Clever != Smart Naming: Don’t make your customers work

Straight from the parallel universe where clever and horrible go together like peanut butter and chocolate comes the following press release:

We are excited to announce the launch of our new community website for Sears and Kmart customers. The service you originally registered with, My SHC Community is now called sk-YOU. The new name represents "Sears and Kmart, building a better relationship with you" and that is of course, part of our vision and mission. It is a growing and personalized online community currently comprised of 40,000 consumers who want to be heard. You can share ideas, opinions and thoughts on a wide variety of topics from travel to kitchen appliances and cell phone service. It enables you to provide feedback and guidance on the offers and shopping experiences that are most important to you.

I can see how this sounded wildly clever in a meeting.

Mash Sears, Kmart, and "you" all together and look what you get. It shows our commitment to the customer and it sounds like "sku".

Bzzzt, horrible. People don’t care about stock keeping units—and they certainly don’t want to be associated with one. They don’t care about clever. Unless you’re a financier, there’s no reason to associate Sears with Kmart. Branding should help the you understand and remember a product. It’s not about how you perceive the customer or about how you perceive an internal initiative. The dash and all caps YOU makes it harder for the customer to remember. But I ramble.

At Juice, our naming bible is available in PDF form from Igor International.

The central wisdom of this guide—and it’s packed full of gems, naming taxonomies by industry, checklists, taglines, case studies—is that names fall into the following categories.

Descriptive names (names that describe what the product or company does) BMW, IBM, AdWords

  • Good for a product, easy to remember
  • Rough sledding for a company name, as there will be dozens of companies in the field with similar names (unless you have 100 years of meticulous branding like BMW and IBM)

Invented names with latin roots

  • Aquilent, Taligent, Acela, Agilent
  • "Safe" choices, hard to remember, a blank slate. Generally too clever by half. Hey, did you think it was clever to name a company as a cross between "agile" and "intelligent"? Nobody cares!

Invented names that are fun to say

  • Snapple, Oreo, Kodak
  • Fun to say, opens the door for lots of positive associations with strong branding

Experiential names (names that describe the experience of the company or product)

  • Navigator, Safari, TrailBlazer, Fidelity
  • Intuitive but common, doesn’t differentiate, a workmanlike approach for a product

Evocative names (names that evoke feelings about the experience you will have with the company—those feelings may even be initially negative)

  • Caterpillar, Apple, Amazon, AirPort, Target, Yahoo, Virgin
  • Connects emotionally with people because they have lots of previous experience with the word. "Scary" choices that are hard to get a committee to agree to

We often are are asked why we’re named "Juice"—Igor is the answer. When we go places, people say "Heeey, Juice guys!"—if you’re a client, be aware you’re not the first one to use that line. We benefit from every dollar Nantucket Nectars spends on their "Juice Guys" ads and we love it. Every dollar Tropicana spends helps you remember our name. Even OJ Simpson is on our branding team.

If you’re naming an internal product, steer toward descriptive names or evocative names. If you’re creating a reporting portal, don’t be afraid to call it "Report Portal". Or call it "Butterfly" or "Moonbeam." Brighten people’s lives by delivering fun, or ease their lives by not making them remember some obscure acronym. Most of all, remember to be a servant of your customers and that clever is not equal to smart.

Analytics Roundup: Naming matters

Igor | Naming companies, naming products
Definitive essay on naming from the company that inspired our name.

Vox Populi: Best practices for file naming | 43 Folders
One approach to a tough problem that we all have.

Seth’s Blog: Worst powerpoint slide ever used by a CEO
Pretty bad, but surely not the worst.

Extreme data presentation in a different realm.