Sep 10 2009

Bing! Bingo or Bust? Tips on Naming Products and Services

According to BusinessWeek, Microsoft took a total of six months to settle on the name “Bing” for its new “decision” engine (formerly known as “Live Search”). For six weeks, a team of eight brainstormed more than 2000 names. Then lawyers and linguists danced their way through the list and eliminated names that were being used by other companies or that were considered obscene in other languages.

Of course, they missed the acronym that many have bantered about since its launch: BING: But It’s Not Google.

My point in bringing this up? Naming your products or services isn’t easy, which is why I’m sharing my roadmap for developing a product or service name that’ll be a bingo instead of a bust.
1. Bust a brain cell. Get your marketing person/team and copywriter together. Explain your vision for your product or service. Let your creative team demo the product or service. I can’t stress this enough. How can creative come up with an effective name if they don’t know what you’re selling? They can’t. Provide specs, business plans, internal memos, the napkins you scrawled on when you were thinking up the product in the middle of the night, and your own ideas. Give your creative team a complete, accurate picture. Then, let them do their brainstorming work.

2. Get out your red pen. Once you have your brainstorming list, go over it with your creative team. I’m a firm believer that if your gut has an immediate negative–or positive–reaction you should listen to it. Get rid of the ones that don’t resonate, and create a shorter list of the ones that do.

3. Analyze, analyze, analyze. Okay, now it’s time to get serious. Here are things you should consider when analyzing what names are potential contenders and which ones aren’t:

  • Google your faves. Use quotes around the name of the product like “this.” Eliminate the names that are out there.
  • Consider alternate meanings. Could your product name be misconstrued, misunderstood, or mean something else (i.e. could your super cool new product name be slang for something nefarious–or worse)?
  • Consider acronyms. Are there are any obvious acronyms that might prove problematic (e.g. Bing standing for “But It’s Not Google”) or could there be a problem with resulting nicknames or shortening of the name?
  • Determine what URLs are available. If you sell the product or service on your main site, this isn’t as much of a concern, but more and more companies are creating micro-sites, which are specific sites devoted to that one product or service. Make sure the URLs are available, and, if they’re not, decide whether it’s worth it to try to buy the URL.
  • Pick smart URLs. People are becoming savvier searchers, and more and more will type the name of the product directly into their web browser. Don’t lose those people. Also, in terms of branding, it’s always smart when you have an easy, straightforward URL as opposed to some sort of hybrid you have to come up with because you decided on a product/service name before checking the URL.

By this point, you’ll probably have a super short list of top contenders. This brings us to the final steps:

1. Consult your attorney. I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, which is why you should talk to your attorney about registering trademarks, service marks, and any other relevant marks.

2. Test the names. If you have the money to invest in formal focus groups, great. If not, use the people you do have: your employees, your colleagues, your customers. Creating online surveys through programs like Survey Monkey make conducting surveys easy and fun for participants.

The most important thing you should do: take your time. Coming up with an effective product or service name is not something you do over night or on the fly (well, not if you want to do it right).

Do you have other recommendations that people should think about when naming products or services? Do you have a favorite product name? Leave your thoughts in the comment thread!

Blue Acorn


Mohan Arun L
Sep 17 2009

They first called it Kumo, which I think is worse than Bing. Bing, being a letter play of Blog, a part of Bingo, and an abbrev of Business is not good, is still easily remembered. You could also use services like ask500people to vote on names you have come up for your site.

Sep 17 2009

Thanks for the tip, Mohan! I just checked out Ask500People, and it seems like a great service.

Sep 18 2009

Don’t forget about two key factors as well:

1 – Bing is incredibly easy to type! I think one of the biggest hurdles to get over when competing against google is simply to have people type in your url rather than simply banging out “google” on your keyboard.

2 – It can easily become a verb. Now that we “google” things and “facebook” people, it doesn’t seem totally far fetched to just “bing” it.

Sep 21 2009

Definitely good points, Assaf. Thanks for commenting!


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