Naming In The News

The Beyond Marketing Strategies Philosophy on Naming

Beyond Marketing Strategies | March 16, 1996

At Beyond Marketing Strategies, we are zealots about good naming conventions because naming can be one of the most cost effective strategies or costly mistakes your company can make.

For technology businesses on a smaller budget, attempting to achieve crystal clarity in naming is critical because much of your marketing dollars must be spent making your technical advantages intelligible and emphasizing your benefits vs. the competition's. If you were creating a soft drink, which most people could instantly understand, you could afford to name it "Snapple." Indeed, your only attributes would be color, flavor, packaging and pricing. But you're not creating a soft drink. You're creating a product or service out of a complex technology, and even if you don't want your customers to ever know how complex that technology is, you still need to spend money explaining why a customer should buy your product.

The Key Attributes of a Great Name

The key attributes of a Great Name within the personal computing industry are:

  1. It is memorable
  2. It is relatively short... two or three words at most and a minimum of syllables.
  3. It is descriptive. In order of superiority, it describes:
    1. The benefits of the product.
    2. The relative positioning of the technology, product or company in the marketplace and/or differences between it and the competitive offerings, which imply why customers should buy it.
    3. What the product does.
    4. The intended customer.
  4. It does not create confusion.
  5. It can be understood internationally.

For bonus points, the name can and ultimately does describe the product category, such as "PC" for "personal computer." The name "personal computer" was both short and memorable. It positioned IBM's offering as a product for the individual, implying who should buy it. It positioned the product against competitive types of offerings, which were implied to be "impersonal" or intended for groups of people. Ultimately, it came to define a category of product.

Within the software industry, there are many names that capture the essence of the simplicity of a short, memorable, descriptive name: PageMaker. WordPerfect. Precision Color Calibrator. PhotoShop. PixelPaint. Canvas. VisiCalc. OpenServer. DeskJet. NetManage. Rocket Science Games. Merchant System. Now, almost 20 years into the personal computer industry history, it is hard to come up with these types of names. But it's worth it for many reasons:


  1. Great names create clear positioning in your customer's minds.
  2. Great names are memorable and mean you have to spend less time explaining your technology, business or product.
  3. Great names save money by allowing you to put your marketing dollars behind your benefits.

Naming Conventions in the Personal Computing Industry

We often hear our clients ask: But what about Sun? What about Apple and the Macintosh? What about Cisco Systems? In general, within the computer industry, the hierarchy of naming conventions is as follows:

  1. Great Names
  2. Memorable Names vaguely related to the product
  3. Memorable Names that are unrelated to the product
  4. Unmemorable or Meaningless Names
  5. Names that confuse or convey the opposite of the product

The next category of names below the Great Names are names that might be somewhat vaguely related to the industry or to the technology but do not conjure up the instant recognition of the Great Names. These include names such as: Aldus (developer of the printing press), XPress (as in Quark XPress, again related to "printing"), PostScript (related to documents), Works (yes, they do).

Memorable names can be catchy or cute as well, though they may not convey much information:

  • Reality Factory
  • General Magic
  • No Hands Software
  • After Hours Software

Market testing of these types of names is essential because what may seem memorable at first may prove not to be. "No Hands Software," for example, could easily be confused with "Hands Off Software." If your company believes that it can convey the rest of its marketing positioning, features and benefits, and clearly associate them with the a catchy name such as these, this type of name may be a viable solution.

The third category of names is that of names that seem memorable, but unrelated to exactly what the company or product does. Examples of these names are: Apple, Newton , Macintosh, and Cisco Systems. For small companies especially, these are worse choices than Great Names or Memorable names. On the plus side, they are often plain English (or the equivalent), so if the person can associate the name with your product or business benefits, you are building brand equity. On the other hand, you may have to invest beau coup money into a tagline and subsequent descriptions that then explain what you are really doing. Most companies that pick "memorable-but-unrelated" names are large companies with the large marketing budgets to build brand equity and make the name stick, or, alternately, small companies that expect to be large companies shortly.

The fourth category is one of unmemorable, almost meaningless names. The technology industries are full of these. They include names such as:

  • EO
  • Quadra
  • Claris
  • Solaris
  • Pentium

Often, large companies choose these names for exactly the purpose of building brand equity in a name no one else would ever have considered owning. Occasionally, they conclude that if they explain that "Pentium" suggests fifth, it will also imply 80586 or "Solaris" will suggest something that comes from Sun. All acronyms fall into this category. Before you choose a name that consists of alphabet soup, be sure to consider a name that can at least be remembered. EDS, EMS , NBI, SCO, etc. require substantial marketing to convince customers to remember their names.

Lastly, there are names that "drag you down" or create market confusion. Not only do you have to convince customers to remember them, but you may have to waste time explaining how unrelated they actually are. Or you may have to reposition them. Farallon, a manufacturer of networking cards, was named after the Farallon islands. The marketing organization had to insert the phrase "Farallon was named after a group of islands off the coast of California " into its marketing, wasting precious words and mindshare that could have been spent on articulating its advantages. A product called "Spreadbase" was supposed to contain the best technologies of both spreadsheets and databases. Unfortunately, the name conveyed that it was neither, but not what its benefits were, and it ended up selling to a very focused market niche.

Rating the Name "Beyond Marketing Strategies"

It's not fair to point out poor naming conventions without taking stock of our own. Beyond Marketing Strategies is only three words, but it has too many syllables, eight to be exact. That makes it less memorable than it could be. The word "Beyond" suggests "more than" marketing strategies, which is intended to imply that the company does more than just marketing strategies. Indeed, we do marketing and product management implementation, stepping in to introduce processes when asked and to reexamine the bigger picture as well. We could have used the founder's name, which is a common practice in the consulting, advertising and legal industries. As this suggests, if your company is not specifically in the personal computing industry, you may also need to examine your industry's conventions. However, we concluded that customers who know the founder will contact us regardless of the name, so a descriptive name conveyed more information. Lastly, we should have considered "Beyond Marketing," which is shorter and therefore more memorable, and we did. It was already registered as a fictitious name in Santa Clara County , CA , where we reside.

© 1996 Beyond Marketing Strategies. All Rights Reserved.