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Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Pain and Process in Choosing a Name

A recent naming exercise reminded me of the rat hole a naming exercise can be, and how, after many years, many attempts, and improved processes, it all comes down to a personal choice. I’ll attempt to explain one process that works but also point out how it can be sidetracked at the last moment.

But first a wisdom alert. Marketers must judiciously apply the “If no one loves it or hates it, it’s probably too generic” rule. To use this rule, remember that there’s a wide range outside of love and hate. Now back to my story.

Having worked at many startups, there is little to no budget allocated to hiring a “naming firm” to create a brand name for products. The fees often run in the tens of thousands, and, even then, you may not get a name you like. If you have the budget, hire a naming firm, as a professional firm will guide you through the process and reduce or at least highlight hidden biases in the decision process.

If you don’t have the budget what do you do? You should prepare for the exercise with the realization that it’s more than a mission in name selection. The name design process has several key steps, and depending on the type of product, you may add other steps. I break this process into several steps, each of which come with some cat herding, input selection, and some post-processing to insure alignment around the process.

  • Step 1: The brainstorm. Get all stakeholders to systematically provide input in the following key areas: what the product does, characteristics of the product, results of using/owning the product, and word association around the product. Request that participants provide at least three for each part. In this brainstorm, do not remove ideas.
  • Step 2: Meta brainstom. In this phase, get everyone in the room from step 1, put all the ideas on a the wall, and ask the group to add more to the lists.
  • Step 3: Require each participant to mark the top 3 in each section that the love and hate (6 total).
  • Step 4: Stack rank all the choices for each section based on the votes, from most loved to least loved, tossing all the ones no one voted for or hated.
  • Step 5: If any items has both love and hate votes, the item is announced for removal, and people have 1 minute to present what they love or hate the item. If the “hater” wins, the item is removed, if not, the item remains on the table. At this point, the group should have a list of descriptors that are mostly loved and mostly acceptable.
  • Step 6: The sections are reduced even further by another round of voting to determine the top 3 for each section. This should highlight the core values of the product and align the participants around the core values.
  • Step 7: The naming begins, with another brainstorm where group members submit names that fit the core values and a “searcher” is selected to find other terms that match the agreed upon core values. The searcher also researches connotations, conflicts, url implications, and baggage associated with each term.
  • Step 8: The search and term analyses are presented to the group, who then vote for the top 5 names
  • Step 9: A “searcher” then looks into language and cultural aspects of the top 5 terms presenting them to the group. With the new information, the group votes again, leaving a stack rank of choices.
  • Step 10: The CEO or product owner makes a decision.
This process usually insures some transparency if the stakeholders are chosen from a wide base, but usually the process yields a bland vanilla name. All that work and the name still sucks? This often happens in a design by committee group where group members are focused on being the least offensive. Another risk is the hidden last minute legal check to find out whose trademark is being violated. Another more common risk is the CEO intervention - the CEO likes something and that becomes law.

There it is. Naming can be difficult. The more people to please, the more difficult it is to do a good job. On the other hand, if you start with clear goals and a good process, you might, just might end up with a good name.

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