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Unveiling Naming Challenges in Today’s Landscape

Welcome to our latest podcast episode where we embark on an in-depth exploration of the multifaceted world of naming. In this insightful discussion, we peel back the layers to dissect the various challenges, strategies, and nuances prevalent in today’s dynamic business environment when it comes to naming. 

Overcoming Personal and Professional Hurdles

Our conversation begins with a candid look at personal anecdotes, drawing parallels between personal athletic struggles and the steep learning curve experienced within the intricate field of naming. These reflections underscore the paramount importance of learning from setbacks and evolving through challenges, emphasizing the profound lessons gained from navigating adversity. 

Navigating Client Expectations Effectively

One of the focal points of our discussion revolves around the often misconstrued perceptions of instant, brilliant names. We delve into the art of managing client expectations, stressing the necessity of setting and sustaining realistic anticipations throughout the entirety of the naming process. By dismantling the myth of instantaneous naming epiphanies, we unveil the true essence of a thorough, meticulous naming journey. 

Tailoring Names for Diverse Clientele

The conversation seamlessly transitions into the critical aspect of tailoring names based on individual client needs, unique brand strategies, and the ever-evolving dynamics of the market. We unpack the significance of customization in the naming process, highlighting the pivotal role played by adaptability and flexibility in delivering names that resonate with clients and their audience. 

“What’s a great name for one client, for another client in exactly the same business could be an awful name.”

Insights into Navigating Technical Industries

Exploring the challenges embedded within naming highly technical industries, we navigate the complexities involved in naming scientific or technical products. Our discussion delves into leveraging the diverse expertise of teams, as well as the intricacies of crafting names for products or industries where scientific phrasing or highly technical jargon prevails. 

Effective Evaluation Strategies for Name Suggestions

Transitioning further, we shed light on the significance of employing focused evaluation strategies for proposed names. By uncovering the subtleties of presenting and evaluating name suggestions effectively, we unravel the critical components of successful name assessment, fostering a deeper understanding of the evaluative process. 

Understanding the Essence of Naming Research

Our discussion ventures into the realm of research, exploring its multifaceted nature within the context of naming. From legal considerations to cultural-linguistic nuances and market research essentials, we meticulously examine the indispensable role of research while steering clear of over-analysis pitfalls, providing a balanced approach to research endeavors. 

Key Insights for Successful Naming Projects 

As our conversation culminates, we distill the myriad discussions into seven key insights for successful naming projects. These insights encompass a spectrum of crucial factors including design elements, considerations for the target audience, and the significance of trademark considerations, offering a comprehensive framework for achieving naming success. 

  1. Names are just a preview, not the whole story.
  2. Design can turn a simple word into a captivating brand.
  3. If you look hard enough, every name has problems, but resist.
  4. Gut reactions matter, but a name can grow on you.
  5. Keep your target top of mind, the opinion that matters the most.
  6. Take a few names for a test drive before making any decisions.
  7. Keep your heart guarded until the name passes trademark.


Megan Dzialo (00:05): 

Well, hello, hello, and welcome back to naming in an AI Age with the name Megan Dzialo. And of course I have with me NameStormers, CEO, and Co-founder Mike Carr. In the last few weeks we’ve been talking about things like why name failing is awesome, what to do if you get that big no on your most beloved name. We’ve discussed the ins and outs of trademarking, and today we’re going to keep that negative momentum going. We’re going to talk about pain, specifically overcoming naming pain. Every time I tell people what I do, they respond with naming. Really, that sounds like so much fun. And I agree with them because it is, it’s a blast. However, there are certainly some challenges and pains that come along with it. So Mike, kick us off and tell us about why you feel pain is even worth talking about. 

Mike Carr (00:57): 

I like the question. I like the topic. We prepared a little bit ahead of time. Try to add a little bit about our journey, and for those of you that have never gone through a naming exercise before, or for even those of you that have, you’ll probably appreciate some of the metaphors and analogies that we’re using. So just some backstory. When I was in high school, I was a terrible athlete. I mean, I had no athletic ability. I was on the football team and barely got to start even as a senior for wrestling. The guys that were really good would cut weight, and I never wanted to cut weight. I thought this was ridiculous. I want to eat so I didn’t cut weight. And partially as a result of that, I didn’t do very well as a wrestler. And then in baseball, I never played a single inning, never. 


I mean, it was just like, what’s going on here? And so it was a bit embarrassing. I mean, I had a brother, a younger brother, thank goodness that was Allstate football player, and he’d been an older brother. I would’ve been doomed and had an inferiority complex for the rest of my life. But you learn, right? You try to learn and you try to say, well, okay, even though I’m a crappy athlete and I don’t have the desire to get hurt on the football field, some of the hardcore football players do. What can I learn from this? And so I finally figured out, well, I should start weightlifting. Maybe I can be a little bit bigger and stout and all that kind of stuff. And then I remember in gym class, if you did 37 pushups, it wasn’t 36, it wasn’t 38. If you did 37 pushups, you’d get an A minus. 


And I thought, oh man, I got to go for that. So you strive. You work hard with a very specific goal, and you try to get to that goal. And when you achieve it a great, I’ve got an minus, and hey, that looks pretty good and I’m happy with that. I don’t need an a plus. I’m okay going forward. And so I’ve maintained, I guess this habit of exercise. And today, many decades later, I exercise every day. I love it. And thank goodness I was a crummy athlete in high school because the guys that were really good, most of them have got bad knees now or bad necks or their shoulders tweaked and they can exercise. They can’t get out and jog or if they can’t, it is painful. And so it’s like you try to learn from the pain, you try to adapt and maybe get a little bit better. 


And so when we started this naming business, this is way back in the mid eighties. I mean a long time ago, we were really bad. I mean, we were really awful. I can remember having a call with a client and he was talking to me about trademarks and I had no idea what he was talking about. Now, this is 1986 probably, and trademarking back then just wasn’t as big an issue as it is today. And he sort of educated me as to why that was even important. And so here I am, the consultant that he’s hired, and really he’s educating me far more than I was really helping him. I mean, we did come up with some names for him, but I think he was so disenchanted with our lack of knowledge about some of the basics of naming that he decided to go someplace else or do something different. 


I don’t recall the specifics. I just remember being embarrassed and not really knowing my stuff. And so for three years, it took us three years to really learn from all these mistakes and figure out what do you do? How do you do it? What shouldn’t you do? And I think that’s a journey that we’re all on at different points, and I just think it’s important to recognize that no one’s perfect when you start out naming. And there are a lot of things that have come up that maybe you don’t anticipate. I mean, Megan, for you, is there one source of pain you’ve gone through? And I know you haven’t been doing as long as I have, but you’ve been doing it for what, five years now? What would you want to share with listeners that you’ve learned from? 

Megan Dzialo (05:08): 

Yeah, you’re making some good points, especially for me. I’m a perfectionist, so I want to start out the gate being perfect at everything. And so naming has been humbling. I mean, some aspects of it come naturally to me, but I remember early on when I was newer just starting at name, we were on this introductory call with a new lead. We did all of our introductions and I introduced myself as the naming director or something like that. And then I went silent for pretty much the majority of the call. And then this woman, she was explaining very high level about their business and their industry, just the basics of what they did and what they needed when it came to naming. And then she said, Megan, you’ve been pretty quiet on this call as the naming director. What name ideas or suggestions do you have for something like this? 


What would you call it? And I just froze. This woman was asking me on the spot for name ideas after we had only been talking for a few minutes. And my first thought was, shoot, now is when I need to perform. I need to come up with this amazing name right here on the spot. We’re a naming company after all. And I felt it was immense pressure to deliver something magical and brilliant in this moment, like a movie moment to ensure that we got her business. But I came up blank. And what I said to her after a few seconds of thinking was that I didn’t have any immediate ideas, and that the nature of what we do and the value that we bring is in our proven process, which requires this more lengthy discussion and a series of questions to really understand her business inside and out to come up with thoughtful name suggestions. 


And she of course, did not like that answer at all. I could tell by her face, it was kind of like she expected something from me that I really, I couldn’t deliver, and we didn’t end up getting her business. But here’s what I would say to this day, and I’ve thought about this a lot. I wouldn’t have changed my answer, at least not much. But the naming pain point in that story, I think is this. Some people think that by hiring a naming company that they’re going to get these creative geniuses and magicians that make eureka naming moments or naming epiphanies happen in this instant, or that we should just know in the five minutes of talking to them what a great name for them would be. And that’s a pain point because it’s not reality. Half of the value that we provide is actually disappointing to some degree. 


We have to educate our clients about the turbulent trademark vetting process. We have to knock out 85% of their favorite names. Sometimes we also have to convince them that they need a name for their target market and not for themselves. And so I would say managing expectations is the pain point, but it’s the majority of what we do. And it’s so crucial to manage this kind of balancing act of, obviously we want to keep customers happy, we want to deliver something that they’re happy with, but we have to do that while educating them on the process and what realistic expectations are. 

Mike Carr (08:01): 

Great comment. So a couple other things that I think we’ve learned that I want to share with folks, and I think I want to talk a little bit about what you brought up, Megan, about being able to come up with a name very quickly and a great name that the client just was, well, one of the things we’ve learned is what’s a great name for one client, for another client in exactly the same business could be an awful name. And people don’t understand that, right? It’s like, well, if this name really, really works well for this company that’s a key competitor, why wouldn’t it be a great name for me if they’re not using the name? Well, there are all kinds of reasons. How much money are you going to invest in that name? How much time are you willing to invest? So we have clients come to us and say, we want a name like Google, or we want to name like Nike. 


And we’re saying, great, how many tens of millions of dollars do you have? And how many years do you have to build the meaning behind a name like Nike or Google? That could be anything, right? You don’t know if Google’s a car, you don’t know if it’s a video game if you’ve never heard of it before. Well, Nike, what does Nike even mean? So the idea that depending upon who you are and how much money you have to spend and what your competitive situation is, and just the realities of the marketplace, you have a 50% share. Are you the 600 pound gorilla where you really can go forward with a name that’s less meaningful? You want something that’s more distinctive down the road? Or if you’re a small startup or even a middle-sized company, but you’re competing with some big boys, you need a name that hits the ground running. 


I mean, the last thing you can afford to do is go forward with this meaningless name that you’re going to have to just invest a ton of money in. So I think it’s a great comment that you made that you may or may not be able to come up with something on the fly, but it takes a lot more thought, even if you think it’s a great idea that, well, would this work for the client? Does it fit their brand strategy? We help a lot of clients with the strategy on the front end just because we need to get them to the point of what separates you, right? What’s your value prop? What’s that sustainable differentiator before you go forward from there? So I’ve got some other thoughts, but Megan, was there anything else that you wanted to mention that was a pain point that you’ve been through besides what you’ve already talked about before? I share a couple other things that certainly I feel like I’ve learned from. 

Megan Dzialo (10:32): 

Yeah, I’ll say there are certain industries that feel especially painful or challenging to name for. And this is really more of a personal limitation than it is like a general naming pain, but scientific or highly technical industries that need names for their new medical technology or biotech research instrument, or really anything with scientific phrasing that I don’t understand is a huge challenge for me. And I’ve gotten better at naming for these types of industries or products, but it has taken me investing personal time in researching the field in industry and kind of taking a crash course in the areas in which I never excelled at in high school or college in order to produce some decent names for these companies in this industry. But I’ll say the good thing is that we have a larger team of namrs. That’s why we have a large diverse team of NAMRS that we pull from depending on their experience and interests so that we have some science nerds, you being one of those, Mike, of course, that really excel at this stuff. 


It’s an area of growth for me. And also working with a group of scientists or engineers who are not typically creative thinkers is extremely different than working with a CPG company or other digital agencies that have a little bit more of a creative inclination. And so you have to be able to get into their heads and understand how they think and process. And I’m just not ideal person on the team for that. But I’ll say on the flip side, you don’t always have to fully understand ins and outs of the science or the technology to come up with a name for it. Sometimes the benefit of having someone like me who is the least smartest person in the room is to provide some distance from the product and a little bit of a different perspective that’s potentially more focused on the linguistics rather than the science, if that makes sense. So to give hope for other NMRs who may struggle in areas that are not your strong suit, you do bring some benefit more than you think you do to the table. But yeah, share with me. I want to talk about, I know you’ve learned some things about how not to present names to clients, and so share with us about that, 

Mike Carr (12:37): 

And I’ll do that, but I want to comment on something you just said because I think characterizing yourself as the least smartest room person in the room is very unfair because I think there are different types of smarts. So I graduated with an engineering degree in industrial engineering and operations research. Well, that’s a very weird degree to have if you’re a creative naming, marketing, advertising kind of person. But the analytical skills, the process skills, the computer programming skills have really served us well over the decades, being able to do some things a little bit differently in a little more organized fashion and leveraging technology in a way that many of our competitors had to play catch up to. But I think where you excel and where a lot of our other namers Excel is more on the EQ side, that emotional quotient as opposed to the IQ or the analytical side. 


And that’s just critical if you can’t relate to the emotional resonance that a name has and how it might engage an audience that whether they’re analytical or not, but it engages them visually, right? There’s something about the name that catches their attention. Maybe it’s the way it sounds, maybe the way it flows or how it looks on paper or on the digital form, whatever that might be. Those are all things that are hugely important and in many cases more important I think, than well, am I the smartest sciencey, geeky, nerdy kind of person on the call, which in many cases just gets in the way Most of those folks overanalyze the name. And that’s one of the things that we’d want to point out to anybody that’s listening is one of the biggest dangers if you’re coming from a technology background or your team is technology centric, which a lot of tech companies are, is this propensity to start with the critical thinking, why won’t this work? 


Right? What’s wrong with this? And nothing’s left. You start down that path. And the best names often have some of the most glaring, obvious weaknesses. And unless you give ’em time to incubate, it’s a disaster. And that’s maybe a segue into the question you asked me, Megan, which how you present names to clients, and we take the negative off the table. We tell ’em right off the bat, you can’t say anything bad about any name we present. And it’s not because we’re defensive or we can’t take criticism. It’s the mindset that if you allow that mindset of, oh, I’m going to be the critic, as opposed to the advocate, everyone starts thinking about things the wrong way because these new names are so fragile and they have no context. They have no history, they have no story, they have no graphic kind of associations. They’re not going to fare very well unless you force folks to think about, well, why could this name work? 


And we try to wrap context around it and do other things to bring the names alive. But that’s a key element that anybody that’s listening to this, that you’re going to be presenting names to other decision makers, make sure they start thinking about the names initially as what might work. And the easiest way we found to do that is you simply tell them upfront, I don’t want you to talk about what you don’t like first. And you may only one of the five names of the 10 names of the 50 names that we’re talking about today. Well just share with the rest of us why you think that name has some potential. And by doing that, then everybody starts magically thinking about names the right way. Oh, well this might work, but for a different reason than you said, Bob, or This might work because of something that no one’s even mentioned yet. And so I think having that kind of conversation that’s carefully moderated and curated is a big learning that we’ve arrived at after decades of doing this. That makes pretty obvious sense, I think, when you hear it. But unless you’ve experienced it the wrong way, you don’t appreciate how valuable that might be. I don’t know if that answered your question, Megan or not, but that was a little bit of what I wanted to share with everybody that’s listening in today. 

Megan Dzialo (16:53): 

Yes. And I know you’ve learned some painful naming lessons as far as when to suggest and not to suggest research. So tell us about that. But also maybe just give a quick definition of what we mean by naming research. 

Mike Carr (17:08): 

And there’s different kinds of research, so let’s sort of bifurcate it into two sets. So there’s the stuff you absolutely have to do, and that’s legal research. We’ve talked about that in other podcasting episodes, so I’m not going to go through that again. But that’s just critical. If you lock and load on a name and then you find out later that you’re infringing upon someone else’s trademark, not copyright, you’re not going to infringe on their copyright. That has nothing to do with naming, but trademark is what you need to be focused on, then you’re in a world of hurt. And then you’ve got to change things down the road and pay probably a whole lot more money to do that than you would’ve otherwise. And then the other kind of resource is really the cultural linguistic profanity research, which you can overdo, right? I mean, IBM has a very offensive meaning, but no one ever really mentions that they don’t think about it that way. 


Or Shell oil company. Well, think about the profane word that’s embedded in shell. Well, when you get into a linguistic exercise, those types of things often come to light, and you still need to evaluate them as to is that really a problem or not? I mean, clearly for IBM, the bmm was not a problem clearly for Shell. Having hell embedded in it was not a problem. But in today’s world of oversensitivity and political correctness, things like that are often flagged. And if you don’t guide the team down the right path before you know it, they’ve killed a name, it really would never be a problem. But the other silo of research is the market research, right? Is targeting and trying to find out from your customers or your prospects or your members, whatever that target or whomever that target is, does the name that you just love and that your team thinks is just so cool is going to resonate with them? 


And the caution, and we used to be part of Nielsen, the market research company, so we have a strong bias to research, and we have a strong bias to quant as opposed to qualitative research. So we like talking to hundreds of folks or many dozens as opposed to a focus group of just half a dozen to a dozen people. We think you get a lot better data and you have some statistical validity around the findings. But before you even do that, you need to ask yourself or you need to at least understand, I only have one shot at making the right first impression. And that’s usually the name. It might be the name in the logo, it might be a picture, but often it’s just the name. Because in some cases the name’s just spoken. You don’t have any written or visual context. If you go out and you start, especially, you have a limited number of customers, right? 


If you’re B2B and you’re selling a high ticket item and there aren’t tens of thousands or millions of these people, and you survey them and you show them your top names, and they’re not going to have nearly the sparkle and the polish and everything else wrapped around them that they are, when you actually pick a name and roll it out, you’re going to create some potential issues. So as much as we like research and we do it all the time, we always try to coach clients through this idea that, look, let’s be careful in how we do it and who we talk to so that we’re not necessarily taking the bloom off the roses, that we’re not creating an expectation that their name will be selected, which often it won’t be, or that this name that we’re presenting with some context, and they say that’s okay, and then all of a sudden they see it with all of a sparkle. But they’ve already sort of committed the fact, well, that’s only an okay name. Can you really change their mind? And that’s more of a problem for B2B than B2C. With B2C, usually you’ve got such a large universe of customers or that doing some research doesn’t present that kind of a problem. You’re not going to talk to everybody, right? I can talk to a few hundred, but on the B2B side, it’s more of a concern, 

Megan Dzialo (20:57): 

Right? Well, I’m going to leave us with our seven insights or successful naming project to leave us on a positive note. It doesn’t all have to be painful. So starting with number one, names are just a preview. They’re not the whole story. Number two, design can turn a simple word into a captivating brand. Number three, as we talked about, if you look hard enough, every name has problems, but resist. Number four, gut reactions matter, but a name can grow on you. Number five, keep your target top of mind, the opinion that matters the most. Number six, take a few names for a test drive before making any decisions. And last but not least, number seven, keep your heart guarded until the name passes. Trademark. Those are seven insights and tips from us. That’s all we have today. We will see you guys next week. 

Mike Carr (21:54): 

See you guys. 


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