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How to find the perfect product name

10 min read
Product naming is the process of coming up with compelling, unique names for your new products. Qualtrics recommends using qualitative research to test product names and values of your prospective customers


You’ve spent weeks, months, or even years perfecting the ideal product. But how do you ensure that it’s successful in the market? One of the most important items is crafting a compelling name. Great product names offer several key advantages including:

  • Simplifies product sales
  • Promotes your product
  • Increases brand awareness

Getting your name right is crucial: 50% of product launches fail to hit business targets, according to a McKinsey study. Yet, there are some things that can help improve your chances. In a discussion with the Harvard Business Review, Julie Schneider and Julie Hall found that companies fail because they postpone a lot of the critical marketing work necessary for launch. Part of that work includes coming up with a great name.

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

With such a crucial decision, going with instinct is not enough. Enter product naming research.

Much like it sounds, name research helps identify the best name for a company, product, or service. By screening and testing your names with consumers, you can have greater confidence that you’ve picked the ideal candidate. In fact, a study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology revealed that consumers who name products are more likely to purchase or consider them.

Step 1: Brainstorm potential product names

The first step to conducting a product naming study is coming up with a list of great names. There are several naming tactics you can use to get started.

Product naming tactics chart

This is the fun part! 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.

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.

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 catalog or on a review site – they should work together and give the impression of cohesion and strategic planning.

Evaluate the product names of your competitors

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.

Avoiding common naming pitfalls

What you think is a great name might actually be a flop, and there are several naming pitfalls to be wary of. Your final name candidates should pass the following tests:

  • Easy to Remember. Your product name shouldn’t be overly complex. You want your consumers to be able to easily recall what your product is.
  • Memorable. Gaining mindshare is a major challenge. A memorable product name will help you break through the noise.
  • Positive Associations. Positive associations are important. Early on, retail giant Amazon went by a different name, Cadabra. When Jeff Bezos’s lawyer pointed out that you could easily mis-hear “cadaver,” Bezos changed the name to Amazon.
  • Easy to Pronounce. If a name is hard to pronounce, there’s a strong likelihood of consumers rejecting the product altogether and going with alternatives. Pronunciation can also have global impacts. For example, Lever Brothers rebranded cleaning brand Jif to Cif purely due to the fact that the ‘c’ is easier to pronounce in other languages. This move also simplified marketing and production efforts globally.
  • Easy to Understand. Product names that are easily understood are more likely to entice consumers to purchase.
  • International Audiences. If you are an international company, you should think about how a name will resonate with different audiences. In the 1960’s Chevrolet didn’t consider that the name for one of its vehicles, the Nova, literally translated into “doesn’t go” in Spanish.

Step 2: Evaluate your product names

The goal of a product name study is to give you an overall ranking of your product names as well as deeper insights on each individual name. By validating your names with formal research, you can launch your product name with confidence.

A good naming study should give you insights about overall name preferences and which names score the strongest on a variety of criteria such as creativity or appeal. The study should also give you deeper insights on each individual name.

Start with a product description, product image, or concept image. While a description is a good place to start, we recommend using an image to give consumers a clear picture of your product. We also recommend testing between 3-15 different name candidates.

Overall name questions

Overall questions give you an idea of how each name compares with your other candidates. Ask respondents to rank the names in order of preference as well as asking additional questions about different criteria like trustworthiness, creativity, or appeal. You can also ask respondents if they have any additional naming suggestions.

Individual name questions

Individual questions enable you to gauge a consumer’s willingness to consider or purchase your product based on the name. You can also ask open-ended questions about how a particular name makes them feel.

Reporting and Analysis

Once you have collected your responses, break your results into two different groups – overall results and specific name results. Your overall results should demonstrate the top names overall and in every category. Individual name analysis should include name sentiment, as well as data about a consumer’s likelihood to purchase or consider your product.

Depending on the number of responses and open-ended questions, analyzing open text can become overwhelming. Tools like text analytics powered by Qualtrics iQ make it simple to categorize text responses by both topic and sentiment automatically.

Name testing helps you take the speculation out of product naming and launch your product with confidence.

Examples of 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.

eBook: What's in a name? Product Success