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 thebicycleÂ 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.
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’sÂ 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 aboutÂ 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 productâ€™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:
||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!
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:
- 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.
- 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 Â 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.