In this episode of the “NameStorming” podcast, Mike Carr offers guidance on streamlining the naming process, making it easier and more effective. The key takeaway is to focus on what truly matters when naming, emphasizing the importance of understanding the target market first and then selecting a name style that engages that audience emotionally. Mike underscores the value of emotional and evocative names in cutting through the noise. He advises caution when using AI, as it can often lead to information overload. Maintaining discipline within the team involves clear communication with the key decision maker. The episode highlights two real-world examples, a rebranding case where “Xanterra” was chosen to modernize a national parks management organization, and a product naming case where “Pure Balance” was selected to appeal to health-conscious dog owners. The podcast also encourages listeners to explore additional naming resources on their website.
This week, NameStormers’ Naming in an A.I. Age podcast discusses making the naming process easier. In this episode, Mike Carr shares insights on simplifying the naming process by staying focused on what really matters.
Focus on What Matters:
- Many naming endeavors get overwhelmed by various factors, like brand strategy, values, and archetypes.
- The key is to focus on what genuinely drives the naming decision.
Start with the Target:
- Identifying the target market is the first step in the naming process.
- The style or type of name comes second, which should be chosen to engage the target audience effectively.
Emotional and Evocative Names:
- More descriptive literal names often fall short in engaging the audience.
- Emotional and evocative names cut through the clutter and drive engagement.
Caution with AI:
- While AI can be useful for initial research and competitive analysis, it often generates too many options and complicates the process.
Discipline in the Team:
- Maintain discipline by ensuring clarity of the key decision maker’s expectations and objectives.
Rebranding Example (AMFAC Parks and Resorts):
- A CEO’s vision was to rebrand an organization managing national parks.
- They chose “Xanterra” to convey a modern, aspirational image while retaining a connection to nature.
Product Naming Example (Pure Balance):
- A dog food brand wanted to appeal to millennial pet owners.
- They selected “Pure Balance” to emphasize higher quality and nutritional value, differentiating it from old-fashioned names.
Conclusion and Resources:
- The podcast encourages listeners to explore additional naming resources on their website, including value propositions, target market insights, and trademarking details.
Megan Dzialo (00:05):
Well, happy Tuesday morning everyone. Welcome back to our NameStorming podcast Naming in an AI Age. It’s November, which means here at NameStormers, we’re busy. We’re in a constant state of naming and creativity. It can definitely be hard to keep that creative momentum going or even hard to just get started sometimes. So today we’re going to talk about how to make naming easier. It’s really common to start a naming endeavor and get really overwhelmed by all of the things that you want your new name to accomplish, especially if there are multiple people and opinions involved, like there typically are. So I’m here with Mike Carr today and he’s going to share some guidance in guardrails to help make naming easier. So Mike, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Would you share with our listeners who want to take the easy street to naming? Where do you start? How do you make it easier?
Mike Carr (01:00):
And this was a great question. It really applies to big companies that we work with as well as small startups. And there’s just this plethora of distractions. And so focus on what matters is so important. And to give you some examples, often there’s a discussion around brand strategy and brand personas and values and archetypes and how does the name do this long list of things? And 90% of that when it really gets down to what makes a difference from naming just gets in the way. So the biggest thing is think about what really is going to drive your naming decision. And we have a process and some steps we think that can help you get there, but it seems like a simple question. But in every engagement, and we’ve worked on a lot of these for decades, this is always a problem, lack of focus, making sure that all the things that we are talking about from a strategy standpoint, which of those really drive what we need to focus on from a naming standpoint.
Megan Dzialo (02:05):
And it seems like we kind of have two different camps of thinking sometimes where people just say, I’m going to grab a napkin and a pen and I’m just going to start writing down names and see where it takes me, which is one avenue. But then as you said, you have another camp of people who are really trying to nail down everything about their business from their goals to their values, to their mission statement, to who their target market is. And they get all this information and they say, okay, we need a one word to make sure it conveys all of this. And so regardless of what camp you’re kind of in, is there a place to start to help make it easy instead of looking at the whole thing all at once? Is there just, what’s that first initial step?
Mike Carr (02:45):
That’s another great question and it’s the target, and I think I’ve talked about this before. We’ve talked about this before with other participants, and a lot of people say, well, no, it’s what you need the name to do, or it’s what style of name you want. Or No, we want a short name or no, we want a name that fits our brand. None of that matters. It really, who’s the target? And that’s number one. And then number two is, okay, what kind of name is going to cut through the clutter and engage them? Period. It has nothing to do about name, style. It doesn’t make any difference whether it’s a one word name or a two word name or a long name. It makes no difference whether it’s constructed from linguistic architecture built on Latin and Greek roots because it needs to work globally. All this stuff is just noise hits in the way of answering some really simple questions. And if you keep it simple, whether you’re a big huge company and you’ve got lots of dollars to spend or you’re a small startup, it just makes everything so much easier. And so to keep it simple, who is the target? That’s a real easy question to ask. It might not be that easy to answer because sometimes you have multiple targets, multiple constituencies, but the follow-up to that is what name’s going to really engage them. And quite frankly, it’s not the more descriptive literal names,
It’s the more emotional evocative names if you lean more into that and they may be a little bit less comfortable for you. But that’s the style of name that all of our research shows really cuts through the clutter and delivers that engagement that you have to have before you can do anything else.
Megan Dzialo (04:24):
And we use a lot of tools to help us as namrs. And one tool of course that we’ve been talking about over and over here is AI. So what about using AI here? Does it make naming easier?
Mike Carr (04:37):
We’ve been spending a lot of time, and we started this journey many months ago and actually many years ago before AI was even a thing. I think using AI at this stage of the process causes more problems than value, right? It’s great at generating sort of that initial creative brief or doing research on competitors or the industry, but often it comes up with so much stuff, so many issues, so many questions, so many paths to go down that you lose focus very quickly. So we avoid and we would recommend that anyone at this point in the journey avoid tapping into AI other than for some very basic competitive research. So you’re sure you understand where the white space is, where the opportunity is for that new name, what you do want to convey, how you are going to engage the audience. But trying to use AI to come up with names not going to help you. It’s just going to give you a zillion names that all sound alike. And they’re all based upon things that are already out there, which is generally not the direction you want to go when you think about a distinctive, unique, exciting brand. So put that in your hip pocket, but try to avoid using that too much, I think is a better strategy.
Megan Dzialo (05:54):
So let’s go back to how do you identify what’s really important? We talked about target market and making sure that it engages them, but let’s talk about how do you develop discipline among your team to really hone in on what’s important and what’s not.
Mike Carr (06:12):
And I think it is really understanding that the key to successful engagement engagement is just trying to accomplish a couple things in a very simple, straightforward manner. And as soon as you see that that list of goals is more than just two or three things, you’re definitely going down the wrong path. And so we’ll have large clients come to us and they’ll say, well, we need four types of names. We want to make sure we’ve got three names of this style or type and then three or four other names of this style or type. And then we’re going to go out and do all kinds of focus group testing and research and then maybe a market test and all this other stuff. And the focus is wrong. And I’ve already talked about this in other podcasts that think about not just necessarily how to engage that initial target in a very emotional catchy way, but don’t try to make the name do much more than that.
If the name engages, it doesn’t have to say anything about what the product is. And this just drives a lot of our clients crazy. Well, it could be anything they say. Who cares if you arouse curiosity? If you elicit that question, tell me more, then you’re headed down the right path. And there are so many examples of this. When Google first came out, there was a search engine called Infoseek. And for many of our clients today, a name like Infoseek is a better name than Google because it tells you, well, first of all, it might have something to do with searching since it has seek in it and well, what are you searching for? Well, information which is very broad, it could cover anything. And then you look at a Google and it has nothing to do with a search engine, you don’t even know what it is. It could be anything, right? It could be a line of blue jeans, it could be a food product, it could be who knows. But Google had the characteristic of eliciting that question, well, that’s different.
Tell me more. Now a Google kind of name for some clients isn’t going to work. Or for you listeners that have a very limited budget, it’s not going to work because it doesn’t hit the ground running. It doesn’t say enough to where if you have limited budget, it’s going to establish the space you’re in or something about you that’s compelling. If you have a longer or larger brand building budget, it’s a great name because it’s very protectable, you can differentiate on it. It’s not a real word. So you have stronger protection under trademark law in most countries. So it offers a lot of advantages, but it’s not an example of a great name for everyone. It does depend a bit on your budget. But that’s sort of the idea is that don’t worry about all the fluff and the noise and all these other things that the name perhaps should do, and it just gets in the way of focusing on the few things that the name really has to do.
Megan Dzialo (09:13):
So let’s dive into an example of a client that we’ve worked with and maybe that process make it put it into tangible, I guess, terms with our actual experience with a client and how they were able to maintain discipline and maintain focus and come up with a great name.
Mike Carr (09:32):
One name that comes to mind or one project that comes to mind was a company rebranding effort. So anybody that’s listening that either needs a new company name, a new organization name, or you have an existing name that you’re thinking about changing. This is a great example. So years ago there was AMFAC Parks and Resorts and they were the organization that sort of managed and maintained all the national parks. So think about Yellowstone National Park, Grand Canyon Park, if you would go there and you would stay there, the cabins and the grounds were maintained by this organization. The problem was they sort of let the ball drop and the cabins were out of date and things were broken and there was litter and they had a very bad wrap. So they brought in a new CEO and he came to us and he said, look, we need a name that sounds more modern and hip and with it then amac, no one knew what A-M-F-A-C stood for, and that distanced ourselves from all the negative baggage associated with that.
So he had a very clear vision. And that’s the very first step that make sure you understand what the key decision maker, because often there are multiple stakeholders and we’ll get into these conversations with the junior level or the mid-level folks that are guessing what the key decision maker wants because the key decision maker is busy. And so they’ll say something like, well go off and come up with this name, are these names and pick your top three and then tell me what they are and I’ll just pick one. So they’re totally independent of the actual process. So everybody else we’re talking to is thinking, well, we think he’s going to like this, or we think she’s going to like this. This is a recipe for disaster. There’s no way anyone’s going to win that battle because we’re all guessing as to what the target is.
So it’s absolutely critical to tap into, even if it’s a separate 10 phone call and just try to have clarity on what do you really want this name to do? What is your expectation? Even if that person can’t be involved in all the follow-up discussions and presentations, you’ve got to have clarity at the outset. And so we got that with the CEO of AMFAC Parks and Resorts. And part of what he also interested in was something that really changed the direction of the organization. So not only were they managing national parks in the US but that ultimately they would have other facilities, parks, resorts outside of the us. And so that’s when you get into global issues, linguistic and cultural issues. But if you start thinking about that too early in the process, you again get distracted. So it’s a question of timing. When do you bring those kinds of considerations in?
So the way we did that project is we said, okay, what is your vision? And he said, well, I want something that relates to nature, right? Because parks and national Parks and the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone are all about getting back in touch with the planet. But I also want something that sort of is very aspirational and that when you’re going to come to one of the parks we manage is going to be an incredible experience. It’s going to be almost beyond what you expected. It is like, wow, this is fantastic. The cabins are up to date, they’re clean, the grounds are spotless. We’ve got wifi, whatever, whatever it is that really turns on the visitors. And so we started thinking about that and we said, okay, well what relates to nature on the planet? And one of the roots that we came up with was terror.
And the terror actually comes from the Latin or Greek that means Earth or planet. And then for this more aspirational wow effect, it said, well, what kind of words are out there that have that meaning and that we could sort of build off that story. And Zou came to mind. So we got Tara and we got Zou, and so we changed the order and Zara was the name that we ended up going with and he wanted to make it a little bit more innovative. So we changed, I think the Z to an X. So it’s actually spelled X-A-N-T-E-R-R-A, and that’s now a name that’s worked around the world. They have resorts and parks and other parts of the world besides just the us. It does have a very different vibe and feel than am fact parks and resorts did or does. And it does engage, right?
It’s a different enough name. So you go back to that Google Infoseek example, it’s not as abstract as Google, right? Xanterra leans into Terra for the earth and then the Xan wants you understand the story. Xan makes a lot of sense. So it has more connected meaning right out of the chute because it’s not a real word and because it’s different than a lot of the stuff that was already out there in this space. It did elicit the same kind of question that Google did. Ooh, that sounds interesting. Tell me more. And then once you hear the story, which takes maybe 15 seconds or 30 seconds to tell, you’ve got ’em right then they remember the name so different, the story makes sense, and they can’t wait to go visit a Xanterra park or a resort for their next vacation.
Megan Dzialo (14:53):
Great. So then let’s talk about a product naming example. We’ve talked about rebranding and a company name. How does this look like? Whenever you’re just naming a product?
Mike Carr (15:06):
Product naming is a bit different than company naming. There are a lot of commonalities, but there are also some important differences. And so you have to sort of look at what is the current space that the product’s in and how much money are you going to put behind that brand building effort? Often products have a shorter runway than company names do. So when you’re naming a company, you want something that’s typically going to last many, many years, and so you’re willing to be maybe a little bit more patient. There’s also a lot more emotion attached to a company name, not just for the customers, but for the employees, the investors, the partners product name often will have a shorter runway. It needs to start working pretty quick. You need to start generating the revenues that you need to sustain the brand building effort, the marketing.
And then there’s some other considerations. But one organization that came to us is they had an existing line of dog food that had been out there for a long time called Ol’ Roy. And they wanted a name that really appealed to the millennial pet lovers, dog owners, dog parents. And they knew from research that a lot of those folks were interested in something that sounded healthier, that didn’t have the filler that the old fashioned dog foods typically were known for. And not in a good way. You don’t want to be giving your dog something that’s got 90% stuff that has no nutritional value. And so they wanted something that spoke to, Hey, it’s a higher quality product. It sounds like a national brand. So even though this is going to be their private label, it didn’t sound like a private label. And it did sort of convey this idea that, look, we’re going to combine together the best ingredients, the best nutrients, and provide something that you’re going to feel really good about giving your dog to or your dog.
And so what we came up with was pure balance. And so Pure is one of those roots that does work really well across different languages. So whether your primary language is English or Spanish or other languages, pure seems to resonate and then balances this idea that, look, we’re trying to give you all the protein that your dog needs, but also some of the other nutrients that make for a happy, healthy pet. And that name’s worked very well. So you think about Ol’ Roy sort of sounds old fashioned. It doesn’t convey a whole lot about nutrition or good health or anything else. Whereas Pure Balance sounds like, yeah, as a millennial, that’s something that I think I’d
Like to give my dog and feed my dog. So that’s just another example of where very different than going from AMFAC to Xanterra. But some of the questions are the same, right? Who’s the target? But
We also wanted to name in the case of Pure Balance, that could start generating some revenues and some share and some inroads into the category very quickly and could compete effectively on the shelf. These well-known national brands, and it did, whether it’s Blue Wilderness or Purina or whatever, you have a name that’s at least at parody,
Not a little bit better in terms of that initial reaction. Well,
Megan Dzialo (18:23):
Thanks for sharing your insights on how to make naming easier. And we do encourage our listeners check out our blogs on our website. It’s at www.name stormers.com, which is a huge resource for tips and tricks on making naming easier from really understanding your value proposition or as we talked about today, getting a pulse on your target market, understanding trademarking, if you’re interested in all the details of trademarking, there’s really a wealth of information on there. So check it out and then we’ll see.