The best tips for naming your product or service

Margaret Paton

Naming your product or service should never be a light-hearted decision, even though it might seem like the most fun part of any development process. Sure, don’t deny yourself the fun, but it’s serious business – so serious that entrepreneur, naming strategist and visual artist, Katarina Nilsson, founded the full-service naming agency Eqvarium. Her work has taken her across the globe for brands such as Sony Ericsson, Electrolux and H&M. Katarina is also a facilitator for Joy of Business, an online community supporting businesses and leaders. For those who have a new product or service in the pipeline, here’s Nilsson’s best tips to give you the best chance of nailing that all important customer appeal.

Create the road map

Nilsson advises to start with a ‘road map’ to come up with the naming strategy. Ask what you’re going to name, identify your markets, your competition, what the naming landscape is like in your kind of business, how you’d like your name to sound, investigate intellectual property and trademarks and how many languages do the names need to work in.

“It’s not just witty or fun names. It’s really a strategic business decision and the responsibility for making these decisions has moved to top management, not just in branding and marketing. The name needs to live during the product or service’s lifestyle,” she says.

"Be braver – be bold, choose something that’s really unique and interesting now as it needs to be interesting in five to 15 years’ time.”

If your product or service will generate revenue in 10 to 15 years’ time, the name should mean something over that time rather than be too descriptive and risk becoming obsolete. No name will satisfy everyone, but it’s best to avoid words with negative connotations or “with associations that go in the wrong direction.”

Nilsson suggests going for as simple and as few levels as possible. For mobile phones, for example, the trend has been to go from main brand to an alphanumeric model description (ie. Samsung Galaxy 7, iPhone 7) choosing real names or sub-brand names for the different phone or device models. But alphanumeric model descriptors don’t really “evoke something in the consumer or the customer”.

“These are two different strategies, naming each product differently or going for alphanumeric model descriptor. Will one of them give you more business, is it worth it? You need to know what you’re choosing,” says Nilsson.

“When you choose something that’s really easy to accept or it’s not controversial right now, it will be completely uninteresting in a few years’ time. Be braver – be bold, choose something that’s really unique and interesting now as it needs to be interesting in five to 15 years’ time.”

Stick to your naming stategy

A clear naming strategy across your products and services (such as within your marketing-communications plan) will help ensure they all sound like they’re part of the same family and will “play together well”, says Nilsson. Avoid ad hoc naming of your range of products and services.

“I work with industrial companies that have a lot of varied names. Sometimes this comes into play when the names have been created by the product development department and don’t follow the overall strategy,” she says.

Actually, clash of names can happen when brands merge, but if there’s a particular brand that’s a cash cow, it makes sense to keep the name “even if they stick out from the brand structure”.

Focus on the customer’s problem it solves; how it benefits them.

Focus on benefits not features

A common trap is for businesses to focus on a product or service’s features to build a name. As the product evolves, such a descriptive name risks becoming outdated. Focus on the customer’s problem it solves; how it benefits them. A wedding organiser could go for a straightforward name of ‘Wedding Planner’, but a benefit-based name would be ‘Merry Day’. 

Margaret Paton

Former Sunday Age staff journalist, Margaret Paton (formerly Jakovac) has written widely for corporations/government departments and more than 100 online/hard copy mastheads in regional NSW, Sydney, Melbourne and Europe.