Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Product naming: Is a rose as smelly as a sabertooth?

I wish I had been around in the Days of the Caves, because so many more things needed naming then than now. "Tree," "Rock," "Aieee, Sabertooth!" Many cultures believe that by learning or speaking the name of an item you can both impart power to it and rob it of its essence. Isn't your name an important aspect of you? Well, that's no less true of the products you are selling.

The Internet has really changed the Name Game. Every word in the dictionary has been claimed and purchased. To use a name, you need to buy it from someone. But you also could coin one. Or take one that's completely unlikely to be used for a serious purpose: Maybe THWIM.

I used to name for a major branding company in New York. They give me a creative brief before I start. Go ahead, write one for your company or product. If it's a company name, they describe the mission, all the divisions, the customer. And, most importantly, the "culture." Serious, old-line, conservative? Happening, zany, light-hearted?

If it's a product, they will provide a few notes on the uses, how it differs from competitors, the major features. And, again most importantly, they will provide a list of words describing the customer or feeling the product should engender in the buyer: "very cool," "icebergs, "rushing water," "cleansing." Can you guess? Toothpaste.

I take it from there. I won't reveal my secret techniques, but most of them involve the standard creative process--input project into brain and wait for output. I carry a pad everywhere for a few days, free associate, and then look through source material (say a computer magazine for a software name) and toss around memes (life is not long enough to describe those here) and concept fragments. A name goes on the list, I roll it around on tongue and brain, and sometimes--"Oh, ick"--I hit the delete key.

     I do a list of about 300 names or 150 taglines. The client chooses. They never like the ones I like best. And that's the name of that tune.