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For a Better New Product Name or New Company Name, Create a Scorecard

Imagine being asked to judge a martial arts competition while never having studied karate, tai chi, judo or the like. You might latch on to a favorite whose moves you admire only to learn from people in the know that this competitor's form was actually embarrassingly and even dangerously bad. Or you might feel completely frozen in your ignorance, unable to recognize a competitor whose power and style were clearly head and shoulders above the rest.

You'd do better with a list of judging criteria, such as "posture," "balance," "presence," "power," and so on. By knowing what you're looking for, you more easily see it when it's in front of you.

This analogy applies neatly to business naming, whether for companies or products. I've seen organizations pass over a strong, winning name in favor of a weaker one when they go on nothing other than their feelings. And I've seen companies struggle to finalize a perfect name because they can't feel confident that it truly fits the bill. They have no firm criteria with which to assess competing possibilities.

For brainstorming a list of names, you don't need guidelines on what the final name must be like. Indeed, it's often best to generate possible names wildly, profusely and without censoring, and only later to winnow them.

Before attempting to narrow down your list of candidates, create a list of criteria or a scorecard. To name a new sporting goods product, for instance, the criteria might include:

* Must make sense at first hearing to both basketball and soccer players.

* Should be easy to say out loud and relatively easy to spell.

* Must convey that the product has something to do with safety.

* Needs to be trademarkable and have a matching domain name available.

* Should have a fun sound and positive connotation, without being corny.

Using such a list, you'd go through the name candidates and eliminate all the ones that didn't fit the criteria.

A company in the same line of business but with a different history, goals and corporate personality might generate quite a different list of criteria.

A scorecard would be a bit more complicated than a list of criteria. Not only would you write down the qualities your ideal name should have, you would also give each quality a numerical weight so that some items on the list have more impact in determining the suitability of a name than others. Using this system, a name might turn out to be acceptable even though it didn't meet every qualification if it met the most important points.

A freelance namer for my company, in looking at the memo I created for a product naming assignment, quoted to me this saying by Charles F. Kettering: "A problem well stated is a problem half solved." I agree wholeheartedly. The scorecard enables you to know whether you've come up with a winner, you need to keep at the task longer or you should really scrap the efforts so far and make a fresh start.

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Marcia Yudkin is Head Stork of Named At Last, a company that brainstorms creative business names, product names and tag lines for clients. For a systematic process of coming up with an appealing and effective name or tag line, download a free copy of "19 Steps to the Perfect Company Name, Product Name or Tag Line" at www.namedatlast.com/19steps.htm



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