What makes a good product name, and how do you know when you’ve found one?

Here’s our guide to choosing a great name, refining your ideas, and avoiding common product naming mistakes.

There’s no question that a product name can make or break a launch. No matter how innovative your new offering, a clunky or confusing product name can put potential customers off. And while it won’t make a mediocre product better, a great name is a huge part of what makes a good product succeed.

The right name can:

  • make your product more memorable
  • provide information about features and benefits
  • generate positive sentiment towards your brand
  • help you stand out from competitors
  • create a platform to develop and expand your product range

All those benefits from one or two little words – it’s easy to see why so much effort and thought goes into choosing product names.

Fortunately, there are plenty of tips and techniques to help you make the right naming choice.

First things first, learn from the most successful examples out there and what makes their name standout. You can also test out potential product names quickly and inexpensively by collecting feedback from potential customers. Input from a survey panel can help you select the most promising candidates from your list of name ideas. A survey can also help you broaden your perspective on the associations of particular words and the cultural meanings that may be attached to them.

The product naming process

1. Look at your brand and existing products

Your new product will sit alongside others in your range, either now or in the future, so you need a name that will work in harmony with your existing brand and your marketing language. You should also consider how you’re perceived by customers. Picture your brand and product names written down in a catalogue or on a review site – they should work together and give the impression of cohesion and strategic planning.

2. Evaluate the product names of your competitors

Like step 1, this is about putting your new product in context with what’s already out there. But instead of fitting in smoothly with your own brand and product line-up, your goal is to reinforce the perception you’re offering something fresh and different from your competitors. Look for trends in how your competitors name their products, and decide whether you want to aim for completely new territory by contrasting with them, or piggyback on what’s already out there to take advantage of recognition among potential customers.

3. Come up with ideas

This is the fun part! You have multiple options here – you can take the traditional route and brainstorm ideas using a whiteboard or flipchart. Working as a team is a great way to do this. Capture as many ideas as possible, being careful not to get sidetracked into discussion or critique at this stage. Placing your findings from step 1 and step 2 up on a projector or screen can be helpful for triggering ideas.

Another option is to use an online name generator. These services take input from you about your products and brand and come up with a huge number of potential names, all automatically generated. The majority won’t be right for you, but you may find a few gems in there to add to your testing list.

4. Test your ideas

Once you have some candidate product names – 15 is a good maximum number to aim for – it’s important to do some qualitative analysis to find out how your target audience responds to them. Getting feedback from a wide range of people is a key step in the product naming process, and could save you a lot of extra steps further down the line. When designing your product name testing survey, we recommend asking about:

  • appeal
  • trustworthiness
  • relevance
  • creativity

You’ll find more details on running a product naming survey, including questions and survey flow, in our free eBook A beginner’s guide to product naming.

Great product names

Here are some companies who have excelled at naming their products, and a few of the reasons why their ideas work so well.

Windows

Why?

Microsoft’s core product name has a dual meaning – it describes the physical windows that appear on the screen when you use their operating system, and also the idea of opening a window onto the world with new possibilities and opportunities. It’s descriptive in a pragmatic, down-to-earth way and works on another level too.

A single-word product name like this one is often preferable as it’s easy to remember and leaves scope for variations and updates (Windows 3.1, Windows Vista, Windows 10…)

Dropbox

Why?

This portmanteau name – two words in one – is information-rich. It manages to convey in a single word how the product works and the benefits it delivers – whatever you need to store, just drop it in the box.

It side-steps the approach of many competitors who use tech-led names (Sync.com, pCloud), opting instead for a user-led name that reflects customer goals rather than technical capability. Additionally, its name makes it stand out from competitors who have clustered around the word ‘drive’ (Google Drive, Amazon Drive, OneDrive).

iPhone/iPod/iPad

Why?

Apple’s success with product-naming isn’t so much about the name as the prefix, and it’s a great example of how one product name can pave the way for others and develop the association between them in a consumer’s mind.

The lower-case ‘i’ allows the company to instantly brand and own any product category, just by adding their distinctive ‘i’ at the start. Of course this isn’t a unique approach – it’s also been done successfully by McDonalds (McFlurry, McMuffin) who went so far as to legally protect their right to use the ‘Mc’ or ‘Mac’ prefix. Hopefully they haven’t taken Apple to task over the MacBook.

Product naming pitfalls to avoid

For every successful product name out there, there are many more that failed to make money because the company didn’t take into account some of the ways product names can go wrong. Irrelevant, unwieldy or even funny product names make interesting reading, but don’t deserve a place on your list of candidates. Here are a few rules to steer by when making your selection.

1. Tripping over the language barrier

If there’s even a small chance your product will sell internationally – and in the golden age of ecommerce, there’s no reason it shouldn’t – you need to make sure its name won’t mean something unintended in another language. Examples of unintentionally funny product names from around the world are rife on the internet, so make sure you’re not among them.

2. Making it hard to say

Using novel spellings or made-up words is common, and being creative with product names in this way can yield positive results. But when you’re striking out into new linguistic territory, make sure people can say the name of your product. As well as making life easier for customers, it’s important that there’s a clear enough link between what’s written down on the page and what’s spoken aloud so that people can always recognize your product.

3. Bringing in negative associations

A name that sounds fresh and positive to you may have a different set of associations for other people because of the historical, cultural or social context. One more reason to test your product name ideas on as wide an audience as possible.

Running product name testing is easy using a platform like Qualtrics. Find out how we can help you come up with a winning name for your latest innovation.

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