A Familiar Story in Naming
Below, I present you with a transcript where an internal team is attempting to create a name, despite never having named something before:
Leadership: “Hey, we have this new offering coming out in five weeks and we still don’t have a brand name for it, can someone get on that fast?”
Team: “Sure, would you like us to hire some people who do naming?”
Leadership: “No need. How hard can naming be? We just need to get some people in a room and start making a list of words, right?”
Team: “Okay, we can start a list with columns labeled “catchy” and “memorable”, but we’ve been told naming is a bit harder than just making a list of words you like.”
Leadership: “Just get me a name we can be proud of for this new offering, it is the biggest thing we’ll launch this year.”
Team: “Okay, we’ll get moving on it right away.”
A team gathers in conference room F, asked in advance to think about the new offering being launched and bring a list of potential brand names. A well respected facilitator brings some snacks, moves the conversation along, writes down all the ideas brought to the room and voila, we have our first list of 50 possible names.
Channeling the creative energy of a movie genius penning down brilliant theories on their dorm room windows, the team then brainstorms some new ideas, inspired by the names they’ve already put on the wall and expands the list of contenders from 50 to 75. The facilitator now starts the editing process and asks for a rank vote on the options so the list can be culled to a top 10 and shared with leadership.
We’re only a week in and the team is already presenting the top 10 names to leadership and asking for their approval to send it on to the trademark attorney for a clearance search. Leadership picks five names, proclaiming some great work has been done, satisfied that their original statement of, “Naming is easy, and I knew our team could get it done quickly.” is confirmed.
There’s a Yiddish proverb out there that states, “A good name is better than a precious stone.”
We at Capsule agree, but we have an amendment to this wisdom. A good name may, in fact, be better than a precious stone, but if you haven’t used the proper process to mine that stone, the lawyers will throw it right back through your closed window.
We know. It’s a little bit more of a mouthful than the original proverb.
So the big bad wolf enters the story.
Trademark Attorney: “I have some bad news, all five of the names you submitted have issues and you won’t be able to use any of them for the new offering.”
Team: “What? Seriously!”
The team regroups, gathers again in the emotionally safe zone of conference room F to discuss the results of the trademark clearance and brainstorm new names. The team is resilient; they've faced larger challenges than coming up with a name. So, they have new orders, go forth and bring back another 20 name options each. Off they go with renewed enthusiasm.
Leadership: “Where is our name?”
Team: “We had a setback, none of our initial names cleared the trademark attorney, we’re working on a new list of options, even better than the last.”
The team gathers once again in conference room F and the list of options is longer, now there are 125 names on the wall, yes there are some repeats, but the options are solid. Another vote and we have 10 fresh new names to present to leadership.
Leadership: “Thank you for the presentation of names, we like where we’ve arrived at with this next list. We get that you’d like to send in ten names next time to the trademark attorney, but know that we really don’t have a lot of enthusiasm for the second set of five.”
Team: “We understand, we’re just worried about clearance and would like to have a larger list to provide to the trademark attorney.”
The big bad wolf returns.
Trademark Attorney: “Well, the first seven names are legal duds, but the last three on your list cleared, so you have those as options to use for the new offering.”
Team: “Great, thank you! Wonderful news, we’ll get back to you on the name we’d like to submit for trademark registration.”
Leadership: “We appreciate the effort, but there’s still not a lot of enthusiasm for those three names. Now we need to present these to the board, because this is a big offering for us and they’ve want to see what we’ve come up with for the new brand.”
Team: “Really, now? We’re only two weeks away from expected launch.”
Leadership: “Don’t worry, we’ll show them these three options tomorrow, we’ve called an emergency board meeting, and you’ll make a great presentation.”
Board: “We don’t understand these names. Are you sure this is the best you can do? They don’t describe our new offering at all.”
Leadership: “We’ll get back to you with better options.”
Team: “We’ll do what?”
The team gathers again, in conference room E this time because someone else booked the safe space of conference F for the entire day. Tensions are high. Some of the team doesn’t show up. They’ve been “pulled onto other projects” as the effort starts to smell of futility and failure. Those who do show are looking for direction. This time leadership shows up to give some spirited advice and motivate the team to go back into the coal mine in order to find that precious stone of a name.
The team comes through, in an overnight effort there are another ten names going in front of the trademark attorney for preliminary clearance.
Trademark Attorney: “Well, two cleared from this list.”
Team: “Two? Seriously?”
Leadership: “This is all we have to show the board?”
Team: “Can we hire people who do this professionally?”
Leadership: “How much will that cost?”
Team: “Does it matter at this point? We’re two weeks out and have two names we don’t like much and a board asking when they’ll see the brand name for our largest launch in awhile.”
Capsule: “How can we help you?
Team: “We need a great name we can protect, and fast.”
Capsule: “Sure, we can get you there.”
There are three criteria which make naming a clear challenge, memorability, relevance and protectability. The last one is a hurdle and requires a team to explore their imagination. The second one is about storytelling and embedded meaning. The last one is a hurdle made much higher when imagination is lower.
We will explore the challenges of naming over this series of articles to help both leadership and the team to find a path to a more coveted result.
Enjoy the journey with us.