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Marketing Insights: What’s In a Name?

What’s In a Name?


Whether you’re naming your business, your kid, your new
puppy or a hot new menu item, chances are it’s not been an easy
decision.

Whether you’re naming your business, your kid, your new puppy or a hot new menu item, chances are it’s not been an easy decision.

A great name can have an enormous upside for a business so while we may feel foolish for giving it so much thought, it can be one of the most important decisions you’ll make. A good name defines your product.  It should be easy to say, remember and comprehend.

It’s also often hard to come up with a strong name and many business people end up defaulting to generic names that don’t create any buzz. You’ll be relieved to know that while it’s not an exact science, there are some tools and tips to help you choose a good name. 

Before you dig in and start generating names, consider those attributes that make a name good. The first thing a good name does is tell the consumer something about your product or business – through their eyes, not yours. The granddaddy of all menu items, the Big Mac is a great example of a name that speaks to the generous portion size of the burger.

Secondly, great names are easy to say, easy to spell and easy to remember. Many marketing gurus cite the iPod as a name that captures all of these objectives. It’s a small “pod-like” device that can be customized to the users’ own specifications and personal preferences – hence the “i.”

It’s also easy to say and remember – marketing nirvana. But does a good name need to clearly spell out exactly what the business is all about? If I sell pizza, do I need to have the word “pizza” in there somewhere in my business name? This type of name could be limiting since your business may
expand into other areas one day. Keep your options open.

There are many examples of products and businesses that “nod” to other meanings. No doubt somebody initially questioned calling a doughnut chain after a hockey player named Tim Horton.

Starbuck is a character in the novel Moby Dick and IKEA isn’t Swedish for common sense. The name IKEA, is an acronym. IK refers to Ingvar Kamprad (the company founder); the E stands for Elmtaryd, the farm where Kamprad grew up, and the A is for Agunnaryd, his hometown.  I “Googled” and “Googled” and still couldn’t confirm the real Swedish word for common sense … maybe it’s ABBA?

Rule number 1 if you’re using an acronym (just the first letters of several words) – it works much better if the acronym actually makes a new word. If you are using exotic words or acronyms, do try to make sure it doesn’t mean something horrific in another language. In today’s multicultural society, it’s good to pass it by a few multilingual friends to ensure you’re not offending anyone.

Gather a cross-functional team of employees together and make it a fun exercise. Serve some food and even a FAB (Festive Adult Beverage) if it’s appropriate. Start by making a list of questions to generate discussion.

You may wish to ask: What does your product do? What’s its purpose? What is your product’s benefit to the consumer? What will happen for them? What will customers receive? What are the ingredients? What makes this different from the competition? What’s the lingo in your industry?

Starbucks refers to their servers as Baristas and you can bet this bit of romance helps pave the way to charging four dollars for a coffee.

Remember Google is your friend (unless you’re trying to find the Swedish word for common sense). Try typing “list of ___” into Google and see what comes up. For example, typing in “list of tomatoes” gave me names like “Peacevine Cherry” and “Prudens Purple” as heirloom tomato types … and that’s just in the “p” section.

Thesaurus.com is another great source to find “words of a feather.” I again popped in the word tomato and yowza – apparently it’s often used as slang to describe a woman of questionable reputation. Picture W.C. Fields wriggling his cigar saying, “She’s a real tomato.”

However, if you are located in a more progressive trendy area, this line of name generation could work well for you. Try Wordlab.com (look on the menu to the left hand side) for a variety of tools designed to generate cool names. MountainZen and ProtonLove are just two of the combinations I came up with when I used the name builder tool for a few clicks.

The intent here is to jump start the brainstorming process – some of these combos may just give you the inspiration to come up with your own magic combination. Another website often used by crossword puzzle enthusiasts is Moreword.com. This site will break words down to their smaller parts; show you root words and definitions. It can also help generate some new naming directions.

A good name sets your product apart. It implies value and presumably could command a higher price. Norma Jean Baker became Marilyn Monroe and in the process transformed herself into an icon.

If your menu items have names like “Pepperoni with double cheese” or even worse “Number 5” – think seriously about injecting some sizzle into the description. Get a little help from your friends to come up with some options. The best names don’t just tell consumers what you do – they tell them how you do it.•


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