Seven Tips for Keeping Your Product Naming on Track

I have worked in design and new product development as a writer/strategist for over thirty years — starting way back at the point where having a writer on a design team was considered peculiar. I fought for that seat, gradually stretching the role from copywriting and nomenclature to “creative thumbnails” and brand narratives. Over time I’ve found that the design thinking skills I learned in product development also work great for brand name development. Here are some of the tenets I use to keep the naming process on the rails (i.e., engaging, strategic, and fun).

Set the bar high

I begin by developing a creative brief based on interviews with the client team that summarizes the objectives for the ideal name. Who is the specific target and what is their mindset? At this point I also raise the bar by introducing a checklist we’ll use later to evaluate candidates. Does it stand out in the category? Can the name take on new meanings in the future? Is the name easy to say, spell, and recall? Does it require a US and/or international trademark? Can the URL entertain options beyond .com?

Understand the context

Even though you may be naming a single product, service, or technology, the brief may reveal other proprietary assets in the client toolbox where the name will co-exist. Visualizing the brand architecture of these elements is a great way to understand and characterize these relationships. Are there hierarchies to respect? Adjacencies to consider? Is there a product roadmap for new offers that the name should anticipate? This is a crucial part of future-proofing your final solution.

Present a logical process

Following an orientation phase my process includes three workbooks that frame the naming activities. Workbook 1 sets up naming “threads,” thematic jumping-off points for the name based on various aspects of the promised experience. Threads include “proto-names,” low-risk starter words, and name-like objects that I use to test the creative range for the exploration. Proto-names add clarity to the job we are asking the name to do and take the temperature of the client for provocative options.

Workbook 2 synthesizes inputs from the team in a more structured naming explorations. This work includes templated application pages that help the team see, hear, and imagine the prospective names in context, including related descriptors and taglines that can work along with the brand name at launch to help reinforce the desired positioning or to animate the story we want the brand to tell.

Workbook 3 includes refinements and recommendations for a short list of names informed by Workbook 2 feedback. I recommend three choices that would all work wonderfully, prioritized by how well each answers the brief, meets the “great names” criteria, and satisfies preliminary trademark and URL availability screens. That list goes to the client’s attorney for the final green light on the new brand name.

Show/save your work

All the documents produced as part of the process outlined above are peppered with the language of the intended product or service experience. And while not all words are prospective names, the lexicon they comprise is great soup stock for marketing applications to come. Think of these elements as “verbal branding” resources — a glossary of words, phrases, and ideas that can embroider future creative content.

Get the client invested

This multi-step process allows time between meetings for the team to reflect, not just on the “names” but also on the creative and strategic rationale provided to suggest what each “proto-brand” might grow up to become. “Homework” assignments allow team members to express individual preferences and ideas without settling into groupthink or allowing bold ideas to be drowned out by louder voices. When core teams stay involved, consensus is more likely to emerge naturally from the process.

Make it fun

Naming meetings should be the best part of your client’s week. In the early going, the process is a creative all-skate with no wrong answers. As the funnel narrows and the choices become more nuanced, there is still plenty of room for thoughtful input and progressive thinking. A brand name is the tip of the spear for a new offer. It is also the DNA for future stories that give the brand the gravity it needs to capture imaginations and command its category. Don’t shortchange the chance to bake that passion in.

Stick the landing

Once the lawyers have OK’d the top choice it is helpful to quickly capture the project process for the extended team. Document how the core team opened the aperture of possibilities, and then filtered the candidates through a succession of creative and “job to do” criteria. Showing how the process unfolded collaboratively and transparently can inspire the extended team who will turn the name into a brand. They should feel the passion of the authors and be read into the creative strategy behind the recommendation.

Language is leverage

These are some of the moves we use to give the we-need-a-new-name process more structure than five friends, a bottle of wine, and a Latin-English dictionary. Maybe you have attended that party? When the approach integrates creative and strategic criteria, unfolds in iterations, and is built around a core team, you not only arrive at a great name, but you build a language toolbox that makes your brand building simpler and more in voice.

Do you have a naming project looming? Or perhaps you have a naming challenge that has become a pebble in your shoe? Reach out for a 30-minute discovery call. Perhaps we can add some texture to the brief that will jumpstart your process.