Naming that works: Put yourself in their shoes

February 5, 2010

By now we’ve all heard the jokes about the unfortunately named Apple iPad tablet computer. (We’ll leave it to you to fill in the punchline for the name of a hypothetical widescreen version.) It’s clear that the company was a bit tone-deaf when the name was chosen, exposing Apple to the kind of derisive humor usually reserved for Microsoft. The most common rhetorical question I’ve heard is “Were there any women in the room when they came up with this?" / CC BY 2.0

What can you, as a brand manager, learn from Apple’s gaffe? The real lesson is deeper than “don’t come up with names that can be made the butt of jokes.” Rather, you need to think about your target audience and what they’ll respond positively to. It’s human nature to gravitate to ideas that we personally find appealing, but we should never forget that when we come up with a name, we’re not creating it for ourselves. As a writer, I love wordplay and double entendre, but often that approach can produce a name that is too clever and likely to go right over the heads of the audience. It won’t “play in Peoria,” to borrow the old phrase… which itself may not mean anything to younger readers. The point is that you should do whatever you can to imagine yourself as an actual member of your target audience. Endeavor to shed your preconceived notions, your background and the pop culture references that you respond to. Enlist as diverse a group of people as you can to comment on your work. Try to cover the entire spectrum of race, gender, politics, education, background, age and occupation… even those who lie outside the target group, because they may give you a point of view that you never would have considered. Recently we went through a naming exercise here at BrandLogic for a new client, and once our creative team came up with a strong list of candidates we took one additional step: We called in one of our employees who happens to be in the target audience to comment. She gave us an invaluable perspective that helped to ground us in reality, resulting in the elimination of what many of us thought were good names and the addition of whole new ideas. What’s your strategy for vetting your brand work? Do you actively seek other points of view? When someone comments, do you capture that feedback and use it to guide future work? Let us know!

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