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Naming in an A.I. Age Episode #3

Remember the classic arcade game “Whack-a-Mole?” Insert your tokens and then try to nail the plastic gopher with a rubber mallet? The client dynamic we have come to refer to as “Whack-a-Mole” decision-making can be much more confusing and frustrating than the lighthearted purpose of the nostalgic game. When clients provide feedback on generated creative from presentation to presentation, it’s important to keep the naming needs focused and organized to ensure the smoothest creative process possible.

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Episode Three of “Naming in an AI Age” Podcast 

Adelaide Brown: 

Welcome back to “NameStorming in an AI Age.” You may think for those of you listening, I guess you can’t tell, but if you’re watching, you can see that Mike and I accidentally coordinated our outfits. So, we’re not talking about twins today or anything related to that, but thought we would just dive in. 

Hearing a little bit more about the ins and outs of how NameStormers as a company works and how you’re able to develop names out of that. So naming is such a niche, Mike, in and of itself. You mentioned that in our first episode. So why do you think clients or companies typically reach out to you in the first place? 

Mike Carr: 

Well, I think it’s about- partially it’s about how do we decide if the name we’ve come up with is a good name, right? It’s, it’s this always this uncertainty. Are we picking the best name? Is it a name that’s gonna work for our audience? Is it gonna be different? And these are all questions that if you’ve never gone through this before, or even if you have, this is sort of like a checklist that we recommend you sort of follow in starting the naming journey. And so, the first question is, what’s the desired outcome? And then that might seem obvious, but it’s an important question to ask, right? Is the desired outcome first and foremost to bring in more business? Or is the desired outcome, perhaps more importantly, to excite the crew internally, right? 

Our, our internal team, you know that there’s been lethargy creeping through the company, or the culture isn’t going the way we want to. And so, our, our desired outcome is really more of let’s energize our troops, let’s energize our crew. So, getting that one nailed first is pretty darn important. And part of that, of course, is the target, right? 

So, what’s the desired outcome and who are you targeting? Usually, the target is not you. I, I hate to say it that way, but it’s, it is the case. It’s like, if you think you’re the one that understands your customer and that customer is significantly younger than you, you’re just flat wrong. I mean, we’ve done enough work for the millennial marketplace to know that a boomer cannot understand everything that a millennial thinks about. 

A millennial cannot understand all the mindsets that a Gen Z is coming from. And now even we have the Gen Alphas, which some of our customers are talking about. So, depending upon that, that generation being receptive to others’ opinions and doing some type of testing, whether it’s formal, informal, is another huge part of starting that, that journey. 

And part of what customers come to us for is, you know, well help us understand what we need to do with the name. And so, you know, what’s your objective, who you’re targeting, and then help us assess and ascertain. Is this a good name or not?  

Adelaide Brown: 

Yeah, I mean, I’ve only been working for you- I’m about to hit a year- and you’ve been doing this for over 35 years. And even I, in the shorter time that I’ve been here have seen a lot of companies come for, cause they have either internal disagreement or they’re just seeking that third party kind of unbiased, professional opinion. And you always say there’s no such thing as an unbiased opinion, but there’s usually that kind of internal disagreement or need for the creative matched with the quantitative data, and I think NameStormers just compliments both of those needs so beautifully.  

Mike Carr: 

Yeah, I would agree. I think there’s always, um, there’s always some bias in every situation and what we wanna recommend to anybody that’s coming up with a name is: understand when it’s biased, that’s unrealistic or when you really are sort of wrapping real world context around the name, which makes a huge difference. Right? So, when we test names and what we’d recommend you guys do is whether it’s an app on a phone mm-hmm. You actually show the home screen. If it’s a new product that’s gonna appear on a webpage, show a picture of the product, if it’s something that’s gonna appear in a retail setting, show the packaging. 

Then the drop the names on that or talk about the names in the context of that visual, uh, whatever words, you know, the tagline, the catchphrases on package or on the homepage. That’s really the context in which your target or your employees are gonna see the name. And so, while you may say, well, that’s biasing them, in our opinion, it’s, it’s more real world, right? 

If that’s really how they’re going to engage with that name, especially the first time or two, you’re creating more of a real-world situation setting, and so you’re not trying to introduce anything that would be an artificial bias. You’re really trying to just present the name in as true and authentic context as possible. 

Adelaide Brown: 

That makes a ton of sense. Not necessarily as some of the executives or people in these meetings that are come coming up with the name would see the name potentially, but more as their consumer. And you’re working with real-world, top-level executives, how do you as an independent contractor kind of come in and navigate these company dynamics of a client? 

And who do you prefer as your key point of contact? How do you pick the team members to be a part of these calls? What kind of role do you play there?  

Mike Carr: 

Yeah, and I think this is another good topic for anybody that’s thinking about a name, and they have a team and they wanna try to understand how broad a net they cast, right? 

Usually the smaller the group, the easier it is to arrive at some decision. The optimal outcome is not consensus, right? If to get everybody involved and everyone to agree on a name usually means you end up with a name that nobody hates, but that nobody loves, right? It’s this compromised name. It’s far better to have a name that a few are passionate about and everyone else is sort of ambivalent about with maybe even a couple skeptics, right? So that’s a much better starting point because the name is a little bit edgy or a little bit different. And the kinds of people that I think have a perspective on that, that we like to have on our calls, or certainly somebody like who’s in charge of the brand, or who’s in charge of the marketing. Often, it’s good to have some sales folks, gals, guys that involve, you know, with the actual customer interactions. Mm-hmm.  

Um, from a political standpoint, it might help to have the people that are actually developing the product, or the service involved and their opinion, depending upon their marketing savvy and brand savvy, may not be as important as others, but their involvement certainly is to get buy-in on the tail end. 

So, we always recommend, try to include the key stakeholders. So, that if you do that upfront, then towards the end when you’re trying to get everyone to agree that this is the name, even though not everyone’s gonna be equally excited about it, that agreement’s easier to achieve. Because at least they feel like their opinion was heard at the outset of the project. 

Adelaide Brown: 

Yeah. And, and thinking more about their opinions or different perspectives from name to name, round to round, what do you think is the best way to garner effective feedback from one round to the next when you have so many different voices or so many different perspectives coming from different silos of companies? 

Mike Carr: 

So, we never let anybody say anything bad about any name we present, which tends to drive folks crazy, right? Because the natural and the easiest way to evaluate names is as the critic. Yeah. It’s much easier to think about why something won’t work versus why it might work. And that’s the wrong mindset because there’s no such thing as a perfect name, and the best names often have, quite frankly, the most glaring problems. And I’ll give you a real-world example that we worked on. Years ago, Boston Beer came to us. And they’re the makers of Sam Adams beer and other things, and they wanted to introduce a product that was more appealing to the gals. A lot of the, the gals didn’t really like the taste of Sam Adams, or they didn’t like the alcohol content, but they still wanted to go out to the bar with their friends or with their significant other or their husband or whatever and enjoy a night out. 

And so, they came up with, Boston Beer came up with, a hard cider. It was a little bit sweeter. It was a little bit lighter. It didn’t have, you know, quite as much of the alcohol. And it really did appeal to not just gals, but guys too. But they were really targeting that segment. And so, we came up with the name, you know, Angry Orchard. 

Now, that was not a name that, right outta the shoot, garnered “oh wow. That’s it.”, right? It was like, what? I mean, why would you put angry in the name for anything? Right? Why are you gonna remind them of being angry? That’s not why they’re going out to the bar. They want to de-stress from a hard week or whatever it is. 

But what they warmed up to and what we tried to help guide the conversation around was, well, “Angry” takes you to alcohol, right? It’s not just a traditional apple cider. It’s a hard cider. How do you say hard in a more engaging way. Well, angry. And then “Orchard” gave them the runway to come out with additional varieties down the road. 

So, they might have a peach flavor, or they might have some other fruit besides an apple, all of which go back to orchard. Then the last thing about angry was the best apples that make a cider are not the kind of apples you see in the grocery store that are nice and smooth and round. They’re the, the ugly knobby apples that you would never wanna buy and eat. 

And so, they, we did not do this. They, or their agency came up with what I thought was an incredible graphic. You know, it sort of looked like this, this old tree that you felt, sorry for. Sort of reminiscent of, you know, Charlie Brown’s Christmas cartoon where you feel really sorry for Charlie Brown, cuz you see this Christmas tree that he’s got, or Linus has got, you know, three ornaments and three pine needles and a couple scraggly branches. 

Well, the “Angry Orchard” tree sort of looks the same way. You know that it’s got these knobby apples on it. So, the graphics caught the eye of the consumer, the name was engaging and cut through the clutter. And so, sort of guiding down that path of, before you dismiss a name, what might it have going for it, and then having a conversation around, well, if we had to go with this name, why might it work? 

Before you let that negative and those concerns out on the table, so it gets a chance to get a little traction, and then towards the end of a client call, we recommend that you do open it up to criticism and concerns, right? Because that’s always a valid part, we think, of that session, or if you’re doing this yourselves, let your folks that have come up with the names talk about their concerns, but not at first, right? 

Try to guide that conversation around why names might work, and then you get people thinking the right way, right off the bat.  

Adelaide Brown: 

That is one of my favorite rules that we have. I was blown away when you first told me that that’s the way you kick off those feedback rounds, but getting to sit in on and then pitch different names and listen to how people have to kind of shift their mindset, it makes a ton of sense when thinking more about the positive. Because, we are, I think innately all glass half empty kind of thinkers.  

And I think that that also ties back just to the theme of our conversation around AI. There’s so much negative or concern around the technology and how it can be used. But there are also so many ways, especially as it relates to naming, to leverage this technology in tandem with human creativity and resources, et cetera, so…  

Mike Carr: 

Right, and that’s a great, that’s a great comment. So, if you use Chat GPT and you know, we have the API and you know, you really sort of need to get into the weeds a little bit. You know, you might ask it, well gimme the name for a hard cider and it may come back with some things. 

I doubt it would suggest angry as a synonym for hard. Mm-hmm. But then you would, you would query it a little bit further. Right. It, it might come back with things like, you know, well, hard orchard or hard apples, or who knows what. Right. It might still use, I might say, alcohol, you know, but then who wants alcohol in the name? Yeah. But then you query it a little bit further and you say, well, I don’t want synonyms for the word hard. Show me the context in which hard has been used. You may or may not get a response back, but with just a couple queries, you might see a, a sentence that talks about, you know, “angry” as something that has been used before to refer to a hard beverage, right? 

It might not be a cider; it might be something else out there. It might not be in the US; it might be in the UK. And so, using that as sort of a brainstorming partner. Which we did not at the time, cause there wasn’t any AI at the time. But today, you know, using that as a brainstorming partner with some very intentional, well thought out queries, I think could get you to the same name that our team came up with, but maybe in a five minute or 10-minute session versus a couple hours of creative work- you know, everybody around a table with a whiteboard.  

Adelaide Brown: 

That makes total sense. Well, this has been a super enlightening conversation. Join us for the next episode when we’re gonna dig a little bit more into the nitty gritty details of how to pitch a name, the process, kind of before the feedback comes, and we’re excited to keep learning and creating this community. 

So, thanks, Mike.  

Mike Carr: 

Thank you, Adelaide. See you guys. 

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