, SensorTower, etc. to gain insights about the words themselves. Each engine is a little different so you have to learn how to parse results based on their idiosyncrasies as well as understand your business need for the words themselves. I have a matrix I created that plots three coordinates: Traffic, Difficulty, Relevance. Traffic is defined by the relative frequency the term is searched for. Difficulty is the relative competition for the word by others who are using it. Relevance is how closely the results align to your need, since some words might be searched a lot and produce less competitive results but those results have nothing to do with your product’s objective or value proposition. This step not only helps refine the name but any terms that we don’t use for the name that still score high we can work into the product description, the keyword field and within the game copy itself to reinforce the what the brand is about in a way that seems to resonate with how algorithms interpret people.

Once the task based research is aside and you have a very, very short list of name possibilities it is important to do a thorough reality check on your name’s efficiency. While it may look good to you and your team at this point, you’ve also spent a great deal of time being influenced by all the research in how you want to perceive the name. You’re inherently biased as is your primary research team so don’t trust your gut quite yet. It is time to pull together a group similar to that of your original brainstorm session in order to vet the names. Just like last time you need to have a cross-section of your target users and your key stakeholders involved in the process, but don’t feel obligated to weight everyone’s input equally. Typically, I would suggest doing the vetting in two parts.

One part is to cull together all your keywords. This is about verifying relevancy and ensuring the notions the words your using actually convey what you’re intending they do through simple tasks like word association and self-defining exercises. Keep it short and playful with a similar kind of format to that of a brainstorming session. It’s more about casual engagement with these words and not necessarily strictly disciplined responses. Be sure you’re documenting this part of the session because if you need to go back for additional refinement it will prove very useful if you’ve created a good environment for the participants.

The other part is related to the test names themselves. Use your short list and add a few additional examples to it. These may include lesser known competitor names, names that didn’t make your list, etc. Ask the surveyors to describe their preconceptions about each of the names in both open ended and in multiple choice types of questions that are consistent between the names and very direct about what is to be determined. Try to keep it short, only a few questions per name so the survey takers don’t get fatigued. Finally, have them rank the names by a specific criteria. Unlike the keyword section this is a bit more individual of a set of tasks and you don’t want participants unnecessarily biasing one another.

If you are confident about the outcome of the first two parts you may want to run a third aspect of the test now and that would be to pit your best say two or at most three names head to head inside a live product. Take the store front template and your alpha version and mock it up as complete as you can with the name reference and have users navigate through a fake flow to get their final impressions. Make sure you keep all the elements as equal as possible with ONLY the name changing in each version since that needs to be the only test variable.

Once you have the survey results step away for a day to clear your head and then review them thoroughly. Hopefully the results support the research you already did and you feel really strongly about the name you have selected and you’re ready to move on to building your brand identity. If not, it’s time to seriously keep an open mind and objectively review why there is disparity and what to do about it. Are you going to pivot to a different name that better fits the product in the eyes of the consumer? Are you going to tune the product to the feedback to make the name attributes fit their expectations? Are you going to forge ahead with what you have even though the data conflicts tweak your optimizations on other elements later?

There are no right answers at this point only the business decision you make and what becomes of your execution of it. Names don’t exist in pure isolation. I’ve experienced times where names were kept despite conflicting data and when the entire brand identity was finally created, the product had gone through beta tuning and all the marketing materials overlayed to it the name worked perfectly fine even though it initially seemed to test poorly in one or more elements. I’ve also heard stories about what could be construed as the perfectly crafted name going through this process turned out to be a dud when it hit the market on a finished product (and I say it’s the name and not the product because all the post-launch metrics and user feedback specifically pointed to aspects tied to the name itself and not, say feature failures / bugs).

On the surface there’s no perfect target for a name. Single words are easy to remember and can evoke a very focused and poignant expectation. Three words give you 15 combinations of ways for it to render in related search results and provide a descriptive, expectation setting view of what the product should be. What is right for you will, again, come down to who your target audience is and what your business objectives are regarding the name so align to those when determining how you’re defining a good name.

Oh, and have fun. Even super serious products want to have a fun side (remember how companies like AFLAC took boring, stodgy, fear-evoking insurance and made them humorous) and if you cannot keep some aspect of your process a bit lighthearted you could sink the whole process before it even gets underway.


About thedoormouse

I am I. That’s all that i am. my little mousehole in cyberspace of fiction, recipes, sacrasm, op-ed on music, sports, and other notations both grand and tiny:
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