Illustration from Maurice Sendak's  Where the Wild Things Are

Illustration from Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are

Notes on Product Renaming

When I started at Riparian Data our product was called Gander, which I thought was a pretty cool name (plus we got to have a goose as our mascot). However, as we all know, cool != corporate, and as we are creating an enterprise solution, corporate is what we needed.

Adios Gander, hola Sturm und Drang.

If you haven’t had to name a product before, know this: it isn’t a lot of fun. Or, to be more precise, the fun of coming up with new names diminishes when everyone has an opinion. Building consensus within the organization while not infringing on other companies' trademarks, web domains, or even feature descriptions can make the whole thing seem impossible.

And those are just the technical hurdles: as it turns out, naming can be a very emotional exercise. Within our company, opinions ranged from ‘the name doesn’t matter; the product is what matters’, to ‘we have to change the name; it's important, but I hate this make it go away’.  

Naming Saga, part 1: Brainstorming

As you can imagine, our naming process began with classic brainstorming. It didn't take long to uncover a split within Marketing. One group wanted a fun name that was different than everything else and the other group wanted a more conservative, corporate-sounding name. Herein lies one of the fundamental debates when it comes to naming.  Does the name need to convey what the product or company does (ie. Citibank, PayPal)? Or does it just need to be fun & unique, with no real functional connotation (i.e. GoDaddy, Piperlime, etc.)? 

I'm of the option that the product name is an important (if not THE most important) piece in a company’s brand identity, so it’s important to get it right. But…how do you know what’s right?  Lots of companies enlist consulting firms and dedicate teams of people and significant dollars and time to go through the branding/naming exercise--resources which, as a startup, we just don’t have.

Naming Saga Part 2: Testing

So... without expert consultants to help, what can you do to bring marketing back together again and more importantly find the best name?  You test!  We came up with 3 names, one hip, one corporate, and a third that was supposed to be in between, We then tested the three names in 2 different ways. (By the way--if you aren’t testing everything you do in marketing you are behind.)

First we created landing pages for each name that allowed people to sign up with their email address to get the product when it became available.  Then we created Google Adword promotions for each webpage with a tagline and ran the ads to see which got the most click-throughs.  Sounds easy right?  Sure, except Google has all these restrictions vis-a-vis what words can go in ad text and what types of websites can be advertised. Thus, getting the ads to go live took longer than usual and then they took down our ads after a few days, but we got enough impressions to consider it a viable test.  

Result: The corporate name “won,” handily. 

Next we did what are called 5 second tests. In these tests you create a single marketing page for your product or the names in our case, let testers view them, and then ask the testers a series of questions to test name recall and marketing message retention.  

Result: These tests showed the hipper name to have better recall than the corporate name, but the test size was small and the test group wasn’t random, so the results weren’t different enough to overcome the click-through test.

Naming Saga Part 3: Legal Eagles

We decided the corporate name was the way to go and had started to move forward with rebranding ourselves, when our lawyer swooped in. Bad news, he told us: our first choice was similar to a competitor’s name and they had deep pockets.  He was confident they would send us a cease and desist letter and we would either have to rebrand or go to court. Getting sued can be good press, but not that good.

Naming Saga Part 4: Little Grey Cells and Gut

So, it was back to the drawing board, kind of.  After our test we knew we wanted a corporate name and we had pretty much decided on something that ended with "box."  When you are building an email app, and want people to understand what it is, you're pretty much stuck with something that contains "mail", "message," "post," or "box." The first two were too corporate, even for us, and "post" didn't test well. So "box" it was. We just had to find the right prefix.

In the end, we realized our top objectives were to come up with something catchy that still conveyed a sense of our product’s core benefit.  As a start-up, having a descriptive name can make your initial marketing efforts a lot easier.  We also wanted to create a quick emotional connection with our end-users. The end result, which most (though not everyone) agreed upon was Skimbox.  

After a month-long process of brainstorming and debating the merits of a variety of names, we actually made this change in less than 5 minutes and did no testing-- sometimes you just have to pivot and go with your gut.  I actually prefer this name.  It sounds more like a productivity solution than what we started with and a key feature of our solution is separating your important from your unimportant (skimmable) email. Skimbox also has the benefit of fitting a strategic change of direction we are considering, but that is a topic for another time...