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34 years ago when NameStormers was born and the world wide web was just a dream, Mike Carr and his team created and mailed thousands of naming guides all over the country with the intent and hope of helping people avoid “name shame” and storm the world with a great name. Fast forward 34 years, thousands of developed names, and a fool-proof process and Mike and an expanded team are back once again to share their wealth of knowledge and naming expertise on the “NameChangers” podcast with James Doherty.

If you have ever wondered how companies or products get their names, what makes a great or terrible name, or where you need to start in your own naming project, NameChangers has you covered. From naming dos and donts to legal and trademark issues, tune into a new episode every week!

Mike Tells All Pt. 1 Transcription:

James: Your name is your first impression, your first sale, the first idea a customer will have in their head about you. A great name itself could go viral, be a story one tells another, a social experiment, it could even make an entire group of people happy just hearing it.

However, a terrible name could be detrimental. It could turn people away, give off an unwanted message, and your reputation is tarnished before you’ve even started. If having a great name is that important, why is it one of the most overlooked parts of starting a new business?

Look, starting a business is hard. There are tons of moving parts and you honestly just want to get it all done so you can get to the root of why you started the business in the first place. But something’s you have to get right the first time. Don’t be a victim of name shame.

I’m James, I’m a professional namer and I’m here to help. Each week, I will study a different facet of naming from trademark, current trends, dos and donts, and talk to key people to help you understand that you’re not alone in this. So together, we can get it right the first time. I’m James and this is NameChangers.

To start off, let’s learn some basics. For that, I got a naming veteran.

Mike: Hi, I’m Mike Carr. I’m one of the founders of NameStormers, we’re a name consulting firm that’s been in business since 1985. So I’ve been working on names for over 30 years and have worked on several thousand projects at least, having done everything wrong many times and hopefully a few things right many times as well.

James: I’ve known Mike for about a year now, but all the time I keep finding out about things he’s named that I see every day. I drive by a Carmax every day; I used to drink Angry Orchard all the time in college. He’s even worked with companies like Sprint, 7-11, and Citibank. He even named that 90s ice cream, itzakadoozie. The man has some variety in his portfolio. He’s been around a while.

So, what’s first? Well, the first and most important thing you have to do is ask a question.

Mike: Who are you targeting with the name? Who do you want the name to work for? And the reason that is so important is it’s not you in almost every case. It’s your customer, or it’s your investor, or it’s your employees, but it’s not you. Now, you may feel, yeah, I would like that name to work for me too, and that’s fine, but that’s not the most important target. We have to have that discussion right upfront. Because 99% of the time when people understand that they’re targeting their customer, then the natural follow up question is:

“Well, tell us about that customer”.
“Oh, well that customer’s a millennial.”
“Ok, well how old are you?”
“Well I’m 55 I’m a baby boomer.”
“Ok, do you have any millennials on your team that you’d like involved with this process?”
“Well maybe one or two.”
“Ok, we definitely need them in on the call when we present the names.”

James: Look, I’m a millennial, and I like to think I know what baby boomers like, but I don’t know it as well as they do. If I’m going to name something who’s target audience is baby boomers, I’m going to need some help.

Mike: And when we present those names, you can’t say anything until they’ve told you what they like and why. And we don’t want you to criticize; we want you just to listen. And we don’t you to put anybody on the defensive; we just want you to listen. Because that’s what we’ve discovered time and time and time again (and I’m sure you have too) is that your customer, the people we’re directly working with, are not the target. And they can’t think like the target and they don’t understand the types of names the target likes. And so if they end up making the decision on, “hey, this is the name for me” and they haven’t answered the questions, yeah but you’re not the primary target you may be third or fourth on the list, the primary target is the customer, the secondary target might be the employees, the tertiary target might be the investors, and you’re down there at number four, so your opinion doesn’t really matter very much. And that is a hard thing to tell people right off the bat so you don’t necessarily make that statement so explicitly. But that is the number one question in getting it out on the table when it comes to how you get through the process and really come up with a great name for somebody.

James: Naturally, people can get defensive when Mike confronts them with this information. So, over the years, he’s had to refine his approach.

Mike: I used to be much less tactful. I used to have a conversation where I was very blunt. “Your opinion doesn’t matter.” Well, you can’t say it like that because they get like:

“Well I’m paying you! I’m the customer, I’m always right! You’re the vendor, you’re the partner, you’re the supplier, you’re the naming agency!”

So you soften it, right, and you sort of let them come to that understanding. So we may never really say your opinion doesn’t matter. What we may say instead is

“Well, talk to us about who is your target.”

And if they can’t answer that question then the obvious, or not maybe obvious, but the question we’ll follow up with is, “what do you want the name to do?” And I used to think what do you want the name to do was the most important question, but it’s not because you can’t answer that question until you’ve answered the target question. But if they’re not willing to answer the target question, then you can sort of start, well, “what do you want the name to do?” and usually it has to do with either increasing sales or growing the company or something about growth or something about differentiation from competitors or something about creating excitement and energy and buzz and press or something about just making people aware that we are  a non-profit that’s doing this mission and we would love them to be partners or come on board or be part of the team. It’s usually about increasing awareness, creating some buzz and excitement, and so if we can ask that question first and once they’ve answered it, in one of the ways I’ve just described, then that’s the segue into the target. You want to create buzz and excitement or you want to increase sales you want to grow the company or the non-profit? Super, how do you do that? Who are the people that the name has to appeal to for you to achieve that objective?

James: Ok, so we know our target audience and we know what we want the name to do. Now what? Well you’re going to need two things, and these two things can help you in pretty much any situation, but especially in naming: A positive attitude, and an open mind.

Mike: It’s just hugely important and at the beginning, especially for dealing with someone who can’t articulate clearly what they’re after, to give them a full menu of choices. It’s a lot of different types and styles of names. Have them think positively as the advocate, not critically so they quickly dismiss all the stuff they don’t like and then for the few things that maybe can work for them, and usually they’re not even that enamored with it they’re sort of interested but they’re not sure that they really like it, you focus on that and you, of course, talk to them about why that name could work. But more importantly they think about why the name could work and their colleagues chime in too, and that then gives you the guidance. Don’t think about what is wrong or what you don’t like because that puts your whole mindset in the wrong space. As soon as you start thinking negatively [then] it’s like the movie critic or the food critic. Yeah, it’s humorous and it’s funny and you read somebody’s review about how awful the restaurant was or about how bad the movie was and you chuckle and you know how witty they are, but after reading the review you think, “Ok, where do I go to eat or what movie do I now see?” It’s easy to destroy or dismiss what’s been criticized but what you’re really looking for, well, what’s gonna work? And so we want you to wear that advocate hat. So if we show somebody thirty names, and they like one, that’s great! That really helps us, so just tell us about that one. And they may have five reservations and only two positive things, we don’t care.

James: So that wraps it up for this episode. We’re gonna talk to Mike again in our next episode and here’s a little sneak peek at what we’re gonna talk about.

Mike: You don’t wanna go with a safe name. You wanna go with a name that some people hate. I’m not talking about dislike, I’m talking about, there’s this reaction that deep down in your gut that that is the worst name in the world.

James: NameChangers is made in association with NameStormers, a naming agency in Austin, TX. You can find out more about them at Special thanks this week to Mike Carr, Gary Coutz, and Catherine Law. I’m James Doherty, we’ll see you next time.

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