Innovation/Global Risk 

How Important Is the Name of Your Product?   

By Shlomo Maital




  The New Yorker’s illustration of “Lexicon”

Innovator – how important is what you call your product?  How much effort and time (and money) should you invest in choosing the right name?

   The answer, according to Lexicon, a top ‘naming’ company that came up with Febreze, BlackBerry, Pentium, PowerBook, Swiffer, and others:  Massively, hugely important.  And the key to a great name is…poetry. I’m not kidding.  Lexicon’s story is told well by John Colapinto, in the October issue of The New Yorker.  He writes at length about Lexicon founder David Placek.

      According to Colapinto, in the summer of 1998, executives from a tiny Canadian startup, Research in Motion (RIM), came to Lexicon’s California offices with a two-way pager that sent and received email. But what to call it?  Geeks and nerds always think of “mega”, “giga”, “super”, “opti”, etc.  The experts at Lexicon did a Mind Map, tendrils of words spreading out from a central concept, and came up with an unlikely name: BlackBerry.  The idea, according to Colapinto:  “short”; “consonant-vowel-consonant”; assonance, alliteration; pleasant sound; friendly, evocative, poetic:

  Naming experts agree on several universals of great names. It’s probably best to keep it short. Names that display a consonant-vowel-consonant pattern are often easiest to say. Pleasantness of sound—the use of alliteration and assonance—all play a part. The real goal, Placek says, is to determine what “story” a client wishes to tell about his product and then find a word that evokes it—and spurs the impulse to buy.  

  Lexicon came up with Swiffer, for Proctor and Gamble, and Dasani, for Coca-Cola.  Placek says that the best name brands, like poems, work by compressing into a single euphonious word an array of specific, resonant meanings and associations.

    Innovator:  After you’ve come up with your incredible, creative new product, and designed how it looks and how it works,  invest the same creativity in giving it a name.  The name makes a huge difference.  Would BlackBerry have achieved BlackBerry success, had it been named ePager?