– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

Last year I wrote a “Change Your Name Already” blog post about Overstock.com on DuetsBlog which described the painful way that Overstock.com was trying to communicate that their name did not fit what they were doing as a business…”we are so much more!” My response was to politely suggest that they call me to help them find a new name that did fit their business model.

Recently MailChimp launched an ad campaign that approached the “our name does not fit our business model” issue from a different angle. In this effort, they celebrate the fact that they have outgrown their name and tell prospective customers that they would like to help them do the same thing.

Brilliant…simply brilliant. Both Overstock.com and MailChimp have outgrown their names, but Overstock.com communicates it in a way that makes the potential customer feel stupid (“you thought we only sold overstock items but you are stupid…we actually do more!”). MailChimp admits they do more than what their name implies and desire to have the same impact on the prospective customer’s business, thereby leaving prospective customers feeling hopeful. Big difference.

So the CEO of Overstock.com should still call me to initiate a name development project…but the CEO of MailChimp can just take a bow!

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

Summer is in full swing and that means baseball is top of mind for many of us. As a professional name developer, I continue to get a charge from the names of minor league baseball teams. Following up on my previous post on minor league baseball team names here are some controversial team names:

All of these names were controversial when they were introduced. Think about it…who wants to support the El Paso Chihuahuas? However, according to the brand name developer, Jason Klein of Brandiose, being controversial was the intent.

Today these franchises are successful examples of branding with great ticket sales and high merchandise sales.

Obviously, these are fun names and minor league baseball is all about fun. However, the genius in these names is not that they are just fun…the names leverage a bit of history and are familiar to the target audience.

Take the El Paso, TX Chihuahuas as an example. When the name was introduced there was an uproar in the local community about the derogatory nature of the name. Shortly thereafter, articles of support started appearing (such as this one) and the name became a rallying point.

The same thing was true with the Hartford, CT Yard Goats. Yard Goat is a relevant name in Hartford as “yard goat” is railyard slang for the switch engines or terminal tractors that shuttle train cars between different locomotives, and Hartford has a strong rail presence.

In the 19th century the leading industry in the Lehigh Valley was iron production, and therefore the IronPig name makes sense (“pig iron” is the term for the raw iron that gets melted down to make steel).

Using a “safe” name might seem like a good idea, but safe names are generally mainstream names that don’t stand out.

Finally, please recognize that I’m not advocating “alphabet soup” names that seem to be in vogue with startups. If a name has some relevance, but is different enough to be noticed, then it might be worth the risk in the long run!

-Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash Name Development

About 6 months ago I wrote a blog post about the future of name development and the use of Artificial Intelligence to name things. I also made a prediction that AI was going to get better and better as it practices name development.

Since that time, AI is getting better at developing names. Check out these potential names for tomato varieties from a recent post by Janelle Shane.

  • Floranta
  • Sweet Lightning
  • Speckled Boy
  • Flavelle
  • Pinkery Plum
  • Market Days
  • Fancy Bell
  • Mountain Gem
  • Garden Sunrise
  • Honey Basket
  • Cold Brandy
  • Sun Heart
  • Flaminga
  • Sunberry
  • Special Baby
  • Golden Pow

I’m pretty impressed by some of these!

Of course, AI also generates names that might be considered to be bad choices, like these examples:

  • Birdabee
  • Sandwoot
  • Shampy
  • Bear Plum
  • The Bango
  • Grannywine
  • Sun Burger
  • Bungersine
  • First No.4
  • Smoll Pineapple
  • The Ball
  • Golden Cherry Striped Rock
  • Eggs
  • Old German Baby
  • Frankster Black
  • Bumbertime
  • Ranny Blue Ribber
  • Adoly Pepp Of The Wonder
  • Cherry, End Students
  • Small Of The Elf
  • Champ German Ponder
  • Pearly Pemper
  • Green Zebra Pleaser
  • Flute First

As predicted, AI is getting better at developing names. And this should increase the demand for professional branding services by experienced human beings! When AI was generating bad names it was easy to separate the stupid names from the barely acceptable names.

But now that AI is doing a better job, clients will have a harder time choosing a name because the list of 100 names contains 85 good ones! Clients will need the assistance of a branding expert to help make a branding decision, and perhaps a research expert to get consumer feedback on names.

-Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash Name Development

Janelle Shane is a research scientist who likes to play around with neural networks. Recently she’s been having fun investigating whether neural networks can replace traditional means of creative development. As a professional name developer, I’m watching her work closely because I’ve been told that my chosen career is about to be destroyed by the use of artificial intelligence to develop brand names.

Based on the results thus far, I’m not worried. While it is true that computers can develop names, I strongly believe that the judgment of a seasoned branding expert (like me!) will be necessary to identify names that will resonate with consumers. As evidence of my confidence, I provide some examples of names developed by artificial intelligence in the past year:

  • Paint Colors – Janelle’s experiments yielded names like Stoomy Brown, Stanky Bean, and Bank Butt. I’m pretty sure nobody would buy a paint called Stoomy Brown (which actually looks like a shade of green) or Stanky Bean.
  • Craft Beers – The AI developed names like Toe Deal, Sacky Rover, and Cherry Trout Stout. Given the proliferation of crazy craft beer names, some of the names developed by the neural network appear to be reasonable (e.g., Devil’s Chard, Whata Stout, and Black Morning), but you have to sift through a lot of “Toe Deals” before you get to a decent name.
  • Guinea Pig Names – While the AI names for guinea pigs are better (e.g., Funbees, Sporky, Furzy, and Farter) that is only because you generally don’t have to say the name in public. Can you imagine using “Farter” as a dog’s name? “Stay Farter!”
  • Superheroes – I really don’t think a superhero called Nana will be feared by an evil villain…although I’m heard of some pretty badass grandmas. And would Supperman’s superpower be the ability to put the fear of bankruptcy in the hearts of owners of buffet dinner establishments?

You get the point. Right now it is all fun and games and it is easy to separate the stupid names from the barely acceptable names.

But eventually the AI will get better, and that is when demand for my services will actually increase! When AI starts generating excellent names companies will be faced with having to pick a name from a list of 100 great names, and they will need the assistance of a branding expert to make that decision. Put me in coach…I’m ready to play, today!

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

I’m often hired for name development by entrepreneurs who are starting a business. However, many founders take the “do-it-yourself” approach to name development. Sometimes that works for them, but all too often they make a horrible mistake that is easily preventable.

My basis for this conclusion?

Here are a few of the names chosen by startup companies last year (data from CrunchBase.com):

  • Zairge
  • Xwerks
  • Synthorx

I defy you to guess what the business is selling. Go ahead…try…I’ll wait. Can’t do it? I’m not surprised. You won’t get a clue from the name, and unless you already know about these companies you are taking a wild guess.

I’m not picking on these companies for their names because there are many others with similarly confusing names. For the record, Zairge (zairge.com) is a mobile property management system that simplifies and accelerates productivity for the owner, employee and guest. Xwerks (xwerks.com) offers elite nutrition for elite athletes. Synthorx (synthorx.com) is a biotechnology company using synthetic biology to synthesize solutions.

While I have no information about how the names for these companies were developed, I strongly suspect they may have fallen into the “.com conundrum.” Many startup companies I work with insist on having a one word name with one or two syllables that has a .com website available. That virtually guarantees the use of nonsensical clusters of letters that result in a name without relevance. Letting the availability of a .com domain drive your name selection is a huge branding mistake.

Consider these names of these other startup companies from CrunchBase.com:

  • Beep
  • Shout
  • Swish

These three have nice, short, memorable names. They are common words that are easy to pronounce, read and spell. Beep is a startup that sells a device that facilitates synchronized music in every room. Shout builds marketplaces for passionate people. Swish offers mobile payment solutions. In each of these cases, the company has chosen a relevant name that builds a brand around the benefits that their product offers. But because they chose a common word they don’t have the “exact word” .com address.

So which is better: Having a simple, easy-to-pronounce name that has meaning, or having a name that gets you a one word .com address? My 25+ years of branding experience tells me that a name that has meaning is infinitely more important than a name chosen because you can get a single word .com address.

You can ALWAYS get a .com address that makes sense. The websites for Beep, Shout and Swish are: are www.thisisbeep.com, http://useshout.com, and http://swishme.com. The companies have found a clever way to get a meaningful name AND a relevant website.

You can do the same. Add “my” or “the” to the front of your name or add “online” or “world” to the end of it. If you need other ideas give me a shout and I’ll help.

But please don’t pick a name that looks like a random selection from alphabet soup just because you can get a .com domain. You will only create confusion and that is never a good thing.

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

No, I’m not talking about Dallas. Nor am I referring to the hip hop rap MC of the same name. I’m talking about Differentiation. If you understand this Big D, then you will have a real key to building your business.

Full disclosure: I consider myself a disciple of Al Ries and Jack Trout. They are true “Marketing Gods” for their work in Positioning and Brand Development. I first read “Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind” in the early 80’s and have referred to it regularly since then.

I recently had two very different name development jobs that presented a wide spectrum of name potential. The names have been changed to protect the guilty, but the situations were real.

One client wanted a descriptive name for a product that would exist in a category of descriptive brand names. To exaggerate, the client wanted a “Fast Pain Relief” name in a category with brands like “Ultra Fast Pain Relief,” “Super Fast Pain Relief,” “Faster Than Everyone Else Relief,” etc.

Another client wanted a made up name that had no reference to the product or category. I’m talking about names like “Blue Elephant” for a pain relief product. Sometimes this naming strategy makes sense, but not in his product category. He had a real opportunity to become the market-defining product by choosing a name that helped consumers understand the benefits of using the product.

I always present a wide range of options for names because I want the client to see the possibilities. However, I always recommend an approach based on a strategic examination of the market in which the product competes, and that is where the Big D comes into play.

To help you in this task, consider using tools that can identify ways to differentiate. I recently discovered this highly visual approach…check it out and see if this could work for you.

Sadly, my story about Differentiation in names has an unhappy ending. Neither of my clients chose to differentiate their products with names that would enable them to stand out in the crowd. “Mr. Descriptive Name” chose a descriptive name for his product, and “Mr. Wild Card” chose a wild card name. As a result, each of their products now has an uphill battle in marketing because the names they chose are not differentiated versus the competition. So choose wisely and think “Differentiation” when branding!

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

Back in the mid-2000s, A.G. Lafley (during his first tour of duty as CEO of P&G) championed the “First Moment of Truth” which represented the time when people are looking at the store shelf and trying to decide whether to buy the product.

Later, P&G emphasized the “Second Moment of Truth,” which is when people try the product at home, to rationalize why they spend oodles of money on Research & Development.

Google VP-U.S. Sales and Service Jim Lecinski jumped back in time to coin “ZMOT,” for the “Zero Moment of Truth,” which is the time when people research a purchase online before shopping for the product. By the way, if you have not read Jim’s book you must do so. It is a free download.

As a professional name developer I believe there is an even more important moment of truth. I call it the Minus One Moment of Truth™ and I believe it can help guide the choice of a name for your company, product or service.

What is the Minus One Moment of Truth? It is the very first time your prospective target customer hears of your company, product or service. If you are choosing a name for your company, product or service, please do the necessary research to understand the Minus One Moment of Truth for your key target customers, because understanding it will yield a lot of clues for your name choice (and your marketing).

For example, let’s say you are developing a new name for a plumbing service. You have done the research and discovered that the vast majority of new customers hear of your company through recommendations of other satisfied customers. In this case, your Minus One Moment of Truth is the instant that George tells Sam that his plumbing is leaking and Sam tells George that he should call “XYZ Plumbers” because they will do the work fast and won’t charge you an arm and a leg (or whatever your unique points of difference are). The conclusion from this example is your name had better be easy to remember because you are relying on Sam to convey the information to George and for George to remember it until he can contact the plumber.

How can things go wrong in this example? Well, what if George does not remember the exact name but remembers that the plumber was supposed to be inexpensive? He uses Google to search for inexpensive plumbers in his area and finds Affordable Plumbers, Discount Plumbers, Cheapskate Plumbers, and SaveMore Plumbers. Here is where failure in the Minus One Moment of Truth leads to a disaster in the Zero Moment of Truth. If George can’t remember the name from his first encounter with Sam, then XYZ Plumbers loses because Google will provide many alternatives. Clearly XYZ Plumbers needs a name that conveys its unique point of difference in a way that will make the Minus One Moment of Truth a memorable event.

Here is another example. Jenny is an artist who wants to rename her art business. She spends a lot of weekends at art fairs around the country and she also has an Etsy e-commerce store. What is her Minus One Moment of Truth? In looking at her business, she believes the Minus One Moment of Truth happens on her Etsy storefront as the Etsy store is her biggest sales volume generator. So she thinks that she needs a name that will search well and therefore she wants to include keywords that relate to her inventory. I’m not going to argue against that approach, but I will point out that she needs to understand the Minus One Moment of Truth for her business. Do the people who buy her product come from searches on Google or Etsy, or do they come from people who have met her in person at the art fairs? If the former, then yes by all means consider inclusion of relevant keywords. If the latter, keywords may not be that important because the Etsy sales are generated by people who met her in person. These people are likely to get her business card and be driven to her web presence by that connection, so perhaps the new business name can be something memorable about her as an artist.

I’m not suggesting that you should violate the fundamentals of developing a good name (and my “Top 5” fundamentals of name selection are shown below). But I am suggesting that you understand your target market and how they first hear of you and then apply these fundamentals:

Fundamentals of a Good Name:

1.  Is simple and concise (easy to pronounce, read and spell).

2.  Is legally available from a trademark standpoint and has domain name options.

3.  Is differentiated versus competition in the category.

4.  Is easy to remember.

5.  Delivers the idea or concept behind the product or conveys something real and specific about the product.

So don’t name your business, product or service without considering where your target customer first hears the name…the Minus One Moment of Truth!

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

One of my local stores has a huge selection of “As Seen on TV” products.  In reviewing their offerings, it occurred to me that the brand names are almost all descriptive & highly functional names that make it very clear what the product does. I’m talking about names like the “Furniture Fix™” chair and cushion support, the “Perfect Pancake™” cooking system, the “Perfect Fries™” French fry cutter and the “Wax Vac™” ear cleaner.

It’s possible that a simple, descriptive name may be all that is needed for a product that is usually accompanied by a long-format infomercial.  After all, you are going to demonstrate the product and show its benefits, enabling you to elaborate on the product’s premise over and over again, so why try to deliver a name that has deep and rich meaning?  All you really want to do is get people to pull out that credit card and pick up the phone!

Actually, the “branding” in “As Seen on TV” products is part of a trend in name development.  Many clients want highly functional names because they claim not to have the money to establish a name that is not obvious to the consumer.  That is one of the few pros of a descriptive name.

However, there are many more cons to using a descriptive name.  In general, the more functional the name, the more likely it genericizes the product and destroys the potential competitive advantages of the product.  How many variants of “fast” are there in the cleaning aisle?  How do you decide which one to buy?  It also makes trademark clearance a more difficult task.  Just try to get anything with “fast” registered for a cleaning product! And if you manage to get a descriptive name registered as a trademark, it will be a weak mark at best.

Not all “As Seen on TV” brands are taking the easy way out, though.  Consider “Poo~Pourri™,” the “Before You Go Bathroom Spray.” It’s not exactly a functional name, but I’m not buying it!

—Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlashSM Name Development

Naming contests. Sounds like a good idea, right? A company needs a new name and it decides to engage its employees to come up with a new name. What could go wrong?

Well, you could end up with a name like Mondelez.

Just to be clear, I’m a professional name developer, so you might think I am against naming contests because they take dollars out of my wallet. Not true. If you are a small 5 person startup, by all means “talk amongst yourselves” and figure out your name. Chances are you will do a good enough job if you follow some basic rules. I’ll even give you some free advice! And the big company that buys you someday will likely change your name anyway.

But if you are a billion dollar global company, holding an employee naming contest is just about the dumbest thing you can do. And yet, that is what Kraft Foods did to identify a new name for its Snack Division. Mondelez International will be the corporate home for existing brands like Oreo, Cadbury, Nabisco and Trident. Kraft said in a statement that the new name — pronounced “mohn-dah-LEEZ” — comes from a combination of the words “monde,” derived from the Latin for “world,” and “deliz,” short for “delicious.”

I am sure Kraft used the following rationale to sell the idea of a naming contest internally (remember, I was a corporate insider for 25 years so I’ve heard this stuff before):

  1. Holding a naming contest will engage our valuable employees – No it won’t. Kraft said they received over 1700 names from their 1200 employees which is slightly more than one per employee. Typically in naming contests you get a few diehards who submit hundreds of names and the other “99 percent” of people ignore it. I’m willing to bet this happened in this case.
  2. Because the name came from within, our employees will rally behind it – Chances are, the only people who think “Mondelez” is a wonderful name are the two employees who came up with it. The other 1198 employees hate it and think other names were better. One of the other suggested names was “Tfark” and I am pretty sure the person who thought of that still thinks it was a better name than Mondelez.
  3. Nothing says “our Management cares about employees” like holding a naming contest – Actually, I am pretty sure a 10% raise would make everyone feel better than holding a naming contest. The act of holding a naming contest is a sad attempt to demonstrate that Management cares about what the employees think.
  4. Hey, Google came up with its own name and it worked out OK! OK, it is hard to disagree with this rationale and Google is a lot better than their working name for their search engine, which was “BackRub.” But if Google were looking for a new name for their company today, do you think they would hold an employee naming contest? I doubt it.

Developing a great name is hard work. Sometimes you get a stroke of genius (like Apple), and sometimes you spend weeks trying to get to the right combination of creativity, emotional impact, consumer understanding, branding/marketing potential, etc. Done properly, a great name will reflect a clear strategic positioning, a deep consumer understanding, and an ability for the consumer to “get it” without explanation. This is a pretty tall list for the average employee to consider.

There is also a lengthy process involved in checking and validating the name availability. On a typical name development project, I spend hours evaluating the availability of trademarks (working with a trademark attorney), domain names, common law usage and “native language checks” (to ensure a name like Mondelez does not mean something inappropriate in a foreign language). Apparently someone at Kraft forgot to do the latter, as I hear Mondelez has an inappropriate sexual connotation in Russian.

In this instance, I can point to the end result and thank Kraft for making my blogging life easier.

I have a general rule about names. The more you have to explain the name, the worse the name is. Kraft knows this is a lousy name because their explanation is lengthy and contrived. Sorry, Kraft—you could have done so much better. This name change still has to be approved by shareholders on May 23rd. Let’s hope they have more sense than the people who decided to hold a naming contest!

—Mark Prus, Marketing Consultant at NameFlashSM

I received a lot of terrific feedback on my recent Duets Blog post “When Should You Change Your Name?” Consider this Volume 2 in the series.

 

After you have decided to change your name, “How Do You Know When You Have Identified a Great Name?”  This could also serve as another checkpoint before you change your name—if your name meets the criteria below, then don’t change it!

In my NameFlashSM name development business, I usually present 30 – 50 names for a company’s product/service, so picking a great name from the assortment of terrific names we present is often a challenge.  Smaller companies usually pick a name and run with it while larger clients often have a series of Management/Board of Director reviews, and sometimes they do consumer research in order to get additional input.

 

So how should you determine if you have identified a great name?  There are some obvious keys—one is that the name should be easy to pronounce, read and spell. It should be simple, concise and protectable. However, there are some other things you should consider.

 

Great names will have:

 

1.      Powerful differentiation – This encompasses two related thoughts. First, the name must clearly be differentiated versus those of the competition, and second, it must differentiate in a highly relevant manner that is consistent with the strategic positioning of your product or service.  
 

2.      Strong associations – One of the founding principles of my naming business is that names must connect to ideas that consumers already have in their heads (unless you have unlimited funds to create meaning).

The power of associations was acknowledged in Vannevar Bush’s seminal essay “As We May Think,” written in the July 1945 issue of Atlantic Monthly. Bush identified that the most pressing problem facing science and technology was humankind’s growing inability to efficiently access what it already knew.  He stated that the human mind “operates by association” and foretold the development of “associative trails” in documents—these are now called links that we use to follow from one document to another on the Web.

A similar problem exists in today’s barrage of advertising toward consumers, as studies show consumers are exposed to thousands of messages per day. A name that connects with positive associations that are already in consumers’ minds is a very strong name.

 

3.      Deep resonance with your Target Audience – I once ran a Twitter Poll (follow me @NameFlash) on the name for an anti-chafing product “Anti Monkey Butt Powder”. The results were overwhelming as 70% of people thought it was a horrible name. However, when I dug into the comments made by a few people, I was stunned. The people who thought it was a good name were people who suffered from what might be described as a “chafed butt” due to extended horseback riding, motorcycle riding, or truck driving. Some of the people who responded were actual consumers of the product and were very defensive about the name—they thought it was perfect! The lesson from this example is clear—naming is not a popularity contest, but rather a search for meaning among the targeted few.

 

4.      A sense of familiarity – Instant disclaimer: I am not suggesting that a computer-generated name like Exxon is bad!  All I am saying is there is a body of evidence that indicates people prefer names that are familiar.

Further research indicates that “hard to say” names are viewed as “risky.” If the name sounds familiar to consumers and is instantly likeable, you may have a winner on hand, but if the name sounds like it belongs on the back panel ingredient listing of a highly processed food (e.g., calcium stearoyl lactylate) then maybe you are trying too hard. People are comfortable with names that make them comfortable. 
 

5.      Emotional impact – The Gallup organization measures emotional attachment to brands, and the types of questions they ask are enlightening.

Consider the difference between these two skin care brand names: Olay and Noxema. Olay is a smooth, beautiful name which fits their product offerings and generates warm emotional feelings.  Noxema is a harsh name that has very negative emotional impact…think “noxious” or “obnoxious.”  If your Target Market connects with the name on an emotional level, then you may have a winner.

 

Now for the downside: what are some indications that you have NOT identified a great name?  Poor names have:

1.      Negative cultural meaning or language issues – You really do need to consider the various ways you might impact people with your name. For example (and I am not trying to make fun of anyone’s name here), there is a Crapo Insurance company in Indiana – I don’t know about you, but I’m not buying any “crapo” insurance!  My blog has some other interesting “naming faux pas” examples including a few from other countries.
 

2.      No meaning outside the company – If the only people who understand it are insiders, please avoid it.  Xobni is Inbox spelled backwards but consumers would find it hard to pronounce and use.  Six Apart is a software company that was named because the two founders were born six days apart. What that has to do with their products is anyone’s guess.
 

3.      No relationship to the family – If the name does not reflect the history of the company and its other brands, you might be making a mistake. The acid test is to ask whether this sounds like something your company might introduce or whether it sounds like a competitor’s product.  Names that appear to be random usually go away or get modified down the road to make them look like they are part of the family.  There is a reason why BMW and Mercedes have well-established naming conventions—it works!

 

4.      Constraints on growth – I bet the owners of 7-Eleven (which was named as a result of the “7 AM to 11 PM” hours the chain was open) more than once regretted that name choice. Of course if you pick an acronym, you can change the name’s meaning over time (CVS originally stood for Consumer Value Stores, but now the CEO uses it to represent Customer, Value and Service).
 

5.      Weak trademark implications – One of my favorite posts on this blog is the “Spectrum of Distinctiveness.”  With Steve Baird’s permission, I always present this idea to my naming clients to inspire them to seek distinctive names.  Some clients get it, and they seek names that are rich in meaning without being overly descriptive. Some do not get it, and they tend to fall back into functional, generic names. While there may be a short-term benefit to using a functional name (because consumers will “get it”), there is lost opportunity to create a powerful brand.  

Quick—name a website that you can use to find a job. I’ll bet Monster.com was in your top 3 names. Did anyone think of the generic name JobHunt.com? Probably not. Yes, Monster spent quite a bit of money to establish awareness, but once they did that they truly created a “monster” of a brand, and the distinctiveness of the “Monster” name in the job hunting space was the reason why.
 

What other things should be considered in deciding if you have identified a great name?