What’s in a namer?
It's ironic. I spend my days helping clients exercise discipline and economy in their brand expressions, but can't do that myself once I get talking about naming. Really, it's hard to shut me up. Case in point: What should have been a quick little interview for Grasp, a Spanish naming blog, I turned into diatribe so long that it couldn't fit into a single post.
Iberian blogger and namer Irene Gil faithfully translated my responses into Spanish. My answers to Irene's first two questions are below.
Q: Anthony, from your long experience, what is the best profile for a good namer? It's an MBA specialised in brand strategy? It's a linguist with a sound knowledge of different languages? Is it a very cultivated person with a broad vocabulary?
Eleven years ago, a veteran namer told me the best namers are linguists with an MBA. That captures 2 dimensions of a good namer, but I believe that characterization is incomplete.
Good namers are specialists who, paradoxically, are often the best generalists.
A namer must be a good:
Listening to clients, building their trust, reading non-verbal cues from a room of executives, responding positively and not defensively to client concerns and building consensus are all vital naming skills, just as they are good skills in account managers.
A namer must think strategically to ensure their names support client's business objectives. Strategic thinking and rationale build the namer's credibility and make them more persuasive. Good namers, like good planners, always consider the customer perspective.
Creating good names requires looking at a client's brand from many perspectives. Namers must be creatively prolific and fearless. And as fellow "grizzled veteran" namer Mark Gunnion said in this interview,
"You have to be thick-skinned -- 99.9% of what you create is rejected, usually without a second glance or explanation."
Engendering client trust and helping a client see how a word could become their brand requires great storytelling. Your name story and rationale must be persuasive and pass the “SNIFF test”. An effective name presentation brings together the right blend of emotion and logic.
It's a German word that means “a feeling for speech”. Good namers understand the nuances of words and meanings. Good namers are articulate. And only a person madly in love with words could become a namer. But love and knowledge of words is not enough. As I wrote in Knowledge vs. Naivete, linguistic expertise is helpful for naming but so is the ability to "turn off" that knowledge and imagine how names would be perceived by a typical customer.
Good namers must consider how their names might come to life across all communications: Visual identity, advertising, messaging, PR, merchandising, etc. Although namers typically don't design logos or advertising campaigns, their ability to communicate their names' potential helps identify and persuade the client of the best ones.
Q: If everybody is able to create a brand, why subcontract this task to a namer? What is the added value?
I honestly believe that great names can come from anyone; founder-created names like Apple, Virgin, Amazon and Google prove this. But involving an expert namer can help in ways tangible and intangible:
Make clients money
A great name has the right sound and meaning, making it more likely to be shared by others through word-of-mouth. A great name inspires merchandising that becomes a new revenue source. Great names that can accomplish these bottom-line benefits (and clear trademark hurdles) are more likely to be created by an expert namer than a client who is not an experienced namer.
Save clients money
A great name is intrinsically memorable so it needs less marketing and media exposure to be remembered. By giving sound advice, an expert namer can help clients' avoid trademark infringement and other costly problems. For example, in 1997 Reebok launched — and then recalled — a women's running shoe called Incubus. A good namer with a good liberal arts background would have advised Reebok against this name: an Incubus is a demon who attacks women in their sleep.
A namer is a neutral, disinterested party who can build client consensus and trust because they are insulated from their client's internal politics.
A good namer helps clients avoid problems that can delay naming programs. Pro namers maintain forward momentum by managing expectations, building client consensus, developing a breadth and depth of unique names, and weeding out obviously problematic names in trademark and international linguistic assessment.
A good range of naming creative, logical rationale, name launch strategies and marketing approaches builds client confidence in their name choice.
Ease client workloads
Clients already have a job to do, and it's probably not naming. An outside namer removes this burden from their client and shields them from the emotional perils of moderating a naming discussion. It's better if an outside expert rejects a [terrible] client-created name than a colleague.
The second part of this interview focuses on how to manage a naming program so that great, meaningful name candidates withstand idiosyncratic and subjective reactions.