Naming: A sacred exercise in any capacity, but one that holds even more weight when tied to an idea. And the greater the weight, the heavier the burden to get it right.
For product marketers, the process of naming a product is special but scary. The best names covey not only the product, but also its value and use cases. In this sense, the name must be a noun, a verb, and an adjective all at once. A difficult task – no matter the language.
This article will serve as a primer for anyone considering getting into the name game, whether you’re an experienced product marketer looking for a jolt of inspiration amid a sea of burnout, or a new associate just starting out in your career.
A step-by-step guide to naming a product
Not to shock anyone reading this, but the biggest challenge for modern marketers is the speed of change. In my industry, advertising technology, there are tens of thousands of brands competing to take up space in the mind of the B2B marketer.
What does this mean? Simply put, your name better be able to throw some elbows to have a shot in hell of occupying space in a CMO’s mind. So, let's talk about how I tackle naming new products and some best practices I follow.
Define what the product does
First and foremost, we need to clearly define the product solution. Start by focusing on what the product actually does and write out a 1-2 sentence blurb. I call this a product boilerplate. As a college professor of mine once said, “Say it straight before you say it great.” In other words, don’t get obsessed with the language yet; just get it on paper.
Define the product’s value
From there, we need to define the value. Again, the words don’t have to be perfect, there's time for that later, but you should have a strong sense of the benefits this product or solution will provide to your consumer before trying to name it.
If you don’t, you’ll have no shot of coming up with a name that explains that value, and you’ll have hamstrung your solution from the jump. Once you have your rough product boilerplate and key benefits, you can start the naming process.
Visualize and strategize
For my purposes, I like to work via Google Sheets to collaborate with others across different time zones and visualize everything at once. In the first column, I generate a list of the other product and solution names already used at the company and in the market. This is done to ensure that any name we come up with feels native to the company naming conventions and fits into the family, if you will.
In the second column, I dump all the names of competitive products I know and can find by Googling different product terms related to the proposed solution. This establishes a sense of the norm and determines what words or phrases to avoid.
In the third column, I map out the terms I would like to be associated with our proposed solution or terms that will likely be automatically associated in the consumer's mind. This is where you’ll add words that convey the value, and describe the solution.
The fourth and fifth column is where we begin to play. Combing through the terms associated column, I begin to put different combinations of words and phrases together. The money spot is picking a term associated with a positive action.
As I go, I like to write a short background for the name in the fifth column to serve as a launch point for what could later become the product launch messaging. This process involves a lot of Thesaurus.com and little-to-no self-judgment. I used the term play at the top for a reason.
Get some extra brain power!
At some point, after I’ve done an initial pass and have stalled out, I schedule a meeting with my go-to-market team. Sharing the product boilerplate, benefits, and naming sheet in advance, I give folks at least 48hrs to populate new terms and brainstorm on their own time. After that, we get into a room and start spitballing. In that meeting, we pitch each other our best ideas, compare, contrast, and take meandering twists and turns. And then we end the meeting.
A note for solo PMMs: To quote the Pixar classic Ratatouille “Anyone can cook [up a great product name].” In order words, all brains are created equal. If you don’t have a go-to-market team to work with, enlist your family or friends. They might actually be a better source of ideas for you than your coworkers because they are one step removed.
Take a break
That’s right. We end the meeting before we decide. And we do that for a specific reason: The first name is rarely the best, and the best name rarely comes to you when you’re asking for it. This is the biggest trick of naming I can provide – you must stop thinking about naming. Do something else. Go for a walk. Workout. Get a drink with a friend. Have dinner with your family. Take a shower.
Don’t panic – your brain is working on the problem in the background. Let it do its thing. The best names I’ve come up with haven’t been while brainstorming. It’s always at some point after, in conversation with a friend about something else, or while on a run, or while in the shower.
Play the long game and future-proof your name
If you Google how to name a product (and I’m not afraid to admit I have) you’ll find hundreds of articles describing different approaches. Make up a word, change the spelling of a known term, blend words, or add a prefix or a suffix.
All of this is fine, but remember, your name will have legs, and you’ll have to live with it. Don’t fall into the trap of trends as everyone did back in the early 2000s with i[Brand]. Or the latest pitfall, [Brand]Plus. Think ahead. How will this name and its meaning evolve? If the new product does well, could this name expand to be used as an umbrella term for a whole suite of solutions? Does it allow for creativity in the future when you have to name a new solution again?
Write a mock press release
After you’ve given your brain time to swirl, open the doc back up, add any new names that popped in, and have everyone pick their favorite names from the list. Vote on team favorites or make a personal judgment call. You’re looking for at least two names to present to your leadership team, but absolutely no more than five (too many options can kill the impact).
Once you’ve settled on your handful, take each one and write a paragraph as if it’s the first few lines of the product launch press release. This should introduce the name, and its value to the end consumer. This is where you can get flowery with the language and really sell the solution's - and the name’s - value.
Picking the name
Once you have the mock releases, schedule a meeting with your leadership. Start the meeting by outlining the goal, then by sharing the product boilerplate and benefits. Once you have the basics established and agreed upon, pitch each name to them, one by one. Sell each one to them before moving on to the next one. Dig into what the meaning of the word should make them feel, and what it should say, and ask them for their gut reaction. If you feel like you’re selling too hard, you haven’t found it yet. The right name should, and will, make everyone pause. You’ll know.
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