What do we call it? The hidden costs of D-I-Y naming projects and the three lessons you should know

“Everyone can write. Ergo, we are all Namers.”

Picture this.

You’re a marketing manager of an Australian company who’s received the green light from your C-Suite for a new game-changing gizmo. The room is charged with optimism. And then six words are spoken — words that have been repeated at the beginning of every venture from Sean’s Kitchen to Samsung: “So, what do we call it?”. You give your best ‘I’ve got this' look because after all, everyone can write. You’re not panicked. The launch is a year away.

How hard can naming be?

You head back to your desk and blast out an email:
"Dear Tamara (Technical Writer), Dan (Digital Designer), Peter (Product Manager), and Margaret (Marketing Coordinator). Please attend tomorrow’s brainstorming meeting armed with your best name for the new gizmo."

Yup, 24 hours should be plenty of time.

Now fast forward to three months before the launch. You’re sitting in a crisis meeting, your hair has turned white, and you’re convincing management they need to hire a professional naming consultant. Or else your new gizmo is really going to be called ‘gizmo’.

What the heck just happened?

In this article, I’ll walk you through the hidden costs of do-it-yourself naming projects and the three lessons you should know before you put pen to paper.

PART 1: The sniper approach and the battle of the egos

One of the first mistakes in a do-it-yourself naming projects is to believe you’re trying to come up with one perfect name. Unfortunately, what happens in naming committees is your perfect name gets shot down by Peter the Product Manager, because secretly he believes his name is the perfect name. And so does Tamara. And Dan. And Margaret. Your brainstorming session ends up devolving into a battle of egos.

Because at heart, everyone wants to win the name game.

So after round one fails, where everyone’s names are mutually rejected, you decide to cast the net a little further and give the overseas offices a go so they can submit their ‘perfect’ name. Round 2 rolls around and the same thing happens. You roll for a third time thinking you’ll get lucky, but no dice.

Cost: $7,500 — (3 rounds of naming with 10 people x 15 hours each at $50 average per hour)

Key takeaway: Don’t search for the ‘perfect’ name. It doesn’t exist. Instead, solve the naming problem with brute force. Create hundreds of names per project and keep your committees small. 1-3 people are plenty. If you have more people at the table than names on the table, you're doing it all wrong.

PART 2: LCD and the curse of comfortability

Let’s imagine you get to the stage where everyone in the committee agrees on a name. You pat yourselves on the back — all ten of you.

Unfortunately that name is likely doomed.

Why? Because it's attempting to appeal to the largest possible number of people. As a result it ends up feeling comfortable yet unexciting. It's like ten people trying to agree upon one ice-cream flavour: you'll end up with chocolate or vanilla. In essence, the name is an LCD (lowest common denominator). LCD names are bland, boring and tend to blend in with your competition.

And not being seen — well, that is the antithesis of marketing.

Wide-eyed and full of hope, you unwittingly take your LCD name to Tom the trademark attorney, and he performs a legal prescreening of the name: R.E.J.E.C.T.E.D. The name turns up conflicts within your industry classes. This happens a few times: you soon learn it’s best not to try descriptive, latin-esque, zodiac signs, and copycat names, or any other predictable paths that lead to failure.

Cost: $10,000 — (additional rounds of naming with the committee, plus 5 x trademark attorney pre-screens)

Key takeaway: Set clear naming objectives from the onset of every naming project and make sure one of them is to create a distinctive name — one that stands out from your competitors. Descriptive names are difficult to trademark. Instead, aim for evocative names (names like Virgin or Amazon, which are symbolic and tell a story) or poetic invented names (like Google or Kodak that sound natural and are fun to say ). They’re more likely to pass trademark and to stand out in a crowd.

PART 3: Jumping the gun and neglecting the HiPPO

So you’ve now set your naming objectives, you’ve cut your committee back to three people, and you’ve selected a name that stands out from the competition. Nothing can go wrong, right? You take your brand new shiny name to Tom the attorney again. He performs a full trademark screening and hooray, there’s no conflict. You go ahead and register with IP Australia. You even get Dan the designer to start crafting up a logo. Everyone loves it. It looks great on the brochure. And you’re about to order some t-shirts with the name when your boss taps you on the shoulder and says:

“Bad news, Greg doesn’t like the name, he thinks it sounds like a disease.”

Who the bleep is Greg you ask? Well, since you’ve burnt the last 6 months, in that time there’s been a new General Manager appointed. Greg the GM likes to put his mark on everything, unlike his predecessor who didn’t want to get involved with the nitty-gritty. But alas, you didn’t consult Greg. Greg is what we call a HiPPO — Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. So in light of this bad news, don't count on your colleagues to come running to your aid. Suddenly they’re all saying “yeah, I never liked that name either”.

And just like that, the well has been poisoned and it’s back to the drawing board ... and holy crap, now Greg is trying to come up with his one ‘perfect’ name.

Cost: $15,000 — (additional rounds of naming with the committee, a full legal screening, IP registration, logo designs, plus the GMs time)

Key takeaway: Always identify your HiPPOs — the key stakeholders and decision-makers who can affect your naming project. They have the power to stomp a project dead in its tracks — no matter how far along you are. Find out if your HiPPO wants to get their hands dirty in the decision-making process, or if they’re happy to leave it up to you. Note that happy HiPPOs are rare breeds and despite what they say, keep them in the loop with regular updates. 

Conclusion

We now have a clearer picture how three months before the launch we’re without a name, we’ve just racked up over $30k, and you’re pleading to hire a professional naming consultant.

These costs aren't always obvious at the start, or acknowledged at the end, of a naming project. But when you add up everyone's time spent trying to craft a 'perfect' name, the countless hours wasted debating names in large committee meetings, the failed IP pre-screenings, and the premature trademark registrations and logo designs, it’s not hard to see how we’ve reached such an alarming cost. And while this article may be fictional, the sentiment is real.

But don't dismay. If you follow the three key takeaways, you should be well on your way to avoiding the hidden costs of a do-it-yourself naming project.

Adam Diggens is the founder of Truffles a strategic brand naming agency.