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Name Your Product: Stop Arguing, Start Testing

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  • Steve Johnson was a founding instructor at Pragmatic Institute, a role he held for more than 15 years before he left to start Under10 Playbook. In his return to Pragmatic Institute, Steve supports the complete learning path for product teams, ensuring they are fully armed for success.  Over the course of his career, Steve has helped thousands of companies and tens of thousands of product professionals implement product management processes. He has worked in the high-tech arena since 1981, rising through the ranks from product manager to chief marketing officer. Steve has experience in technical, sales and marketing management positions at companies that specialize in both hardware and software. In addition, he is an author, speaker and advisor on product strategy and product management.

Name Your Product: Stop Arguing, Start Testing

If you want to start an argument, offer your opinion about product and company names. One person loves the name “nuvi” and another hates it. Some folks love putting the company name in the product name; some don’t. The basic principles of naming apply to both products and companies. In general, business-to-business (B2B) names tend to be meaningful while business-to-consumer (B2C) names tend to be unique. Meaningful names tell us what the product or company does. Unique names can be trademarked. Ideally good product names are both meaningful and unique.

representation of meeting to name product
Photo By You X Ventures on Unsplash

Some good names that are both meaningful and unique are WebSurveyor, NetBackup, Uninstaller, SalesForce.com, and Solution Selling. Each name explains what the product does and has the added benefit of being unique. The challenge of course is that so many meaningful names are already taken. That’s why unique-but-meaningless names are so popular. One of the great things about combination names is that at least some of those are still available. You’ll want to check WHOIS before you commit to any name to make sure you can get the URL.

The value of a meaningful name is that you don’t have to educate the buyer on the name. How much money was spent getting us to equate Seibel with sales force automation? Ideally, the product’s name is also its chief benefit or capability; the product’s name articulates its position. Do a search on Google for “sales force automation” and look at the sponsored links. Will you click on salesforce.com or NetSuite? Will you click on SalesLogix or Miles Technologies? A sales force automation product should surely have the word “sales” in the name, shouldn’t it?

Sadly, despite being one of my favorite “good” names, the WebSurveyor people have changed their name to Vovici—a unique name but not meaningful. And they probably paid big bucks to a naming service for it. Uninstaller was once a single product but is now a category; I forget who originally had the name but I guess they didn’t trademark it. Solution Selling is still going strong even though its creator, Mike Bosworth, has a new method called Customer Centric Selling. “Customer Centric Selling” is seven syllables versus Solution Selling’s five but it’s really not as descriptive, is it?

Unique-but-not-meaningful names are everywhere in B2C: Squidoo, Yahoo, Google, Nuvi, iPod, Apple, and the list goes on. Because the names themselves are meaningless, your marketing efforts become branding efforts as you attempt to educate customers on what the product is and how to say the name. Sony used to have a sidebar on their PC page explaining how to pronounce “vaio” (rhymes with “hi-ho.”)

Suites

A popular technique that creates unique and meaningful names is to use a product family name in conjunction with a product name. For example, Adobe Acrobat Reader combines company, family, and product names. Using this technique, you can use the full name (long family name and product name) the first time and the shortened name (product name only) for all subsequent uses. In effect, teach a nickname to your clients. In printed pieces, you could write, “Adobe Acrobat Reader lets your customers read formatted documents without the application that created them. Download Reader from our website.” The problem with the suite approach is that there are often too many names to remember. NetBackup is officially Veritas NetBackup from Symantec. Wow! TMI: Too Much Information. Three brands in one product. Each has three syllables so we’re likely to only remember one of them. Company, suite, and product. Which matters? Apparently, Adobe has found the family name confusing because its now just called Adobe Reader.

Short Product Names and Letter Names

Good product names should be short or easily shortened. If you give your product a long name, your clients will give it a nickname. Federal Express became FedEx but Total Reconciliation became Total Rec (“wreck”).

Tech companies continue to use letters rather than names. Letter name are always bad because the brain simply cannot retain letters. For instance, IBM isn’t a good name but shows what you can do with a bad name when you spend billions of promotional dollars over a century.

Bad names are those with poor connotations (“Total Wreck”), hard to spell (“Vovici”), hard to pronounce (“Vaio”), or hard to remember (“IBM”). Bad names aren’t fatal, they’re just expensive. You have to waste your marketing emphasis on the name instead of on the product and its benefits.

Test Your Product Name

Got a name picked out? Here’s a trick: put your idea for the product name on a flip chart and leave it in the lunchroom. When you check back at the end of the day, you’ll find every possible way to misinterpret the name. Developers and sales people are quick to find the flaws in a name and won’t hesitate to scrawl comments on the flip chart. “Sales Time” becomes “Sales Slime.” “Nova” becomes “No-Va doesn’t go.” “Automated Sales System” becomes “ASS.” Better your colleagues tell you of a bad name than to learn it from the market after you’ve created all your collateral and your logo and your brochures.

Of course once you have a few names on a short list, test them on some customers to see if the name conveys what you intend.

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Author

  • Steve Johnson was a founding instructor at Pragmatic Institute, a role he held for more than 15 years before he left to start Under10 Playbook. In his return to Pragmatic Institute, Steve supports the complete learning path for product teams, ensuring they are fully armed for success.  Over the course of his career, Steve has helped thousands of companies and tens of thousands of product professionals implement product management processes. He has worked in the high-tech arena since 1981, rising through the ranks from product manager to chief marketing officer. Steve has experience in technical, sales and marketing management positions at companies that specialize in both hardware and software. In addition, he is an author, speaker and advisor on product strategy and product management.

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