Wednesday, August 30, 2006

What's in a product name?

This story about restaurant names from National Public Radio this past Sunday got me to thinking about product names. Specifically, the following question:

Are they important?

And, why are good product names good? (Let's agree that there are innumerable reasons why bad product names are bad.)

Let's start with some good names. iPod, Swiffer, 787 Dreamliner, salesforce.com, Google, Yahoo, Kleenex, Tivo, eBay, Skype (a great name), MySpace, SawzAll, Walkman.

These names add value by making it easier for customers to remember the product, and to have those memories and associations be positive ones. Which improves the effectiveness of advertising and public relations, facilitates word of mouth, attracts retailers, etc. Which means more sales. That's important.

Want a good product name? Make it:

  1. Easy to say. Try saying "iPod." Easy. "iPod. iPod. iPod." Still easy. Ditto Google, Yahoo and eBay. A related observation: brevity works. I'm no linguist, but easy to say helps make it...

  2. Easy to remember. But consider this: it doesn't have to mean anything to be memorable. If you think too hard about what Walkman or Gameboy means, your head may explode.

  3. Indicate something about the product or its function. (Not a requirement, of course.) Sawzall is the best example of this I know. It does what it says it does.

  4. Indicate a heritage, if applicable, without being trapped by it. 787 Dreamliner nicely echoes Boeing's proud jet heritage, but adding the descriptor signifies the airplane as a significant break--just as Boeing intends. Beautiful.

  5. Avoid numbers. Numbers are the cop-out of every product marketer. "Just call it Model 75. That will sound cool." Please note: numbers rarely have any product-related meaning, and they are used in such variety that they're just noise. As an example, note that you can do a Sudoku puzzle a couple of weeks after already completing it without remembering a single answer. Only BMW, with its consistent naming approach (tiny 1-Class, small 3-Class, medium 5-class, etc.), and Boeing--equally consistent--have very distinctive number-based names.

  6. Finally, though a name is important, a great name can't do much for a lousy product. If Microsoft had blamed the failure of Windows versions 1 and 2 on the name, we'd all be using Macs today.
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1 comments:

Shawn Callahan said...

I learnt from a linguist that words with long, open vowels, such as Google and Yahoo, are more sonorous and appealing. I think you will find that your list has many examples.