Naming Innovative New Products

April 13th, 2010 by Rob Berman Leave a reply »

Innovative new products are sometimes hard to describe to the business or consumer purchaser.  Naming the product or category is key to communicating your message.

Category Examples

For years we have “Xeroxed” when we photocopied or listened to our “Walkman” when we meant a portable CD player or asked for a “Kleenex” when we want a tissue.  Letters have come to be shorthand for whole categories such as “e” in “e-commerce” or “e-zine” and “i” as seen in “iPod” or “iMac.”

The new “iPad” from Apple is named in a way that tells you what it is.  But when the iPod was named, how did anyone know what it was?  The iPad name was a natural evolution in the naming process that Apple employs. Think iTouch, iPhone and iTunes.

Naming New Categories

Let’s consider a few examples of naming new categories.

  • Horseless Carriage: A horse and carriage was a standard mode of travel for many years.  The carriage evolved but was always powered by horses.  What do you call a carriage without a horse?  “Horseless Carriage” was invented to define a whole new industry.  Of course, we now call them automobiles.  A legacy of the term is still used to define the power of the engine – Horsepower.
  • Segway: One of the early models was the i/67.  They utilized the “i”  trying to explain the product.  No one saw anything like it and did not know how to define it.
  • Cameras: Cameras that stored pictures on a medium other than film were called digital cameras.  The name reflected the marriage of a camera with digital technology.
  • Memory Devices: PC memory storage was named a hard drive. When portable storage was invented they were named, “floppy drives.”  The reason was because the physical product was flexible or floppy.  As technology advanced the flexible case became hard or rigid.  Hard Drive was already taken so the “hard” portable drive is still called a floppy.  As memory morphed into different shapes, terms like “Memory Stick” for devices that look like a stick or thumb drives because they are about the size of a thumb.

The Takeaway

Breakthrough products or categories are hard to define for the audience.  A descriptive name can break through to potential purchasers.

That is what is on my mind.  Over to you.

  1. How do you name your products?
  2. Do you use made up names like Exxon or actual words to name the products?
  3. How have your naming guidelines changed over time?
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  1. B2B companies tend to focus on meaningful names (like “SAP ERP Financials”); B2C focus on unique names (like “Jawbone ICON”).

    The key is to name the thing that you (the vendor) want to sell. Do you eventually want to sell the product to a bigger company? If so, get a great product name. If you want to sell stock in your company, focus on a great company name.

    Notice that Aliph (the company) has focused on Jawbone (the product). If Apple or RIM want to buy a bluetooth headset company, they’ll have to pay loads for the jawbone product name. Nobody would care about the company name.

  2. Brenda says:

    A great article I think naming a company or product is one of the hardest things, so this is very informative.

  3. I have never had to name a product but it is interesting how quickly the terms change with the times. Some of the names of products actually become the category regardless of the brand.

    I dont use the kleenex brand but I call all tissues kleenex, I always purchased generic cola and my kids always call it coke. I would love to have a product that becomes the descriptor for many other brands.

  4. Teasastips says:

    You know my favorite product of all time is the Segway! I so want to ride one of those…but your article is very interesting and informative. I’m glad I found you on LinkedIn.

  5. Laura Sheman says:

    What an interesting article! I find it all very fascinating.

    I have never had to name a product, but I did have to come up with a company name. What I did was post a question on Linkedin and invited discussion on the concept. I got many responses and then I culled them into a few good names and surveyed them.

    In the end I got a great name, much better than anything I had been considering prior. I do see people just name a thing or company without consulting their public. Sometimes they get lucky, but most of the time it just doesn’t work.

    I think naming things is fun. I wish I had more of an opportunity to do so.

    • Rob Berman says:


      Naming your company is even more important than naming a product. Glad you took the time to research it and get a name you are very happy with.

  6. Terez says:

    I speak more MP3 player and tissue, rather than iPod and Kleenex. There’s a reason. In my household, we don’t have any iPods, but I own an MP3 player, and we often use off-brand tissues, rather than Kleenex tissues. I do Xerox and own a Walkman. What’s my point?

    How we speak depends on our family’s circumstances. It depends on what’s important to us and what we’re around. When I was growing up, we were a strict Sony family, so a Walkman was natural.

    It’s interesting to see how other families use brand names for general terms.

  7. ChrisLWagner says:

    Now if only my brand could be like “kleenex” I’m always fascinated how things originated and got their names. Thanks for a great post.

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