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Stop Obsessing Over the Verbing of Your Product Names

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The popularity of "verbing" has seemed to increase lately. For example, when we start a new naming project, inevitably a client will reference the possibility of verbing very early in the discussions. That shifts the focus to selecting a final product name that has the perceived flexibility to one day become a verb.

Google, Seamless, Swiffer—all are proper nouns that have transitioned into popular verbs that describe the action of using the product or service.

Verbing is seen as the pinnacle in the modern branding world, but if you're picking a name specifically for its "verbability," I say, "Don't!" When naming, you should focus on developing a name that best fits the product it will describe. And if the product is superior, the verbing will be (pun not intended) seamless. Why?

You can't force verbing

The process of your product name to becoming a verb has to be organic. The transition from noun to verb must be driven by users and cannot be an artificial creation by marketers and branders.

Just look at the 1990s ad campaign, "Do you Yahoo?!" People never Yahooed, and they certainly do not Yahoo now. It was never a term that made it into the cultural lexicon, partly because of the service and the forced attempts of verbing.

Becoming a verb has to be the result of the superiority of the actual product, not a result from the creative minds of advertisers, which the public feels inauthentic and insincere.

Ultimately, verbability does not come down to the specific name, but the actual product or service itself. If the company is offering something completely different, the word for what it describes may simply not exist yet.

For example, that's the case with Uber. I'm sure someone on its marketing team dreamed that one day "Ubering" would be an action, but the word taken out of the context of the company is just a prefix. Because of the novelty and usefulness product offering, customers began associating Uber with a fresh and unique experience. It is the experience with the brand that catalyzed the spread of "Ubering" as a verb and not necessarily the word "Uber" itself.

Almost any created name has the ability to become a verb if it's being used to describe a superior product or service.

Verbing can create headaches

Verbing may be the current business trend, but veteran namers know that it's not a home run for every company.

For example, verbing is often a headache for lawyers who may have to deal with legal issues around "genericization" of their trademarked brand.

Moreover, sometimes, verbing can even dilute the brand. (This is also a common issue for proper nouns that take on the generic name, as in Kleenex, but that's an article for another day.)

For example, not many Millennials know that Rollerblade is a proper noun that describes a specific brand of inline skates, not just an action. Verbing for that company meant that the product started to be used to describe actions no longer associated with the brand. Today, kids go rollerblading, not necessarily in a pair of trademarked Rollerblade skates but rather in a pair of any inline skate brand.

The most successful companies may not have their products verbed

There is no single formula for verbing, and, as in the Rollerblade example, verbing does not guarantee continued prosperity.

For examples, let's consider Amazon. It is undeniably a business leader. The company brought a completely unique product to market and largely changed how people purchase products online... but you don't hear many people saying they just Amazoned their purchase. Why not?

Though there is no way of knowing for sure, a likely reason is the one-stop-shop offers too many different solutions. Through the Amazon site, you can purchase household devices, stream TV shows and movies, and purchase books to be read on an Amazon-produced tablet. But remaining a proper noun has not held back Amazon; the behemoth has become one of the most successful global companies.

Naming experts should focus on more than verbing

Becoming a verb communicates a level of success for a product that all companies strive for—but one that can't be obtained through just the name. Instead, the naming experts should focus on naming, and product development experts should focus on creating the best product. The synergy between the two will result in success... even if the product name remains a "just" a noun.

Here are some other naming considerations:

  • Don't reject a name based on initial associations. Don't automatically throw out a name because the word is loaded or it reminds you of something completely unassociated with the final product. Think of Blackberry. Originally, there was very little association between the fruit and a mobile phone.
  • Don't think too narrowly. Successful companies are always evolving and rarely maintain the exact same product offering. I already mentioned Amazon, but if the company had picked a name that aligned with its original business model (i.e., selling books), it would have needed a complete rebranding (and new name) before expanding into different industries.
  • Don't assume that naming is going to be easy. People think that naming is a creative exercise that can be accomplished with a room full of people and a six-pack of beer. Picking the right name includes multiple considerations outside of what sounds best, including trademarks, naming architectures, and naming systems.

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Dan Cohen is senior namer at Siegel+Gale, a global brand strategy, design, and experience firm.

LinkedIn: Dan Cohen

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  • by DG Tue Mar 15, 2016 via web

    Damn! They just Ikead me!

  • by Becky Scheinert Tue Mar 15, 2016 via web

    Great advice, Dan! Everyone has opinions and wants to "name the baby", so the factors you've pointed out brings some due diligence to the process even though there's no six-pack.

    Another factor is when to apply naming. Developers often get miffed when the name they have used during development is not carried over during launch, yet a company shouldn't waste the time on naming unless the product/service is actually going to be launched and the full scope of the product/service is defined. Perhaps we should use whimsical internal development names that make it obvious that Marketing will need to rename before going public.

    I like to provide the naming committee (and yes, it takes a committee) with a summary of considered-but-discarded names to keep them focused on the most refined and true definition and name options for the functionality.

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