10 Steps to a Successful Naming Workshop

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by Emma O’Brien

We’ve all named things in our lives: pets, children, weird snack concoctions… So naming your new product or company should be a breeze, right? Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case.

A good product or brand name should be memorable, and it should support a larger strategy. It also has to be accepted by your entire organization—and it’s at that stage where most internal naming efforts are thwarted before they’ve even begun in earnest.

Naming is an art, and there’s a reason dedicated naming agencies exist. Without a strategic plan, a naming initiative can quickly devolve into a free-for-all, with stakeholders battling it out for their personal favorite.

That doesn’t mean you have to automatically hand over your naming project to the experts. But if you approach it the way a naming agency would, you’ll have better chances of success.

The entire process starts with a good naming workshop to help set up the playing field, establish key parameters, and ultimately increase your chances of reaching consensus.

Here are 10 steps to running an effective, relatively pain-free naming workshop.

1. Get Everyone Together in a Room

And not just the marketing folk. There’s value in getting people from different parts of your organization involved. The goal is to get as much fodder—ideas—as possible; new perspectives are vital. What’s more, an inclusive approach will get people on the same page and make buy-in easier down the road.

Once you have your group together, get them in a horseshoe shape around a flip chart, and arm everyone with Post-it pads, caffeine, and snacks.

2. Start With a Braindump

First things first: you want to bring up let go of any naming baggage—current favorites, historic flops, those “perfect names” people are secretly harboring for the big reveal. These things can color the workshop and block creative exploration. By getting those all out on a page, you’re left unfettered and free to move into fresh territory.

3. The Free-Association Exercise

Start thinking about your product/brand differently with a free-association exercise: If your product/company were an animal, which one would it be? How about a weapon? A superhero power? Flavors, geographical points, objects, rock bands… there are countless scenarios that can put your product/brand in a new light.

This one can get a bit silly, and that’s a good thing: It helps people realize that naming doesn’t have to be like a trip to the dentist.

4. The Scrabble Exercise

Kodak’s founder loved the letter “k” so much that he made up his own company name so it started and ended with it. Pass around a bag of Scrabble tiles and ask everyone to choose three letters. The task is to come up with as many made-up names as you can by using any of those letters: they can start with the letter, end with it, or have it somewhere in the middle.

5. The Blockbuster Exercise

Take inspiration from Hollywood hyperbole and pretend your product/company is a hot summer blockbuster. Picture its movie poster, and the critic’s short five-star review appearing at the top (e.g., “A rip-roaring ride” and “Atmospheric mind-boggler”). What might it say? After you’ve come up with the review, make up a fitting movie title.

6. The Thesaurus Exercise

Photocopy pages of the thesaurus that relate to the product/company’s goal, unique selling proposition, or brand personality. Ask people to combine words from the photocopied page with ideas from their imagination to make composite or coined names.

7. The Role-Play Exercise

Ask people to present a news bulletin about the product/company. Or pair people up and make one of them a TV host and the other the guest on a show that happens to be about how the product/company has changed lives.

8. Taste It, Touch It, Smell It

If you’re naming something that people can try or use during the session, do your best to build that into the workshop. Get people to describe it in a sentence, then in a word.

9. Quick Pick-Me-Up

Even the best naming sessions have their slumps. If things are feeling sluggish, get everyone on their feet and throw a ball into the group. Whoever catches it must shout out a name suggestion as quickly as possible before throwing the ball to someone else in the group.

10. Put a Shortlist Together

Close the session by asking everyone to write down their top five names onto Post-it notes. It’s important to do this individually to stop people being swayed by others’ opinions or group dynamics. If there are a handful of names that at least two or three people have voted for, that’s a good sign. Write the shortlist of chosen names on a new sheet of paper so everyone can see it.