This past week I was reminiscing with some friends about the very early days of Powermat and the process by which we came to the name “Powermat” to describe our entry into the wireless charging arena. It may seem intuitive now since Powermat is essentially a mat that delivers power, but at the time we debated several options (“The Hotplate” was a front runner for about 10 minutes.)
We settled on “Powermat” largely because it was not only descriptive but, in creating an entire category (wireless charging) we believed that the name would help us overcome one of our main obstacles: education. We needed people to have some inkling as to what we were offering and “Powermat” fit the bill (it’s also kind of catchy…don’t you think?)
But it got me thinking about the process of naming a product or a company. Is there a process? Would Apple be the same computer giant if they called it “spaghetti?” And what about “Google”?! Where did that come from? Does anyone have any idea why “Glad” makes trash bags? Sure, you’re glad to get rid of your trash, but aren’t you also glad when your dog learns to stop chewing on your slippers?
“What’s in a name?” asked Shakespeare. The answer, as I see it, is everything…especially in the consumer electronics industry. People today are so overburdened with information, tasked with remembering passwords, account numbers and access codes that they can hardly be held responsible for not knowing what model laptop, smartphone or blackberry they have. And, let’s face it, most simply don’t know.
As I see it, there are some very basic guidelines to follow when naming your company or product as well as several common pitfalls that should be avoided. First, if your product name or company has multiple words (The John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt Company, for instance) or you’ve chosen a serial number (i.e. R2D2C3PO) as your product name your making it virtually impossible for most consumers to walk into a store and ask for your product by name, much less evangelize it to their family and friends. You might have the next Q-Tip or Post-it in your arsenal, but if people can’t remember, pronounce or easily identify it you’ve lost them.
Part of the reason that Steve Jobs was such a genius at engaging the average consumer was his gift for simplicity in naming Apple products: the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, are easily recognizable as Apple products by the “i” branding attached to each product and the product name is short, sticky, crisp, easily understandable, and therefore easy to evangelize.
There are, of course, the exceptions that make the rule. In rare cases, when the planets align in perfect harmony, your product may be recognized as fundamentally disruptive; a game changer that essentially wins the naming lottery. In those rare instances, your product becomes synonymous with the category it represents like Google, Xerox, and Kleenex and you’re ready to call it a day. But until then, remember that for every Google there’s a Zoon, a Sony Wega (pronounced Vega), and a Flooz (remember that from the dot.com era?)
A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but I’d still rather have a rose than a porcupine.