Choosing a business or product name can be one of the most difficult and crucial business decisions that we make. The right name can make or break our product, and most of the time we usually only get one shot at getting it right. So, it only makes sense to see what some of the greatest product naming companies in the world do each and every time.
For this example we will look at Apple.
In his book Insanely Simple, author and former creative director for Apple Ken Segall outlines many of the key principles that make product naming at Apple so great. It is probably one of the most helpful guides out there about how to name products without the usual layer of bull.
In the book, Segall goes through the naming process leading up the the initial release of the iMac computer. This was an insanely different type of computer, and while the “i” signature may seem commonplace now, it was revolutionary then. It is still revolutionary, just in a different sort of way.
But, Steve Jobs didn’t initially want to name the iMac, iMac, and that is where we can really start to learn a thing or two.
Make It Simple
Because of all the things in this world that cry out for Simplicity, product naming probably contains the most glaring examples of right and wrong. From some companies, you see names like “iPhone.” From others you see names like “Casio G’zOne Commando” or the “Sony DVP SR200P/B” DVD player. - Ken SegallClick To Tweet
Simplicity matters a lot when it comes to choosing a name. The name that Steve Jobs fell in love with early on for the iMac was “MacMan.” A terrible name to say the least. Ironically, Steve had two rules for the new name. It could not sound too fun or “frivolous,” nor could it sound portable (think Pac-Man and Walkman.)
In the end, iMac won because of it’s simplicity. It was short, memorable, conveyed the essential elements, and it was fun in all the right ways. MacMan was a far more complex idea. How exactly was the iMac like a man?
Err On The Side Of Clarity
The iMac stood for two things. It was the reinvention of the Macintosh after years of woeful neglect (Steve Jobs was ousted from the company for a time) and it was the world’s easiest device for connecting to the Internet. With a name like iMac, clarity was build right into the four short letters of the name.
Great product names come from a place that believes in clarity over creativity. When it comes to marketing and selling new products, you can never be too clear. It is rare for customers to understand your product as well as you do. Most of the time, unnecessary complexity creeps in for the sake of creativity.
For a great example of clarity, spend a moment glancing through Apple.com. The simple straight-forwardness from one of the most creative companies in the world is almost astounding.
Make It Easy To Understand Which Industry You Are Trying To Revolutionize
The iPhone represented three devices in one. Jobs made this point very clear, yet the iPhone was simply a phone. In a moment of complex thinking, we could have been tempted to name the product something more descriptive of what it actually did. After all, the iPhone is much more than a phone. But, in the end clarity is better. By the time Steve finished showing off the iPhone, everyone in the world knew exactly what they would be replacing.
Too often we try to reinvent industry terms. Companies like Starbucks have been able to rename the large coffee, but that doesn’t mean you should try to do the same. Stick with the basics and communicate with easy-to-understand language.
Make It Extendable
There are very few companies in the world that can boast a naming pattern as clear as Apple. The ‘i’ lead represents products in their consumer category while a simple “Mac” leads products made for professional. Think iBook vs. MacBook Pro.
In his book, Segall mentions this simplicity as one of the selling points that he used to talk Jobs off of the MacMan cliff. If we spend the energy on a good name now, we can save ourselves a lot of headache down the road. How can you future-proof your name?
Most of these companies, don’t use these extendable naming platforms. Segall walks us through the name of the mobile version of the Intel Pentium processor. Rather than something extendable like Mobilium (notice the ‘ium’), Intel opten for something a bit more random like the Centrino.
Cutesy isn’t best
I really hate it when product names try to be to cute. This is a classic beginner’s mistake. ‘MacMan’ falls into this category, along the with the names of countless small business across the country. These are the kind of businesses that replace prefectly good consonants with althernate spellings. Like ‘Kreative Soultionz’ or ‘Xtreme Detailing.’
Cute is not a product naming strategy.
Do Your Due Diligence
Despite the obvious naming strategy outlined at Apple, they always do their due diligence when searching for a name. Segall confesses that even obvious product names like iMovie were hotly contested amongst creative staff. Can you imagine and iVideo, or iMovieMaker. I am sure they all were considered. By considering all options you sometimes eliminate doubt. I always say that you need to let the bad ideas out of your system you that you can find the good.
After making a pitch for the name iMac a second time, Segall heard rumors that Steve was testing the name amongst several of his peers. This was not detailed marketing research or a formal screening process. This was simply Steve asking the people that he trusted to give him solid advice. These weren’t just any people though, they were those whom Steve felt could add value to his thinking process.
We will never know exactly what any of those advisors said, but whatever it was, we can all be glad that they said what they did. If they hadn’t, I may have found myself writing this post on my MacMan Pro.