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What’s in a name? Determining your innovation’s destiny

One of my favourite ideas is the concept of nominative determinism: that you are more likely to gravitate to a job, hobby or location if it ‘fits’ your name. The theory suggests you’re more likely to be a Dentist if you’re called Dennis, more likely to be a keen climber if you’re called Cliff and more likely to live in Georgia if… you’ve guessed it… you’re called George.

The evidence as to how much a person’s name defines their destiny is mixed, but when it comes to innovation the right name is directly connected to its success. Would Google have been as successful if it had been called Backrub (as it originally was)? What about if Instagram had stayed as Burbn? I would argue not.

The name of an innovation is such a key aspect in the storytelling of your offering that it never ceases to amaze me how little imagination or creativity some brands seem to invest in this or how often it ends up as an afterthought with the legal team running their finger down a list of names to make the decision.

A good name can help differentiate a commoditised product, make an ordinary product intriguing or a good product great. In a world of ever shortening attention spans, where peer-to-peer social media sharing is a key marketing channel, getting the right name should be seen as a critical success factor for innovation.

Some companies get it. Nutribullet – a blender by another name – stormed ahead of competitor products more often called things like Kenwood BLP600WH Blender or even Philips HR3652/01 Avance Collection Blender with ProBlend 6 3D Technology! Would I rather be moisturising with Facial Fuel (‘Grrr’) or  (‘Yawn’)?

Even simple variant names benefit from a bit of creativity: Coke seems to have created an infinitely more exciting range of flavours by calling them ‘Feisty Cherry’ or ‘Twisted Mango’ than simply sticking to the default Cherry or Mango. Who wouldn’t choose Diet Coke Feisty Cherry over boring old Pepsi Max Cherry?

We can all learn from the world of alcoholic drinks where there is a real focus on creating a good ‘bar call’ – a brand or product name that someone will willingly ask for in a (loud!) public space. Building on this at Brand Genetics we have 4 key criteria for a good name:

  1. Make it easy – don’t underestimate human beings aversion to asking for something they find difficult to pronounce and say. No one likes to sound stupid!
  2. Communicate the heart of the product / service story – if you were to tell someone the name without further explanation, what would they understand from it? Does it get the key message or feeling you’re trying to convey across
  3. Capture the right energy – this should fit the target audience’s goal or setting that you’re trying to convey. Is your audience trying to slow down or speed up? Is the occasion you’re targeting more relaxed or upbeat? Is your offering meant to be fun or serious?
  4. Be Distinctive – The human brain notices (and remembers) things that are new and different, so finding a name that stands out in the crowd will help drive mental availability (and the legal team will be happier too!)

Surely it’s time to put the same emphasis on getting the right name for your innovation as the right positioning or design. Don’t ignore this critical element: the newly coined law of ‘Innovation nominative determinism’ (Brand Genetics  et al, 2018!) suggests that a good name really can define your innovation’s destiny.

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