The Naming Game

(3 minute read by Rachael Pesch)

"What movie is Qwikster sending you this week?" Back in 2010, this was a question Netflix CEO Reed Hastings expected people to start asking. Six years ago, the company made plans to divide its DVD-by-mail service and streaming service into two different entities. As such, the DVD-by-mail was renamed Qwikster and Netflix remained as the internet streaming service. After the launch, there was immediate backlash from customers due to poor communication from Netflix about the service change and also due to the confusing nature of the name itself. Naming or renaming a brand is an important effort that requires tact and must be executed and communicated correctly in order to result in success—I have learned this first hand during my time at Vista.

Going into my first company naming (or rather renaming) process with the Vista team, I had assumptions about what the process might look like. Now that I’ve experienced the renaming process myself, I have found that there is far more to it than just creating the new company moniker. There is psychology involved, along with criteria to filter naming options through. Compromises must be made when possible candidates are unavailable or implausible. Testing must be done, so the name cannot be interpreted in an unwanted way. Below are some of the most surprising things that I learned throughout the process:  


1. Psychology is important in most aspects of branding, but nothing comes close to the emotional attachment that folks have to their company name. It has been used everyday for many years, sometimes decades, and changing that name is difficult to swallow. As a result, we begin the process using “NewCo” as a placeholder name almost immediately—that way, we train the leadership to start thinking about their name as becoming something new while moving into temporary neutral ground.

2. When our team sits down to brainstorm new name options, we maintain completely open minds, suspend judgement, and refrain from turning down ideas. One idea that is not so great could eventually lead to something brilliant—it’s all part of the process. However, once we have our options compiled, we put on our filters and start to chop through the weeds. At Vista, we have about 14 criteria points that help decipher the plausible and great ideas from the impossible and potentially disastrous ideas. Typically we ask ourselves, “Is it easy to spell?”“Is it memorable?”“Does it correctly position the brand?”, and “Is it trademarkable?” All of these factors and more go into choosing the best brand name. A new criteria point that has developed in the recent years is a Twitter handle. As we know by now, social media is critical for a brand, and being able to secure a Twitter name that matches the brand is so important. 

Case and point: A further mistake made by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings was rolling out ‘Qwikster’ without first securing the Twitter handle @qwikster. It turned out that the handle was already owned by an individual who was less than appealing to mix up with the Netflix brand.


3. Another thing to keep in mind on this topic: a Twitter handle can only be up to 15 characters long. This may sound like a fair amount of characters, but if the new company name is a lengthy or a couple words long, you can run into trouble.

4. When presenting the top 5 naming candidates to the company, we must exercise tact. From the company’s perspective, they are seeing the new names for the first time, so allowing them enough time to process and test out how the options look and sound spoken aloud is incredibly important. And essential for "buy in".

5. Communicating the last few options to individuals not directly involved in the process is crucial for acceptance and implementation once the final name is chosen. If they feel they played a part in choosing the new company name, they will be more willing to embrace it and even advocate for the change.


Lastly, I've heard Steve say that generating a quantity of candidates is the lynchpin in uncovering great options to be filtered. "The quality of names comes from the quantity generated." 

Having been through the naming process myself now, I have gained a new appreciation for all that goes into it and walk away with a few unexpected nuggets of knowledge and wisdom for next time.  

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