So Many Choices, so Few Names

During this era of consumption, western societies’ local supermarkets have commonly stocked shelves with 250 varieties of cookies, 75 types of ice teas, 230 Soups and 175 salad dressings. The amount of decisions we make each day varies significantly, but the amount of choices for inconsequential purchases are on overload. As marketers, our job is to breakthrough the noise. With the sheer amount of options, the medium and message hinges more than ever on good naming.

When I participated in the naming process for dozens of healthcare IT solutions at my company, I have frequently quoted Claude C. Hopkins, “The right name is an advertisement in itself”. For trivial choices (Coke vs. Pepsi) and profound ones, the product or service’s name should symbolize something for the consumer. The classic marketing book “Positioning the Battle of your Mind” presents the approach of creating a “position” in a prospective customer’s mind. The authors Al Ries and Jack Trout were ahead of their time when the book initially launched in the 1980’s. Today, a similar “customer is boss” mentality is instituted today by Procter & Gamble and companies worldwide. That same consumer-centric mindset should be existent in product naming too. It’s not about what the product names means to the producer, but what the name conveys to the receiver.

One of my favorite naming examples tops the chart of many best naming lists – Sony’s Walkman. The Walkman was a portable audio music player and transformed music listening. The Walkman went beyond describing the product, it told the consumer what you could do with the product. This customer-focused name, Walkman, focuses on satisfying the needs of customer.

Of course there is far more to a brand’s success than the name, but many product failures exemplify what happens when naming goes wrong. Some would ague, the perfect name isn’t essential for the onset of the product, but the ramifications of changing the name later can be significant. Even before an external launch, the internal naming used during its development can linger for years forcing marketers to spend time rebuilding the internal brand.

It is important to get ahead of the naming process before bad naming spreads internally at the onset of product. I’ve reviewed dozens of blogs, articles and books on naming practices. In search of a tool to incorporate the “consumer is boss” naming mentality into the naming process, I created a Naming Mind Map:


This mind map, placed in a Microsoft Word template, helps marketing strategists and business owners to create a common thread connecting the products or services associated with the new product of service while conveying differentiation. At the onset of a product creation, documenting what the new offering does for the customer and what it is forecasted to do helps get closer to determining a name that will be well positioned in the prospective customer’s mind.

Mind mapping is defined as a learning technique which uses a non-linear approach to learning that forces the learner to think and explore concepts using visuospatial relationships. Naming is complex and a non-linear approach is necessary. To add to the complexity, the amount of choices customers have that includes direct or indirect competitors constantly grows. The Naming Mind Map provides a starting point for considering the many variables. Before a dollar is spent in advertising and promotion there needs to be careful consideration of a name. A name that is meaningful to your customer is more likely to withstand the test of time and pay off in the long run.

One thought on “So Many Choices, so Few Names

  1. I know the main thrust of the post was on naming conventions, but the sheer amount of choice you referenced at the beginning of the article could not help me think about the cliche that, “less is more…” I think this is the testament of the success of the likes of Trader Joe’s, which can punch above its weight on margin per square foot and can drive customer satisfaction and loyalty by providing good products with simple and eponymous names while eliminating the overwhelming clutter of too many choices with a product line and too many names to pick from, even within one company (i.e. the 500 versions of Colgate).

    Liked by 1 person

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