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Product names

Purple or Prosaic?
It’s a tricky business naming a product. The first decision is probably to work out whether you want something suggestive, creative and ephemeral, or something literal and descriptive.

I always want to go down the purple path, but common sense (usually) eventually kicks in.

The right way to go might depend on a few variables:

  • the nature of the product (Socket Set versus CK One)
  • names of competitor products (Jif, Vim, Bam)
  • fit with other products you make (iSnack 2.0???)
  • your target market (Carlton Draft versus Mountain Goat Hightail Ale)
  • and more

In the end, you want a name that resonates with the right people at the right time.

Getting the right ‘feel’
When I was thinking of a name for this business, I thought literal (Content Strategy Australia), personal (Ryan Strategy Group), evocative (too embarrassing to reveal) and thematic (WordWork) before hitting on Sitegeist. It’s a name that not everyone ‘gets’, but it works for me because it captured the spirit of the business I wanted to run:

  • clever
  • funny
  • sophisticated
  • self-aware

Not everyone likes it, but most of my clients do.

Slipstream what?
I recently helped Ben, a friend and former colleague, come up with a name for some software he has developed. The original name – ‘Slipstream’ – was evocative; meant to imply speed and ease – two of the product’s main attributes. It was also already being used, so he chose another name – this one far more thematic and overt about the actual product: WindowFlow.

In hindsight, he was lucky my initial suggestion wasn’t available; the new name is clearer, less ambiguous, and should work better with the product’s target market. Smart thinking.

What tree?
I also worked for a while on the popular online travel bulletin board at Lonely Planet, the Thorn Tree. A great name…if you already knew what it was.

But, as a smart website manager asked me, why would anyone click on those words in a navigation menu? She was right. The product name was too obscure. The result was a product that felt just a bit too ‘clubby’ and exclusive.

Solution? Simple: call it “Thorn Tree travel forum”. It retains its quirky on-brand identity, and also “says what it is on the tin”. Bingo.

Research. There it is again.
A word of warning, though. When naming a product, do a bit of research into what the words actually mean. Toyota’s Starlet is a good example: A starlet is a young movie star with potential. Yes. But another common definition is “a young and inexperienced actress who is projected as a potential star”. Overhyped. Hmmm.

Another car model is the Mirage: “Something illusory”. And there’s the whole Pajero=wanker debacle. Or does it mean “straw seller”. Or is it just an urban myth?

Here’s a fun product, snapped in a shop window in the charming Victorian town of Beaufort last weekend. It’s always worth checking out any slang implications for your product name too…

Children's toy called the Sit 'n Spin


Date: Friday, 12. March 2010 10:13
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Subject area: Being good, Pedantry
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