Copywriting Hacks: How to Name Your Products
Naming products is supposed to be fun - a chance to be creative, explore random worlds just for inspiration, and play with words as a toddler would their fingerpaint. Yes, not every name you come up with will be golden; but that’s part of the creative process - part of the journey.
You must be prepared to create awful, terrible, no-good ideas right alongside the hidden gems. And really, you should just laugh at the bad ones, because laughing is the key to longevity, and chances are, your bad ideas will never see the light of day. They might even lead you to “the name,” eventually.
So, Rule #1 of naming products: don’t be so hard on yourself. This is a process. It takes time. And the more fun you have with it, the better your results will be.
Now, we’ve already addressed the basics when it comes to naming your business. You can read that here. But, right now, we’re going to focus specifically on naming your products, starting with the basics.
First off, if you’re opening a business with the sole purpose of selling one specific product, you may want to name the product first, since that’s the thing customers really need to forge a relationship with. However, if you’re looking to sell a number of different products over the years, you’ll need to think a bit differently, and with an eye to the future. So, this is more of a "which came first, the chicken or the egg," sort of deliberation. If you’re really feeling frisky, you could try to tackle all of this stuff at the exact same time. It really comes down to your goals.
Of course, you don’t want to give your product the same name as your business. That’s just too confusing. Also, if you’re naming multiple products, you want to try to group them into a family so that they’re easier to remember. Apple had the foresight to do this quite well, naming their operating systems after big cats: Tiger, Panther, Jaguar, Leopard, Snow Leopard, etc. (They’ll probably be down to Sabertooth Tigers any day now…but you get the point.) The goal is to make this whole name thing as easy as possible for your customer, and your internal teams, because they’re the ones who’ll need to remember this name and - more importantly - use it in conversation with friends and family (aka future customers).
Alright, with that out of the way, let's dig a little deeper.
What makes for a great product name?
Since there are no naming metrics or data to support what makes one name work over another, you’re sort of left with “feeling.” And “feeling” can be a really obscure thing to measure; yet, we can probably all agree that you know a great name when you see it. It’s something that's easy on the eyes, ears, and tongue. Something that expresses the nature of a product, or represents it with a certain sound.
Think of the name Swiffer. Say it out loud. Doesn’t it sound like the job it does? The way the word seems to sashay out of your mouth, it might as well be dusting your taste buds. Or Dasani. Doesn’t it sound like a tall glass of water? Or maybe even water flowing? It’s a river speaking to you. It sounds refreshing, relaxing, high-end, exotic even. Dasani. Or what about Red Bull. It feels no nonsense, like, we’re getting sh*t done, now. It’s almost calling bullshit on your exhaustion. That's what makes these great product names.
If you’re familiar with dialects (former actor over here), you’ll know that certain accents can be found in different areas of your mouth. For example, French is on the tip of your tongue. It’s a whisper. Standard American, on the other hand, is in the middle of your mouth, marching across the middle ground. Then, Cockney is deep in your tongue - almost in the back of your jaw - with words bouncing around like a rubber ball. Saying words in different ways creates a different experience, and that experience provides a feeling - an emotional and sometimes physical reaction. Even the sounds these words create, or make us think of, hold a certain power. And when you’re naming your product, you must consider what kind of power you want to channel. Because sometimes the name can take on the properties of the actual product, at least in the mind of your customers.
But you don’t need to be a linguist to craft a solid name. You don’t need to have an understanding of vowels, fricatives, or Latin. You’ve been using words all your life, and your customers probably won’t give a fig about Latin roots or clever background stories in relation to your product, or, more specifically, in relation to their problem. Instead, you’re dealing with the ambiguous associations these individuals attach to your product’s name in their mind, and the feeling it conjures. And that’s what we’re going to dive into next. It’s a messy process, but you’ll know “the name” when you see it. Promise.
The Starting Line: Your Actual Product
You might spend hours, maybe even days, flipping through the dictionary, finding rhymes, creating words, playing with sounds, creating lists, and brainstorming your ears off, but in the end, it all comes down to your product. So grab some paper and a pen, or just copy and paste this list into a doc, because you’ve got to start digging into what your product means in relation to your customer. Write long to condense later. And, luckily, all of this fabric can also be used to devise product descriptions and other sales tools, so don’t throw it away when you’re done. You should work smart, not hard.
Final Note: Don’t be overwhelmed by these questions. You can answer whichever speak to you, ignore half of them, or save the really tough ones for later. This exercise is merely to get you thinking in creative ways and producing a bunch of material you can pull from later.
So, this product of yours:
What is it, in layman’s terms?
What problem does it solve, truly? What does it do?
What are the most important characteristics?
What makes it different? exciting? valuable?
Is there a concrete idea behind it? Why do people need this?
Why is your business the one to produce & sell it?
What’s the concept, or feeling, you wish to communicate?
What’s the shortest sentence you can use to describe the value prop?
Who is supposed to buy it? Who is your customer?
What’s the experience from your customer’s perspective?
What direction are you taking your customers in? Is this product going to make them feel more modern, more youthful, more in-tune with some golden age, more athletic and fit? What is the transformation?
What is your product made out of? (E.g., JELL-O is made with gelatin.)
What emotion(s) does your product evoke?
What’s your position in the marketplace? Tried and true, or new to the scene? Why should customers trust you?
If you could steal marketshare with a catchy headline, what would it be? Can you condense that to a word or two? Would a certain name pair well with your headline?
Have any product names caught your eye over the years? Do you have any favorites? How can you use those as a jumping off point?
Look at your competition. Do their products all sound the same? How can you go in the opposite direction?
Why should someone use your product over the competition’s offer?
Where will your product be used? How? What’s the play-by-play?
What’s the real benefit your customers will enjoy?
Next step? Go through all of your fabric and start playing with product name ideas. Shuffle words, mix and match, rhyme your way into practical poetry, or just see what you’re sensitive to in the line-up. Which words seem to fit? Which ones seem like bad ideas? The game is simply to generate as many names as you can. They won’t all be winners - but one might be. One bad name might even be the seed for the right idea. You just have to play with it. And we know, that sounds like awful advice, but it’s the only way creativity works. You’ve got to try stuff, fail, play, and allow the process to surprise you. As long as you have your fabric from the questions above, you’ll be fine.
If you’d like to explore even more questions in relation to your business and/or product, grab your free copy of The Brand Swatch here.
Other Things to Keep In Mind
A product name isn’t something you just slap on a label. It has to live out in the real world, where people will try to communicate its value to others. It’s OK if you end up with a name somewhat similar to another product in a different industry, e.g., Ford Explorer vs. Microsoft Explorer, but you want to make sure that your chosen name stands out in a sentence (and check with a trademark attorney before going all-in).
And remember: your product name should serve as a vessel or short cut to all of the emotional associations that will be applied to your product and your customer’s experience of it. And these same customers already have a rich history with words. They already have their own associations and ideas about what certain words mean or don’t mean. That’s what you’re battling against.
Make sure your product name is easy to pronounce, so people aren’t hindered from talking about it. Make sure your product name is easy to spell, so you stand a chance of getting action on social media organically. And make sure it’s easy enough for prospects to search for online if they happen to hear the name spoken out loud by someone else. If you’ve got some crazy spelling or wayward acronym going on, you’re putting up major obstacles in your path towards success.
Does this mean you can’t make up a word? Absolutely not. If a made-up word sounds like a word and feels like a word, the fact that it doesn’t mean anything other than your product can actually serve as an advantage. And even a made-up word that sounds real has a better chance of being remembered by a customer than an assortment of letters thrown together as an acronym. Consider NYQUIL. It’s simply a mishmash of night and tranquil. It works perfectly. So don’t be afraid of getting creative.
Don’t make claims you can’t easily prove.
The longer the name, the harder it may be for someone to have an emotional response to it.
Expect ideas to pop up in unrelated places. For instance, in 1878, Harley Procter of Procter & Gambler named the new soap Ivory after hearing Psalm 45:8 in church: “All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad.” So, don't be afraid to open yourself up to inspiration, wherever it might come from.
You should also embrace random ideas if you get stuck. Go on an artist date to a museum, read a novel, pick a random page in the dictionary to dissect and play with, read a play or book of poetry, search through an encyclopedia of symbols, explore color theory and meaning, find out what your target audience is into, do the Sunday crossword puzzle, listen to a random album by a band you’ve never heard of, or just let Fortuna surprise you.
And if you’re really stuck, try to paint pictures with your words. Describe the visual of using your product as if you were writing a story. Tell a fairy tale, or write out a detailed scene of someone using your product in an unexpected way. Make it a sci-fi thriller or a horror story; craft a romance where your product plays a major role. Have fun with it!!!
Your inner child is in there somewhere. Now would be the time for them to enter stage right.