Naming - Your Strategic Weapon (Pt. 1)

August 5, 2017

Shakespeare was wrong.

 

With apologies to The Bard, there is a lot in a name. A rose by any other name may smell as sweet – provided you could convince someone to inhale. I think that might be a harder sell if the name were, say, “Skunkweed”.

 

David Placek, President and Founder of naming agency Lexicon2® Branding, puts it this way: “… nothing will be used for a longer period of time or more often than a company’s name. It’s not just a creative exercise. It’s a strategic one.”

 

 

 

 Figure 1: I'm thinking this product didn't go through a global linguistics check.

 

 

 

Benefits of Strategic Naming

 

An effective name provides many important benefits without the consumer having been exposed to a single marketing message. For instance:

 

  • Names create and reinforce differentiation.

  • Names drive demand by reinforcing how and why customers purchase. Simple Green speaks to the reason a consumer is buying an eco-friendly product a lot better than “BacKrete.”

  • Names can instantly communicate a relevant benefit to the consumer. “Swiffer” connotes fast and easy, benefits anyone cleaning floors aren’t going to ignore.

  • Names help position products and features to their audiences (or de-position a competitor.) For example, T-Mobile is the un-carrier (granted this is more of a tagline but it makes the point well.)

 

Effective Naming Is Multi-Faceted

 

The marketing landscape is littered with the carcasses of bad/failed naming attempts. Take the Netflix/Qwikster fiasco of 2011. Jason Gilbert at the Huffington Post summed it up nicely when he wrote “Qwikster sounds like a lot of things—a super cool startup from 1998 that’s going to be totally rad and revolutionize the way you “surf” the “web”; something a cop in a 1930s talkie picture might call an elusive criminal—but a DVD-by-mail service in 2011 it does not. Had the DVD website been given a more suitable, Netflix-branded name, the split would have simply been an awful strategic move; that it was dubbed Qwikster, and that the avatar for the Qwikster Twitter account was an illustration of beloved Muppet Elmo smoking marijuana, only served to increase the perception that no one at Netflix knew what they were doing.”

 

Figure 2: Wait! What?

 

 

Qwikster came and went quickly. Launched on September 18, 2011 it was shelved a scant month later. To Netflix’s credit, the company did an admirable job recovering and shoring up their brand architecture. Maybe if the new name had been announced on 4/20 it would have fared better. Probably not.

 

Names need to work across a variety of forums, dimensions, and media. Social media, blogs, semantic value, phonetic structure, and visual appeal in digital, print, and broadcast are all factors which need to be considered.

 

Figure 3: Not fully researching a name can trip you.

 

 

 

A Good Name Can Make The Difference

 

Lexicon defines a name that delivers strategic impact as having three attributes: 1) the ability of the name to gain attention, 2) generate interest and 3) tell customers something new.

 

For example, say you’re stuck on the tarmac -- would you rather read an article about “nonlinear systems analysis” or “chaos theory?” The original name of Google was Backrub. I think most can agree the latter name would probably have inhibited market acceptance.

 

So how does one go about creating a boffo name, whether for a company or a product? There are many considerations, and we’ll take a brief look at them in the succeeding post.

 

 

 

Coming Next: The hallmarks of an effective name, naming trade-offs, the spectrum of names and where best to place a name within it, and more.

 

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