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Naming names.

A great product name is "unique, memorable, appropriate, and legally available," says naming consulting S.B. Master. Master, whose recent clients include Apple Computer, Ingres, and Sun Microsystems, points out that technology-oriented companies have an unusually poor track record for developing meaningful names. Until recently, we've had far too many names based on words like 'micro' and 'tech,' full of Z's, X's, and Y's."

A good name, she adds, can have a dramatic impact on sales. It's easier for people to relate to names that are more involving and content-full. The right name actually makes it easier for people to buy your product." What's the trick to finding a great name? Master insists there are no fill-in-the-blanks formulas, but she does believe there are a few guidelines that help the naming process work more smoothly:

* Don't wait to the last minute. Getting too comfortable with a code name," says Master, "often lulls decision-makers into a false sense of security. For all practical purposes, the product has been given a name already." Her advice: Start thinking about a name at least six months before the product is due to ship. Trying out a name internally helps build consensus, and it may weed out "cute, tricky names that get boring very quickly." Master points out that new trademark regulations now allow companies to reserve names before a product ships (previously, a trademark wasn't valid until the product actually sold across state lines).

* Think about family relationships. A key marketing issue, says Master, is whether the product's name should stand alone or leverage off a relationship with other products. Big consumer marketing companies typically create unique brand identities for individual products, but that may not be a realistic strategy for a small firm. "How many software companies have the communications clout of a Proctor & Gamble?" She notes that even Microsoft relies on a family-name approach to its product names-- Microsoft Word, Microsoft File, etc. All these names are short, and they all relate back to a corporate name."

* Avoid love at first sight. Companies often find an "absolutely perfect" name, then later discover someone else owns the rights to that name. Master says it's better to work with a whole list of several possible names rather than try out one at a time. If the organization commits prematurely to a name that later turns out to be unavailable, it's very hard to re-energize the group to look at other names."

* Don't give up too easily. If another company seems to have a prior claim to a really great name, Master says it's often worthwhile to investigate further. Sometimes all it takes is a phone call to verify if the product with that name actually exists," she says. If the name isn't in active use, the owner might be willing to sell the rights for a very nominal sum."

S.B. Master, president, Master-McNeil Inc., 323 Geary St., #501, San Francisco, Calif. 94102; 415/291-0269.
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Title Annotation:selecting product names
Date:Aug 6, 1990
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