How to Name a Product: A Guide to Creating Effective Product Names

Naming a new product is a crucial step. A good name can communicate the product’s value proposition, differentiate it from competitors, and create a positive association with customers. But how do you find a name that meets these criteria and resonates with your target audience? That’s where market research comes in.

As a firm named Isurus Market Research and Consulting, we’re asked often about the name. More about that later. Perhaps because of our naming story, we enjoy helping to name new products.

Through dozens of naming research engagements, our approach has evolved to be more streamlined and provide the “just right” level of insight. Our work is typically in a B2B context, although much of the framework we use also applies to consumer products.

Effective naming research explores name options on multiple dimensions. Most product name options come with pros and cons. A name that communicates innovation may also require more explanation (and therefore a larger marketing budget). The name that prospects like best may be too similar to competitive names in the category. Our approach evaluates naming options in the context of the product’s value proposition, the competitive landscape, parent brand architecture, and other relevant factors.

The basics: Ease of use

A good name fits some basic ease-of-use criteria. When a product name uses new word(s) or acronyms, we want to learn how the typical buyer or user pronounces the name. Does it roll smoothly off the tongue, or do they struggle to get it out?  When people say the name, do they seem uncertain if they got it right? Does their pronunciation sound like a different word/idea, and is that a positive or negative association? For names to be used in multiple countries/cultures, how will it sound in those markets?

An unfamiliar word that people mispronounce can spark conversation, yet can also be a barrier to sales. Greek yogurt maker Fage created an ad campaign to teach people how to pronounce the name. (“Fah-yeh,” ICYMI.) While the campaign was cute, Fage may have been better off with a name that didn’t require a multimillion-dollar pronunciation lesson.

In most B2B categories, buyers and users invest in solutions that give them confidence (that the product works smoothly, that it will deliver value, etc.). If they hesitate about how to pronounce the product name, it can subtly undermine confidence in the product. 

Seeing the name through the eyes of the target audience can also reveal unexpected learnings. For example, Isurus helped select the name for a new collaboration tool. One of the names included the word “hive,” with creative typography that emphasized h-i-v. In the research, the majority of people read it as “HIV” and wondered if the collaboration tool was for specialized medical teams instead of the mainstream market of knowledge workers.

Supports the product strategy

B2B product names need to convey meaning – what the product does, the value it provides, or what makes the product distinctive. The naming research process begins with using the name strategy to define the metrics for the research. Should the name communicate growth, strength, simplicity, community, affordability, etc.? Once we work with the client team to clarify the strategic metrics for the best-fit name, strategy metrics are embedded in the research design and content. The metrics may be asked directly (e.g., to what extent does this name convey innovation?) or open-ended (what comes to mind when you see this name?).

Microsoft’s cloud service Azure provides a good example of how a name can support competitive differentiation. Microsoft launched its cloud service after Amazon Web Services (AWS) was already in the market.  A descriptive name like Microsoft Cloud Services was proposed as a low-risk name but would seem like an AWS imitation, according to the brand development firm Lexicon. The name Azure made it harder for Amazon to portray Microsoft as a late-to-the-party copycat. In this situation, naming research would need to examine the extent to which the name conveys differentiation from the existing competitors.

Fits with the company’s brand and product portfolio

The meaning and strength of a name can shift when a buyer reacts to it as a standalone name or in association with a parent brand or product portfolio. Our naming research explores which brands/companies buyers intuitively associate with a product name. We also assess “fit” with the parent brand and competitor brands. Linking a product name to the parent brand can shift perceptions. A standalone product name that seems like marketing fluff takes on gravitas when associated with an established corporate brand. Parent/product name relationships are also relevant in mergers and acquisitions: Keep the original product name or fold it into the parent brand naming architecture? Both exploratory and quantitative measures are useful to gain insights about portfolio or parent-brand fit. 

So…why the name “Isurus”?

Isurus is the Latin name for the mako shark. The name came up in an idea session, suggested by a co-founder with a passion for angling. The mako is the fastest shark in the ocean and an apex predator. We embraced the brand implications, as a firm that moves quickly and helps our clients dominate their category. We like a distinctive name that helps us stand out from other firms. While we have the same “How do you say the name?” challenge as Fage, sharing the Isurus name story has been the start of many productive and long-term relationships over the years.