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In this episode, CEO and co-founder Mike Carr dismantles common misconceptions surrounding naming projects, revealing the nuances that contribute to successful brand naming. 

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Unrealistic Expectations and False Assumptions:

Often in naming there are a variety of unrealistic expectations and false assumptions clients bring to naming projects. When initial expectations clash with the intricate reality of crafting a brand or company name, it’s time to dive in and dispel some common myths and misconceptions.

Familiarity Breeds Fanaticism:

Delving deeper, Carr explores the psychological aspect of familiarity with a name. He draws parallels with the saying “familiarity breeds contempt” and explains how, in naming, it often leads to fanaticism. The audience gains insights into why clients might become overly attached to a name, even if it isn’t the optimal choice.

“Familiarity with a name doesn’t breed contempt, it breeds fanaticism.” -Mike Carr

The Myth of the Perfect Name:

Carr challenges the myth of the perfect name, using the examples of Uber and Lyft. He highlights that success lies not just in the name itself but in the strategic actions taken post-naming. This section emphasizes the need to move beyond the quest for an elusive perfect name and focus on building a brand around it.

Short Names vs. Long Names:

The debate between short and long names takes center stage as Carr provides a nuanced perspective. While acknowledging the benefits of shorter names, he argues that longer names can offer better protectability and convey more meaning. Real-world examples like Patagonia and Screaming Yellow Zonkers illustrate the effectiveness of longer names.


Embracing Controversy in Naming:

Safe names are often perceived as the best choice to avoid controversy. Carr, however, advocates for names with a bit of edge or risk, provided they don’t alienate the target audience. This section encourages businesses to consider the potential of memorable and exciting, albeit controversial, names.

DIY Naming Pitfalls:

Carr explores the challenges of a do-it-yourself approach to naming. He highlights the pitfalls of employee naming contests and reliance on AI name generators. The audience gains insights into why external perspectives and expert guidance are crucial in navigating the complexities of brand naming.

Consensus vs. Passion:

The consensus approach to naming is scrutinized, with Carr emphasizing the importance of having a few passionate stakeholders. He argues that consensus often leads to watered-down names lacking passion, whereas having a passionate few can drive successful outcomes.

CEO’s Love Affair with a Name:

The potential challenges arising from a CEO’s strong preference for a particular name are explored. Carr advises a thorough examination of the reasons behind the CEO’s choice, considering legal, linguistic, and cultural factors to ensure global suitability.

In conclusion, the concept of name failing serves as a valuable learning experience. It’s important to embrace mistakes and learn from them, ultimately guiding businesses toward successful and impactful brand names. Instead of viewing name failing as a setback, see it as an essential step in the journey of mastering the art of naming.


Megan Dzialo (00:04):

Welcome back to Naming in an AI Age and happy Tuesday everyone. It’s not Monday, it’s not Friday. It’s just a solid Tuesday morning. And today’s episode is titled Name Failing is Awesome. That’s right. Failing is awesome, at least when it comes to brand or company naming. Of course, I have Mike Carr, name, stormers founder and CEO with me. And Mike, this idea of name failing being awesome came from you, and we need to know what do you mean exactly by name failing?

Mike Carr (00:37):

Great question as always. And what we have discovered and seen almost without exception is clients will have unrealistic expectations or false assumptions going into a naming project. And then it turns out not to be as easy as they thought it would, or they can’t get consensus or a myriad of other things happen and the project fails. And so that’s what I mean by name failing, and we’ll talk a little bit here in a minute about why I think it’s awesome.

Megan Dzialo (01:13):

Okay, so you mentioned false assumptions. Let’s talk about some of these false assumptions. One of the things that we have heard is, I’ll just know the right name when I see it.

Mike Carr (01:25):

Yeah, there’s a saying that I think a lot of folks have heard that familiarity breeds contempt, right? The more you get to know somebody, you learn about their weaknesses, and this person that you put on a pedestal, you find out, well, maybe they’re not all as cool and neat as you initially thought. And with naming, usually the opposite is true. Instead of familiarity breeds contempt, familiarity breeds fanaticism, just this unbelievable allegiance to a name. And we’ve seen this with our large pharmaceutical clients and our large technology clients that will have a project name that they want to use internally for a while until the pharmaceutical goes through clinical trials or until the new chip set is actually designed and works. And so it’ll languish or it won’t languish, it’ll stay alive in the organization for a number of months. In a few cases, even a couple of years, inevitably, that name is the lead horse. Everyone’s become familiar with it. They’ve started using it in conversations. It’s come alive for them and they just love it. And it can be the worst possible name you can imagine. But boy, they think that is the name just because it’s become familiar and it’s sort of grown on them.

Megan Dzialo (02:45):

So then what about, here’s another false assumption that people make. The perfect name is going to make us successful,

Mike Carr (02:54):

And I think that puts much too heavy A load on the name itself, a great name or a good name with the right potential will get you part of the way there, no question about that. But then what you do, of course, with the name gets you the rest of the point, gets you past the finish line. And there are lots of examples of this, but one of the examples I think everybody’s familiar with is Uber versus Lyft.


Uber is not a very good name almost by any measure. Uber sounds like Uber, which is the snot that comes out of your kid’s nose. I mean, there are all kinds of associations that may not make a whole lot of sense. What’s an Uber? An Uber could be anything. An Uber could be something you eat. An Uber could be a new drink. An Uber doesn’t say anything about a ride sharing service. Lyft on the other hand, Hey, I need a Lyft. It is built into the English language. What a brilliant name. And the fact that they changed the I to AY gives it a little bit more of a brand appeal. It looks pretty cool in a logo. So on most of the research that we would do, I think Lyft would outscore Uber by a mile on many dimensions. But if you look at market share, there was a study done recently and Uber had about 73% of the market, and Lyft had 27%, about almost three to one. Is that because of the name? Clearly not. It’s because Uber has done a lot of other things in terms of what they’ve wrapped around the name, the tagline, the marketing, the logo, all the other stuff. So perfect name, don’t think so. Every name’s got some issues, but there’s this next step. And so we want to get you to where that name has that potential, and then it’s up to you to make it really shine and sparkle and do all the other things you want it to do.

Megan Dzialo (04:41):

So speaking of names like Uber and Lyft, a lot of people, another false assumption, especially these days is we should only go with a short name, super short name. That’s easy to say and easy to spell.

Mike Carr (04:54):

Yeah, there has been research done and we read these studies and you try to stay up on the studies that come out from academia and elsewhere. There certainly have been studies done that say a shorter name tends to be less complicated. It’s easier to say, it’s easier to spell, and it may be in some cases easier to remember. The problem is in today’s world, and we’ve been doing this since 1985, so we’ve seen this evolution over 35, 40 years. Now. In today’s world, you give up an awful lot when trying to go with a shorter name in terms of protectability from a legal standpoint, what that name actually will convey. And there are great examples out there of longer names, which are far more protectable. You can really own the ip, you can really build a strong value prop and brand around the name that no one can even get close to.


And yet it’s longer, but it also still is easy to remember and still resonates. So two examples in two different categories, Patagonia, I mean, I think many people have heard about Patagonia. They’ve got a great reputation and they’ve stayed very authentic to their roots, nature and environmental correctness and all that kind of stuff. It’s a fairly complicated name to say, granted, it’s one word, but it’s many syllables and a lot of folks probably couldn’t spell it properly. Another name that’s even longer than that in a totally different category is screaming yellow zonks now screaming yellow zonks. It’s hard to fit on a package, three words, all kinds of issues with a name that long for most of our clients. But it cuts through the clutter. It’s easy to remember, and it elicits the question, what in the world is a screaming yellower yonker? People just don’t forget that name mean, and what you understand is popcorn, yellow popcorn. Well, it really makes sense. So the fact that, yeah, short name would be great, and research supports short names, there are other problems with short names in today’s world that you need to sort of consider and not totally dismiss out of hand and name that’s longer, but still does all the other things really, really well.

Megan Dzialo (07:15):

Okay, so we have a couple more false assumptions here. We should only go with a safe name that doesn’t stir up controversy or that a competitor can’t joke about. What do you think about that?

Mike Carr (07:28):

So it goes back, I think, to this whole idea that I want the perfect name and the best brands out there today globally in the us, whatever market you’re talking about, are not the safest names, almost without exception. And there are lots of reasons for that. One of the reasons for that is a safe name that has no possible off color meaning or misinterpretation or association with something else typically is a boring name. It just doesn’t elicit any interest. Safe doesn’t equal excitement. Safe equals sounds like everybody else’s name. And so names that have a little bit of an edge to them or that a little bit risky, or they do something that raises a few eyebrows. As long as it doesn’t turn off the majority of your target or the majority of your prospective customers is almost always a better way to go. Plus, when you ask the question in a naming session, and so many of our clients do this, and this is, I understand why it’s an important question to ask, but when you ask it and how you think about it is key here. Do not ask the question at the beginning or in the middle of a naming project, what’s wrong with this name? Because Nobody thinks about a name that way. Well, our competitors might make fun of us because this name, who cares? Let your competitors talk about your name. Man, that would be fantastic. You get that word out.


But as soon as you start thinking about what’s wrong with the name, it’s a very artificial way to think about a name. Nobody thinks about names that way very few of your customers ever would. And it opens up a lot of potential problems that never really surface. And a great example is international business machines. I went around the country for a long time talking to different groups about what do you think of when you hear IBM? And some people say international business machines. Some people say big blue, some people say you’ll never get fired if you go with IBM. Nobody ever mentioned though the following. If I asked the question, what’s wrong with IBM? A few people might say, well, it’s an acronym, and acronyms aren’t very good. People can’t remember what they are, and that’s true. But if you think about bmm and what that also means, big negative, right? Big red light, all kinds of problems. Nobody, and I’ve talked to a lot of folks about this, has ever brought that issue up unless you ask the question, what’s wrong with IBM? What

Megan Dzialo (10:07):

Is the issue with bmm?

Mike Carr (10:10):

Yeah, exactly. So that’s the challenge.

Megan Dzialo (10:13):

Is it bowel movement? What is it?

Mike Carr (10:15):

Yes, that’s it. I just want to, do you really want to name a computer after a bowel movement, right? Oh, the competitors are going to make so much fun of us, right? Well, IBM for a while was the top dog, right? They led the business, they had a gargantuan market share, the mainframe space. Nobody could touch them in spite of or perhaps because of their name. And nobody pointed out that I ever heard what bmm might be associated with.

Megan Dzialo (10:42):

Got it. So then what about we know our business, we can come up with a name ourselves. Some people don’t want to reach out and go outside of their own business because they don’t think that anybody else could possibly understand them, or why would we elicit somebody else to come up with our own brand name when we know what we do?

Mike Carr (11:01):

Right? Many of our projects over the years have been from folks that have tried this, and there’s many problems with this. One is it’s often hard to see the name in the same light. Your customers will see it in. You’re too much into the weeds, your business, and you talk about your business making some assumptions that you don’t even realize you’re making because you’ve been doing this forever or because you’re really into it. Whereas someone that doesn’t know you that well, they don’t understand that complexity. And so you need to back up and make it much simpler, much clearer, much more concise. And so often we’ll get projects where client will have done the employee naming contest, and they don’t think any of the names are any good, right? They’re all about in the weeds. This is the someone inside the company thinks it’s not what’s going to resonate with our customers or our partners or our investors or whomever else.


And so there’s that level of frustration that’s created. And then they’ll go to the AI name generators, and we’ve talked about AI ad nauseum throughout this process, this podcast, and we’ll continue to do so over different episodes. I think there are some really great ways to use ai, especially as AI matures and becomes a little bit more user-friendly. The gooeys, the front ends become a little bit more accessible, and you don’t have to be such a great prompt engineer to sort of get the kind of results you want. But the thing that AI still does is it generates an overwhelming number of names that all are very similar to what’s out there. So what clients come to us and say is, look, we’ve got 500 names for the employee naming contest, or we’ve used the AI name generator and we’ve got 5,000 names and we have no idea if any of these are any good.


You can’t get through the clutter. There’s just too much noise. There’s no spark of human creativity. There’s no differentiation. AI is fundamentally built, at least the large language models, the L LMSs, they’re fundamentally built on pattern recognition. They take this massive amount of data from the internet or wherever, and they anticipate the next route or the next letter or the next word, based upon historically what’s been used. Well, that is a terrible approach from a naming standpoint. You want to name this different, that cuts through the clutter that you creates some excitement and energy because, oh, wow, what’s that? Not, well, this sounds like everything else that’s already out there. So it’s tough to come up with a name on your own because you run into these problems with frustration because the employees aren’t coming up with anything being overwhelmed because they’re too many choices that the AI tools out there generating. And then you’ve got a variety of other problems, which we may talk about here in just a second, but those are just a couple of them.

Megan Dzialo (13:52):

So let’s talk about how else you have seen companies fail at naming more specifically seeking consensus.

Mike Carr (14:00):

Yeah, the consensus idea to me is one of the biggest problems. And I think there’s a lot of research, and I don’t think this is necessarily going to surprise anybody, but you don’t want a consensus name almost without exception, because, and we’ve done this with small groups, we’ve done this with large groups, we brought in employees, we brought in a small set of customers. The whole point is consensus names tend to be names that no one really strongly objects to, but just by that fact, no one really likes either. So it tends to be these watered down names that nobody’s passionate about, but also no one will object to. And in larger companies in particular that have multiple layers of decision makers, unfortunately, that’s often where they end up. And it’s this never an optimal outcome, right? Far better that a few people are passionate about it, especially the folks in marketing and sales and are responsible for building the brand and everybody else is ambivalent, right? It’s okay. I mean, I’m not really sold on it yet, but I’m not objecting to it. And you let the folks that are passionate run with it, that is a far better outcome than trying to seek consensus from the group.

Megan Dzialo (15:16):

Okay? So you have on one camp somebody or group trying to get consensus among everybody, but then you have the opposite issue of that one CEO or that one really important decision maker. Somebody high up the chain that is just in love with this one name that they feel, is it? What are the issues there?

Mike Carr (15:37):

And that happens a lot. So here’s some of the gotchas that we’ve been involved with with many clients is why does the CEO like it? So you have to sort of peel the layers of the onion, because often they can’t tell you, it just resonates with them. And you sort of dive down deep and you get a feeling, well, my wife really likes it, or A friend of mine whom I trust thought this was a great idea mean. So where is it coming from? Or if they have some rationale, let’s understand what that rationale is. Does it have the right meaning? Is it easy to say? Does it convey certain things? Whatever that might be. Have you vetted it legally? Often when the CEO takes that name to his or her legal, well, they can’t use it. It conflicts with someone’s trademark. It has a variety of other legal issues the dot com’s already taken, et cetera.


Or if you vet it linguistically and culturally, especially if it’s outside the us and even in the US more and more these days, Spanish is just a mandatory, right? If it doesn’t work in Spanish, if it causes confusion for Spanish speakers sort of off the table, there are other languages that are becoming more important. And certainly outside the US it’s just this myriad of not just language problems, but just cultural issues. So when you start vetting these names around the world or in your key markets, I can almost promise you that if you’ve only got one name, there are probably going to be some issues with that name. So the thing that we want the CEO to appreciate and recognize is let’s test it with a large enough set of your customers in these different markets or without throughout the us, and let them tell you, and let us watch how they react to a name.


So you have some hard data, it might support your opinion, and that’s great. Then you feel like you’ve done your due diligence. And when you go to the board and say you want to change the company name or whatever’s, the next step is you feel much more confident. Or if it doesn’t, at least you have reason to pause and reconsider. So that’s another that we think is important. And another reason for name failing, right? Don’t fall in love with just one name. Have a couple strong backups. When we work for a client and they tell us we’re done, and we ask, well, okay, what’s the name you think you’re going to afford with? And they tell us. We always ask the follow-up question, and what’s your backup? And if there’s a pause and we say, well, we’re not done and we don’t charge you any more money. I mean, we would like to be done But you need to have a second choice and maybe even a third choice in your hip pocket that you feel real good about. So if that top dog is knocked out because of legal or who knows what in the 11th hour, you don’t have to start all over again.

Megan Dzialo (18:33):

So then bring it home for us, Mike, tell us why overall, why is name failing? Awesome.

Mike Carr (18:39):

We wouldn’t be in business without it, right? If this was easy, right? If people didn’t fail at naming, they wouldn’t be coming to us and saying, oh, this is just awful. We’ve just wasted six months and we spent all this money on collateral and packaging, and now legal has told us we can’t use it. Or our partner in Germany has told us, oh, well, this means something weird in German. We didn’t realize until the 11th hour. If This was easy. And if people didn’t fail at naming, we would never have grown. We have and been successful. We have for 35 plus years, whatever it is. The second reason is if you learn from your mistakes, and we have a lot of clients and a lot of agencies, quite frankly, that we work with over the years, and we’ll take them through the process and we’ll sort of show them how to navigate all these challenges, which inevitably are going to come up, right? We know not everything’s going to go smoothly. It never does. You don’t know exactly where you’re going to stub your toe. You’ll get it. You’ll start getting used to, okay, I’m learning from the mistakes we’ve made. I know the employee naming contest probably isn’t the best thing to do. I know we need to bring legal in earlier. I know we need to do all these other things.


You’ll get it right. You will improve. And we want that to happen. We want our clients to be successful. We want you to be able to come up with names without as much of our involvement, maybe with some guidance from us from time to time. But failing is how you learn. If you don’t fail, if you don’t make mistakes, and believe me, naming is fraught with those types of potential mistakes. You’re not going to get any better at it. And so that’s part of what we try to help our folks do and our clients do throughout this process.

Megan Dzialo (20:15):

So name failing is awesome, but in all seriousness, we would love to prevent you from failing at naming. While we do believe there are so many great lessons to be learned from failing at naming, we have already learned a lot of those lessons ourselves after three plus decades of naming, which really is Mike’s three plus decades of naming and mistakes.

Mike Carr (20:36):

You don’t think you’ve been around for three decades, Megan? I

Megan Dzialo (20:38):

Mean, come on. Barely three decades and some change. But we can keep you from the heartbreak, the frustration, and the financial losses of coming up with a name that’s not going to go the distance for you or be a wild success. So if you do have a naming conundrum or you’re not sure where to go or what to do, we’d love for you guys to reach out to us through our website. Let’s have a conversation, see what we can do to get you on the right track. So we’ll see you next week.

Mike Carr (21:05):

See you guys. Bye-Bye.

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