September, 2022 S. Temple Neukom & C. Krueger

5 strategic benefits of descriptive naming

In our work with a variety of companies across industries, we find that clients are most excited about the prospects of suggestive, fanciful, and arbitrary names. Particularly for product and brand names, there’s a disproportionate amount of weight placed on a name to represent the identity and ethos of a brands. The desire to lean towards creative and evocative names is only natural. Descriptive naming is often overlooked and not preferred, but there are times when it best delivers on the business objectives and customer needs.

Confucius once said that "The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name." Let’s get smart on 5 strategic benefits of descriptive naming.

It provides anchor point for portfolio wayfinding

Names are an identifier and serve as an entry point to your ecosystem. Descriptive names can serve as wayfinding markers that help customers find products and understand how they relate to each other, much like aisle signs and tags at a supermarket. Imagine trying to find your favorite cereal at a grocery store with no signs! It would certainly be a frustrating experience. Hank Barnes, VP, Distinguished Analyst for Gartner said in his blog post Brainstorming on Branding, "…one of the most confusing things for customers is when you have evocative (suggestive) names for both company and the product. It is hard to remember both…. Your coolest name should be your company name.” Strong portfolio naming utilizes a clear naming system for customer understanding and wayfinding, of which, descriptive names are an important layer.

It drives the quickest comprehension and adoption

By their nature, descriptive names describe what or how something works. Using descriptive and common language, or industry standard language creates a classification structure for offerings, ultimately reducing the cognitive load for customers. It’s proven that the human brain works by association and “thin slicing” information as a way to quickly understand new ideas. As Malcom Gladwell describes it in his book Blink, "Thin slicing is not an exotic gift. It is a central part of what it means to be human. We thin-slice whenever we meet a new person or have to make sense of something quickly or encounter a novel situation. We thin slice because we have to, and we come to rely on that ability because there are lots of hidden fists out there, lots of situations where careful attention to the details of a very thin slice, even for no more than a second or two, can tell us an awful lot." We can play into the way the brain naturally works by using a naming strategy that also leverages preconceived associations and adjacencies. Ultimately, descriptive naming shortens the distance from audience need to product adoption.

It's what people naturally prefer

The Familiarity Principle explains a psychological phenomenon where humans have a cognitive bias to develop a preference for things that are familiar to them. If they see a product that sounds familiar to something that they have already encountered or heard about, they are generally more preferential towards it, as opposed to a product that is completely new/foreign to them. This is also supported by findings from the Association for Consumer Research’s Inference from Brand Names study, which found that "Brands with descriptive names were consistently rated as higher quality, more effective, more positive and more likely to purchase than brands with non-descriptive names.”

It provides the greatest global accessibility

In an increasingly connected world, products and ideas are consumed by people of diverse cultures and languages. Descriptive names are most accessible to a global audience because names are generally directly translated, reducing the risk of loss of meaning. Often, the meaning of metaphors and colloquialisms are lost for global audiences when translated. A quick Google search uncovers a wide variety or hilarious and inappropriate global brand translation fails. Descriptive names are most inclusive and accessible for a global audience and are the safest bet when trying to enter the international market.

It is the quickest and most cost-effective approach

Suggestive, arbitrary, and fanciful names require trademarks to own, and should be validated with name testing to land effectively. Both trademark review and research extend the timeline of the naming process and create additional expenses. Descriptive names are often quicker to ideate as they describe what something is, how it works, or align to existing industry standard language. Also, trademark law prevents ownership of descriptive names, which reduces long-term costs of defending a name.

It’s easy to fall in love with flashy names, and this article isn’t saying there isn’t a proper place for them. But, it is arguing that there is also a place for descriptive names. Their lack of flash and highly functional nature is often their greatest strength.

I hope that after reading this article you have a better understanding and appreciation for this oft overlooked naming strategy. Reach out if you’d like to talk naming or get started on a naming project of your own!

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