Product Naming 101

Naming products is a somewhat rare opportunity that holds unique challenges and opportunities. In the last year, I’ve had the pleasure of working on two such projects (QuickRak and AdVine) and am writing to share some of what I’ve learned. I hope this will come in handy when you’re ready to name a product of your own.

First some background on the two projects I’ve recently completed and how they had different goals.

  • Establishing A New Product – QuickRak is a new product that brings a new solution to thebicycle rack industry (for attaching your bike to a car). We wanted a memorable name that reflected the function of the product, tapped into existing bike-lingo, and wouldn’t be confused with anything else on the market. Finally, we wanted a name that would help convey the fact that the rack is lightweight, portable, and easy to use.
  • Repositioning An Existing Product – AdVine gives a new name to a software product that had been on the market for over three years. The product is a visual authoring software for creating interactive content online. In the past it had been used to create everything from widgets to Facebook applications. Moving forward, however, the software was specifically targetting rich-media display ad creation. Renaming the product was a means of repositioning the software towards a target market, reducing confusion about its purpose, and introducing changes that reflected the new focus on display advertising. Finally, we wanted a name that would build on the parent company’s identity and offer the opportunity for line extension.

Repositioning is in some ways more complex than starting from scratch because there are usually more constraints to consider. That said, constraints tend to be a requirement for creativity. Part of what I love about the name AdVine is that it speaks to having “heard it through the grapevine” and alludes to the fact that next generation advertising is social and connected. AdVine ads enable sharing from inside advertising and thus pair earned media with paid media, a concept that makes advertising feel more organic referring back to Sprout’s brand.

Getting Ready

If you want your name to take hold there are some things you can do in advance to set yourself up for success:

  • The Client – Clearly define who the client is and how the final decision will be make.
  • The Stakeholders – Besides the final client, who else has an interest in the success of the naming project? Define clearly how they will be involved, what expectations you’ll have for them and what they can expect from you.
  • The Process – If you want your organization to adopt a new name it can help to provide transparency into the process that will be used to select the name.
  • The Project – Don’t be mistaken, product naming is a full-fledged project. It takes time and effort and must be treated as a real project. Internal projects are hard enough to get support for, don’t cripple yourself by trying to do a project like this in your spare time.
  • The Brief – Create a naming brief with your client to make sure that the goals of the project are clear and delineated. These goals will ultimately serve as a means of validating what you come up with.
  • The Plan – Naming doesn’t stop with the selection of a name. That’s just the beginning, you also need a plan for rolling it out and introducing it to your community. In some cases, the community might even be involved in coming up with or vetting names.

Ready Set …. Names!

While I was working at Sprout, my colleague Alan Peters shared a pretty cool methodology for naming that we ended up using to come up with AdVine. The concept is based on the fact that it’s  easier to come up with names if you’re working off categories or types. Thus, we created high level buckets for different kinds of names which allowed us to riff off of several things rather than just one. This is in turn based on the assumption that finding a great names is the result of coming up with lots of names.

Five sample name buckets:

  • Descriptive Names – These are quite straight forward and describe something about  the product or service. For example, “Rice Crispies” is a product name that pretty much describes the sound the cereal makes when combined with milk. Descriptive names are prone to being too long.
  • Invented/Neologisms – These are invented words that may or may not sound as if they mean something. These can be formed by shortening words (for example, Rack to Rak), by combining words (for example, Quick + Rack = QuickRak), or just by making something up (for example, Zynga).
  • Experiential Names – These names covey a sense of the feeling of using a product or service. “Yahoo!” is one of the best examples.
  • Suggestive/Evocative – Suggestive names allude to a product’s key features or benefits. For example, “Bounty” paper towels or “Mr. Clean” floor cleaner. Most of these names use common words and sometimes incorporate metaphors, allusions, or simile.
  • Arbitrary – These names seem to be out of the box and unconnected to the product or service. One of the most well known examples of this is “Apple”.
When working with buckets like the above it can be helpful to have many people involved in the ideation process. So, this is a great place to get stakeholders, internal clients, internal users, and customers involved. As you go through this process there are a few other techniques that can help you generate names.
  • Use your thesaurus and dictionary to get ideas
  • Create word pairs
  • Look at the competition and understand how their names were created
  • Think about how it will be translated
And, here are a few more techniques to consider:
Method Brand
Alliteration Coca-Cola
Oxymoron Krispy Cream
Combination Walkman
Tautology Crown Royal
Eponym Trump Tower
Description Rice Crispies
Synecdoche Staples
Poetics/Rhyme USA Today
Omission RAZR
Acronym Adaptation BMW
Backronym KFC
Founder’s Name Ferrari
Classical Roots Pentium
Arbirtary Apple
Reduplication Spic & Span

A Note About Legal

You may not be the first to come up with the name you like best. It’s essential to do a legal review of the availability of the name before committing to it. In most cases, you’ll also want to make sure there is a relevant domain name available.
With that, good luck and happy naming!

The Nokia Ideas Camp & Thoughts On Innovation

I recently had the pleasure of attending Nokia’s annual Ideas Camp in Santa Cruz California where I spent almost three days rubbing shoulders with some super smart, fun, and inspiring people. Besides making some great connections, getting feedback on QuickRak, and playing quite a bit of ping pong, I learned a ton about Nokia. In fact, almost a third of the people at the event were from Nokia and the event was intended to expose the Nokia team to leading thinkers in the technology space.

To be clear, there was not a specific or clearly articulated goal of the Ideas Camp. Instead it was focused on creating a space where ideas could cross-pollinate. That said, key folks on the Nokia leadership team (such as Marco Argenti VP, Media, MS Services and Tero Ojanpera EVP, Services,Group Executive Board) were on hand to share their perspective about what opportunities are open to Nokia, how they’ve been approaching innovation, what challenges they’re facing, and to solicit feedback.

Keep in mind that Nokia is the largest manufacturer of mobile devices in the world and that they’ve taken a very sensible and diversified approach to innovation. They run camps like this one, participate in many industry events, and spend more than four times what Apple does on research and development. But as is often the case, being the biggest can actually be an impediment to being the most innovative. I heard the following question many times at the event, “why is the experience of using a Nokia so far behind that of using an iPhone?”

I’d like to try and address this question based on what I learned at the event and share some of my thinking since then. Here are some of my assumptions going into the exploration:

About Innovation

  • Structure Enables Innovation – Innovation works best as a practice that produces lots of ideas through dialogue. There are lots of innovation techniques to choose from, but the best innovation environments balance a portfolio of techniques against the culture of an organization.
  • Diversify Innovation – A solid set of innovation techniques includes a diverse set of approaches. Diversity can also be applied to your specific techniques but also on a higher level with in an organization such that teams of people approach design challenges from different perspectives. Investing broadly is one way of stabilizing the flow of innovation while increasing the likelihood of long-term results.
  • Enculturate Innovation – Innovation practice must be baked into a culture or an organization because it is a “way of thinking”. In short, innovation cannot just be “turned on” because it is a cultural practice that reliably spins off new idea-combinations.

About Nokia

  • Nokia’s Focus – Nokia is still ramping up it’s focus on mobile computing devices. (i.e. what many refer to as smartphones … though Nokia rightly dislikes this term). The fact is that while they’ve produced the most reliable and affordable phones in the world, these phones do not offer the most advanced technology or user experience.
  • Nokia’s Legacy – A significant portion of Nokia’s research and development goes to maintaining existing products and services rather than on developing new offerings.
  • Nokia’s Fragmentation – Nokia is a large organization with research and development taking place at three or more separate facilities around the world.

So Nokia is a unique organization with some significant challenges. To be successful, they  must shift some of their focus towards innovation, away from legacy products and services, and look for opportunities to drive alignment across the organization. In terms of the opportunity, I think it was Tero that said “Nokia is like a friend you’d have over for dinner.” In other words, Nokia hasn’t done anything bad. Maybe they haven’t blown people away, but most people would be very open to giving Nokia a chance if they came to the table with something they were really proud of.

Which brings us to the topic of how to structure innovation at an organization like Nokia. At the event I heard that the research and development efforts at Nokia were extensive but fragmented, that there may be good ideas inside Nokia that are not being surfaced, that Nokia doesn’t have the internal culture to create a rival to the iPhone, and finally that setting up a skunk works would threaten the internal research and development organization. It’s this last point that struck me as a problem if it is in fact true.

In the diagram above, I’ve tried to demonstrate that internal teams should NOT be afraid of skunk works or of crowd sourcing as these are two approaches that may be essential to getting unstuck (if Nokia is in fact stuck). Clearly, they are different but they do have some things in common besides their ultimate goal. They both tend to sit behind a firewall of sorts that provides the cultural autonomy to think outside the box. They both have the ability to move fast and tend to employ smaller agile teams.

I suppose on defining factor in choosing one of these approaches is whether or not the project in question benefits from being public. If it doesn’t (even with legal protections) skunk works may be the only option. I won’t get into the pros/cons of each approach further, but I didn’t hear from Nokia that they’re whole heatedly trying either. One thing I did hear from a former Apple designer, however, was that Apple’s iOS development team was quite small and that this played a significant part in it’s ability to deliver a delightful experience. So, why hasn’t Nokia delivered anything close to the iPhone, I’d say it has something to do with the way they’ve optimized/structured their innovation practices.

In conclusion, I should emphasize that internal teams should manage these approaches because they understand the constraints best. Managing also means there are clear measures of success in place and a structured means of reviewing performance. And these approaches are not JUST for getting unstuck, like any discipline they take practice before you’ll get the most value from them. Finally, Nokia should not try to reinvent the iPhone, they should try and come up with something uniquely Nokia. I think that something will have a less stylized experience that feel more transparent as compared to the iPhone. One benefit of this is that could appeal to the much broader market that Nokia has been serving for years.

The Ideas Project: Advertising & Personal Data

A year ago, I was thrilled to contribute an idea to the wonderful Ideas Project regarding how marketing is changing and this week I’m excited to contribute to the project again with a question of the week. Here’s the question:

Can you describe a future in which you would voluntarily share your personal data online in exchange for truly relevant advertising?

Please go here to register and write a response on the ideas project or Tweet a response with #ideasproject.

Some Background

I’ve spent much of the last year thinking about online advertising and how it’s changing. There is a clear tension between giving consumers information when/where they want it and the need to reach large numbers of consumers. The first approach is in line with what I refer to as Marketing 2.0 and is focused on finding consumers where they self-organize to provide them with useful information that they pass along if they choose to. The latter approach is much more traditional and is focused on reaching as many consumers as possible.

Behavioral targeting sits somewhere between these two approaches and works by planting browser cookies that allow advertisers to follow consumers across the web in the interest of presenting them with more relevant information. Thus, if you have a cookie in your browser that has tracked you from a car website to a baby products site, you’d be likely to be shown an advertisement for a baby car-seat.

Behavioral targeting does improve ad performance but it’s not super effective because cookies capture everything we look at whether it’s related to work or play. And, if you’re not the only user of a computer they are even less effective. There’s also something sneaky about cookies that consumers don’t like. They are squirreled away in our browsers and the process is not fully transparent. On some level we know that there are companies buying and selling this data and we’re not getting any part of it.

By way of digging into this topic more deeply, I’ve included this short video from the Ideas Project by Andreas Weigend, former Chief Scientist for Amazon. He explains that advertisers have the potential to present consumers with highly relevant information based on access to consumers’ personal data. The challenge is that advertisers will have  to prove to consumers that they can return real value while respecting privacy. This is a huge obstacle because advertising as an industry has overwhelmed consumers with irrelevant and interruptive messages.

While behavioral targeting does offer  advertisers -and consumers- value, because it can help them present consumers with more relevant content, it is very limited as a methodology. Therefore, it’s unlikely that this approach will be effective at convincing consumers to voluntarily share their personal data in exchange for truly relevant content. Somehow advertisers need to convince consumer to share more/better personal data and then advertisers have to use this information respectfully/appropriately to return real value. Can you imagine how that might work?

Would it require a third party service where you tell advertisers the kinds of things you’re interested in? An improved “advertiser” setting area inside you Facebook account? Something that you set in your browser? Or, something else? I’d be thrilled to hear your ideas so please visit the Ideas Project and post them to the community or Tweet your response using hash tag #ideasproject.

Making Short Video Explaination Stories

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I try to tell stories visually whenever I can. There are several reasons that I do this including the fact that our ability to process information visually predates our ability to do so with language. The visual centers of our brain are much older than our language processing centers, so telling stories visually taps into something deep that we trust. Adding language in the form of the spoken word can also be reassuring though, because we’re great a picking up nuances in the human voice that tell us whether or not to trust the speaker. Dan Roam’s book Back of the Napkin is a great resource to learn more about all this.

For these reasons and others, I’ve been gravitating to making short videos that explain my ideas or the ideas of my clients. You may already be familiar with a video that I made to explain what I do. In this post, I’ll share two recent videos I made for Sprout and little information about how they came together. Here’s the first one:

Make an outline

The most recent video I made was for Sprout’s new HTML5 product offering. Due to some rather insane deadlines I was up against, this video came together in about a day and a half of solid work. I started the process by trying to write the story out point by point. I tend to write these stories as bullet points that fit together sequentially into an argument. Sometimes there are sub-bullets that get moved as I rearrange the narrative. On a high-level it’s very similar to an outline.

Say it out loud

From there I use Garage Band on my Mac tell the story conversationally based on the bullet points. It usually takes me 4-5 times through to get something that feels right. In genera, two minutes is about the longest I’ll try and go. Once I have the audio sample in that range, I bring my computer over to the white board.

Sketch to your voice

I like to put the audio recording on repeat while I start capturing ideas of how each frame might progress into the next. Outside the storyboard frames, I capture the visual elements of the story. In this case, I had a designer, a computer, mobile devices, an ad server, and software icons. I also brought in a call out box which is part of the style guide at Sprout. Here’s one of my storyboard sketches for the HTML5 video.

You should keep sketching until you can see the story unfold in your mind. You’ll notice little arrows at the bottom of some of the frames in my sketch, these indicate how the transitions will take place. I also use little call outs to capture other details.

Collect your assets

At this point you should know what you’ll need asset wise to tell your story. I recommend getting as many of your assets up front so that asset procurement won’t slow you down once your in the groove of building the video. This can involve some design time for the icons, elements, etc. Once you’ve got everything you need in place it’s time to get into the tool you’ll use to make the video.


I’ve been using Keynote recently to build these videos. I’m not sure if this is the best tool but it was available, fast, and easy to use. The main problem with Keynote is that you have to start the animation from the beginning each time you want to check your timing. That’s annoying, but if you’re only working on a two minute video it shouldn’t be that bad. Alternatively, you could use a more powerful tool that has a broader feature set. If you’ve got one you like, I’d love to hear about it.

Once you’re in your tool, you’ll want to start by dropping in your sample audio so that you can get approximate timing for transitions. With a time-line in place, you’re ready to start building your presentation and bringing your story to life.


Once you’re done building your first draft, I recommend showing it to a bunch of people to get feedback. I usually go through at least three iteration cycles before I have something solid. The final steps involve recording a clean copy of the audio and matching the timing on the transitions precisely to what you’ve built. Here’s the HTML5 video based on the above storyboard:

Thanks for reading and I hope this gets you inspired to make some videos of your own.

The Wallet Prototype Revisited

In this post I’ll follow up a post from over a year ago in which I discussed a wallet prototype that I designed and fabricated. To recap, I never had a wallet that I felt was well designed for me so I decided to design one of my own. I had a couple of key criteria including that it was super thin, protected my business cards, and allowed my to get my cash and license out of my pocket without having to take the entire wallet out. My first prototype was fabricated out of duct tape and worked quite well. It survived a surprisingly long time as well, till about a month ago.

Granted, it had some issues that prevented me from fabricating another one out of duct tape, but it was clearly good enough to keep me from making something better until it literally fell apart. It’s amazing how durable duct tape is! One downside of the material is the fact that it can get a little sticky at the edges where the adhesive is exposed. It also tends to stretch out over time which wasn’t ideal. Ok, so on to the next generation!

Before fabricating something usable, I decided to make some prototypes out of paper to determine the best possible fabrication pattern. Now that I was going to use a sheet material (rather than strips) the parts would be quite different. I can up with four potential fabrication plans which put the seams in different places … and one that was made from a tube of fabric. Some required glued, or bonded, seams others did not. Ultimately, I settled on a minimal design that requires only six straight-line sewn edges, or six heat-bonded seams depending on the fabrication material.

The final design uses lass material, requires three pieces of material and includes several other improvements. These include:

  1. better business card protection due to a slightly deeper pocket.
  2. reduced lint/dirt contamination due to openings at the bottom of the pockets.
  3. slimmer, due to less material used.
  4. better edge protection for bills due to outside seam placement.
  5. easier card access due to shortening of the inside pockets, fabric with less friction, and the removal of triangular cut outs.
  6. more durable, due to synthetic fabric.


Now that I’ve got a super solid design that I’m happy with, I’m looking forward to moving away from the white material (which was helpful far marking) and fabricating samples in higher fidelity with the use of a heat cutter and sewing machine. For those interested in seeing some of the process I went through to get to this design, I’m including images of some of the earlier prototypes below.

Earlier Prototypes