Product Naming

Would You Fly on an Airplane Named Boom?

Supersonic Whiplash

I’m recovering from a serious case of supersonic name whiplash.

A Very Cool Airplane

It started when I saw the photo illustration of an amazing new passenger jet being developed by a Denver start up.  The firm is pursuing a daring mission – to reintroduce supersonic flight to commercial aviation.

For the company’s team of skunk works engineers this must be the absolute dream job – to create an iconic new aircraft and conquer the speed of sound!

The super sleek aircraft has a projected cruising velocity of Mach 2.2.  It will fly at more than two and a half times the speed of any current day airliner and will be 10 percent faster than the old supersonic Concorde, which had its last flight in 2003.

What’s the name of this visionary aerospace company?  Boom.  Boom Technology.

Perfect at First Glance

At first glance, Boom seems to be the perfect name for the world’s fastest ever passenger plane. Boom is bold, evocative and exceedingly cool. Boom is gutsy, memorable and instantly repeatable. Best of all, it says supersonic in a single syllable.

The engineers undoubtedly love Boom. I bet there was giddy excitement when they chose the name. And what could be better than going to work wearing a Boom T-shirt?

Boom is a great piece of naming.  It immediately filled me with wild blue yonder excitement.  It reignited my old grade school dream of one day becoming an aeronautical engineer.

Supersonic U Turn

But as I moved my thoughts beyond the confines of the test lab and took on a wider perspective, some significant Boom shortcomings came into view.  My opinion did a supersonic U turn.  Name whiplash hit me hard.  Suddenly my perfect name conclusion seemed hasty and seriously amiss.  Here’s why.

The engineers building the plane are the first audience for the name, but certainly not the only audience. And they’re not the audience that will bring money in the door.

Different Audience - Different Message

For the much larger outside audience Boom conveys a very different message, and stirs a very different set of emotions.

To the engineers Boom means speed. To the outside audience Boom means danger. For engineers Boom elicits emotional excitement. For the outside audience Boom feeds fear.

The last thing any air traveler wants to hear is a boom. A mid air boom is never the start of anything good.

No brand can afford to fall on the wrong side of fear.

Will Airlines Be Comfortable with Boom?

The first customers for Boom jets are the airlines.  They operate in a safety-focused and highly regulated environment.

Will airline CEOs agree to shell out mega millions and stake their company’s reputation on a jet named Boom? Is the Boom name a fit with the airline culture?

What Will Air Travelers Think of Boom?

For the 10-30 percent of the population already afraid of flying, the Boom name could well strike panic. It’s unlikely that your nervous Aunt Nola from North Dakota would ever take a Boom flight. Or for that matter famous white-knuckled flyers like Wayne Gretzky, John Madden or Mr. T.

The company is probably not targeting aerophobics, so making the already fearful a little more anxious isn’t a big concern.  But is it possible that the name is edgy enough to cause others to hesitate?  Could the name sabotage ticket sales?

Consider the example of my frequent flyer friend Todd. Todd has no fear of the flying part of flying. In fact he’s the type of guy who would be eager to take a supersonic flight.  When he was a boy his dad worked for the airlines and received family travel passes, so Todd pretty much grew up on airplanes.

9/11 Terrorist Concerns

But when I asked Todd if he would fly on a plane named Boom, his response was rather tentative. My question had hit a nerve.  Then he explained. “Prior to 9/11 I would have had no problem getting on a plane named Boom. But since then I’ve been feeling a lot more cautious.”

The Name Would Keep Him off the Plane

He isn’t as wary now as in the fall of 2001, but the Boom name is still intense enough to activate his terrorist alarm system and overrule his desire for a super fast flight. The name would keep him off the plane.

Is any name cool enough to use if it scares away your potential customer base?

Regulators & Anti-Noise Activists

How will the name be received by influential non-passenger audiences?

Imagine you worked at the FAA and were in charge of issuing airworthiness certificates. Would you be more stringent in reviewing a plane from Boom than one from Boeing?

What about the anti-noise activists who live close to big airports? How will the company ever convince them that a plane called Boom is actually quiet?

Inviting Headline Ridicule

Boom leaves the company vulnerable to ridicule. If there ever is a mishap, the name will be inviting fodder for the media. The tabloid headline is already written – KA-BOOM!

If that nickname gets riveted to the plane, it will be impossible to shake.

Boom is great for boldness.  But is it just too risky?

What’s the Boom Lesson?

The mini Boom case study shows that names are powerful and make powerful impressions.  But depending on the audience, the same name can stir markedly different, and potentially undesirable impressions.

When you’re naming your company or product it’s all too easy to focus on what a particular name means to you without giving enough attention to other ways it can be interpreted. You need to consider what thoughts and feelings the name evokes in the marketplace.

To arrive at a name that will be a solid foundation for your brand, you need to balance creative enthusiasm with sober second thought and customer research.

What Should the Company Do?

The Boom name has some great strengths but also enormous weaknesses waiting in the wings.  Should the company stick with it for the long term?

For now the company is isolated from the downside of the Boom name.  The drawbacks are still only theoretical.  The main audience for the name is the engineering group designing the aircraft.

That will all change beginning late next year when the supersonic jet has its first test flight.  Once the plane takes to the skies, the name will attract a lot of attention and much of it will be negative.

If the company’s CEO called to ask my advice, I would suggest replacing Boom with a new name – a name that conveys a sense of supersonic engineering but not at the expense of safety and credibility.

To spare the engineers from feeling cheated out of a name they love, Boom could live on internally as the name for the jet propulsion division.  This would allow the engineers to keep the Boom T-shirts in their work wardrobe.

The Sooner the Better

The sooner Boom is replaced the better.  The flurry of publicity that the test flights will unleash should be harnessed to establish a strong new name rather than publicize a problematic one.

The company’s amazing new aircraft needs a name that will give it a lift, a tailwind, some sort of an advantage.  The Boom name puts too many unnecessary obstacles in the flight path to success.

Would you fly on an airplane named Boom?

Name or Number? – A Product Naming Lesson from Stardate 45854.2

Branding insight can come from many sources: case studies, real world experience, and even fiction.  Here's a lesson you can apply to naming your products from Star Trek - The Next Generation.

Stardate 45854.2 the Federation Starship Enterprise is headed for the Argolis Cluster.  Its mission: to chart six star systems being considered for colonization.

A Nemesis Encounter

This seemingly innocent exploration soon leads Captain Jean Luc Picard and his crew into an unwanted encounter with their hated nemesis, The Borg.

Based on the humanitarian insistence of Dr. Beverly Crusher, Picard reluctantly agrees to take an injured Borg drone on board the Enterprise for treatment.  It’s a risky step.  The drone has been emitting a tracking signal.  A deadly Borg cube could arrive at any moment to rescue the drone and assimilate the crew of the Enterprise.

Threat of Assimilation

As tension over a potential Borg attack mounts, the script writers weave in the moral of the story: An individual’s right to choose cannot be violated.  This principle is actually stronger than totalitarian force.

Noteworthy Naming Lesson

For the astute observer there is also a noteworthy naming lesson – a cautionary tale for anyone thinking about sending a product to market with a numeric designation or a convoluted acronym rather a real name.

A Surreptitious Assignment

The naming issue surfaces as the ship’s Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge reluctantly converses with the drone.  The interaction is necessary for Geordi to carry out his surreptitious assignment.

He is studying how the microchip in the drone’s brain processes information.  Once he understands how the chip works, he plans to implant an invasive programming sequence – a total systems failure virus that will infect the entire Borg Collective when the drone is reconnected to the hive.

From Caution to Kindness

Initially Geordi’s dealings with the Borg are cautious, distant, cold and guarded.  He ignores the Borg’s canned mantra: “You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.”  Then he points out the absurdity of the drone’s statement “We are Borg” even though he is only one.

Geordi then asks the drone what his name is.  He doesn’t understand the term.  Geordi rephrases the question “a means of identification?”  He responds not with a name but with a number, “3rd of 5.”  He was number three of five Borg on the small space vehicle that crashed.

As Geordi continues his study of the Borg, his demeanor and the relationship both start to warm.  Eventually the Borg asks Geordi for his “designation” i.e. name.  Once he learns it, Geordi figures 3rd of 5 would like a name of his own.  So he christens him Hugh.


Creating Emotional Attachment

From the moment that his identity changes from just a number, 3rd of 5, to an actual name, Hugh, the Borg becomes an individual.  Geordi no longer sees him as a device to be programmed, but as a person.  Cold hearted logic retreats.  Hugh becomes an object of emotional attachment.

Gradually the emotional warmth spreads, even to Captain Picard.  Touched by Hugh’s innocence and growing sense of individuality Picard abandons the virus implant strategy.  He gives Hugh the right to choose between a future on the Enterprise or returning to the Borg.

Hugh’s personhood, created by his name, proves to be a far more powerful infectious agent than the planned invasive programming sequence.

The name turned a hated enemy into a valued individual.  Changing identity from a number to a name unleashed new unimagined possibilities.

How About the Real World?

So Star Trek’s writers spun an interesting tale contrasting a name with a number.  So what?  How does this fictional account from a far off galaxy apply to marketing in the real world?  It provides insight into three categories where product names need to excel: emotional engagement, approachability and memorability.

Buy on Emotion Justify with Logic

Remember the old sales adage, people buy on emotion and justify with logic?  It’s been around for a long time.  Why?  Because it’s true.  Whether you’re selling designer clothes to fashionistas or mega million dollar software systems to big corporations, the impetus for the buying decision is emotional.  After the fact rationalization is logical.

If you want to sell more new fangled gizmos or services, you need to engage the buyer’s emotions.  Logic alone won’t cut it.

For emotional engagement, numbers are at a distinct disadvantage to actual names.  Numbers are cold and scientific.  All logic. No emotion.

If you present your product to the market as a numbered entity your chances of winning customer affection are minimal.  You’ll likely finish 3rd of 5.

An Expensive Compensation Tactic

While it is possible to surround a number or an alpha-numeric combination with emotion, it takes time and a considerable investment.  Flashy videos with provocative music and a professional voice over can infuse numbers with some feeling.  But it’s an expensive endeavor, and the feeling only takes hold in people who have seen the production numerous times.

Names are far more engaging than numbers.  In just four syllables Testarossa ignites the pulse rate.  S 600 elicits a yawn, although both designations represent exotic automobiles.

Emotional attachment will prompt prospects to buy faster and pay a higher price.  An appealing name will create a deeper and stronger emotional connection than any number.

On the Enterprise Hugh became hard to resist.  3rd of 5 was easily rebuffed.


Approachability is a key factor to starting sales conversations, especially for complex technical products that require an involved education process to lead a prospect to a buying decision.  This is another category where names are better than numbers or alpha-numeric combinations.

Numbers can give products a technically advanced persona.  At first glance it may seem appropriate to surround a technical product with technical sophistication.  It can help attract technically minded prospects.  But what if you want the product to appeal to the mass market?  What if the product purchase needs to be approved by a non technical executive?

A Real Turn Off

In these cases number designations for products can be a real turn off.  They make the product appear overly complicated.  Confused or overwhelmed prospects run for cover.  They do not buy.

Busy executives guard their schedules.  They have neither the time nor the inclination to dive into long technical dialogues.  If the first impression your product makes is highly technical you’ll be relegated to technical levels in the sales process with little opportunity to pitch the business case to the true decision maker.

Hugh proved to be a far more approachable title than 3rd of 5.

Easier to Remember

Names are also more memorable than numbers.  Easier to remember is easier to buy.  If the customer knows the name of your product she can find it right away whether she’s shopping in person or online.  If the name escapes her, she might end up not buying at all, or worse yet, buying a competing product instead.

Now it is not impossible to remember numbers.  In fact your mind is likely filled with a lot of numbers already.  Numbers like 911, 328, 409, 90210, 802.11.  It is possible to get people to remember numbers, but it is easier to get them to remember names.

π to 22,500 Decimals

As proof consider David Thomas, an International Grandmaster of Memory.  He’s listed in the Guinness Book of Records for memorizing Pi to 22,500 decimal places.  Remember π, 3.14159…, from geometry class?

I thought David must be some kind of number memory savant until I attended a conference session where he shared his secret.  His 22,500 decimal place performance didn’t come from memorizing numbers.  He actually memorized names.  He transposed the numbers to create names.

The Number Memorizing Secret

For example he would convert the number combination 2-3 into B-C, the second and third letters of the alphabet.  He would then assign a different B-C name to each 2-3 combination – Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Betty Crocker, Bing Crosby.  Then he memorized the names.  When it came time to recite Pi for the record books, he reverse engineered Bill Clinton to B-C to 2-3.

If numbers were easier to remember than names, David Thomas would have memorized numbers directly.

With enough repetition it is possible to remember numbers.  But which do you find easier to remember if you only hear or see it once, the Star Trek episode name “I, Borg” or the stardate 45854.2?

Names Trump Numbers

Sending a product to market with a number sabotages sales efforts.  Numbered products have all the personality of a serial number.  Prospects don’t get excited over serial numbers.

It takes a lot of energy and fancy advertising footwork to stir interest in a product when its number title screams complicated geek device with no apparent benefit.

If you’re bringing a new product to market give it a real name that engages the emotions, opens conversations and enters the memory.  If you would like to learn more on how to select the best name for your product, call or email me.  I’ll be happy to share further insights with you.

Don’t sentence your new product to a future as an unlovable Borg drone.

Team Naming: Winnipeg’s NHL Debate – Jets, Moose or Falcons?

This issue of Brandscapes takes me back to the early days of my career and my first job with a business card – sports reporter for CJOC radio in Lethbridge, Alberta.  One of my most memorable assignments was reporting on the first ever game of the Calgary Flames who had just moved to Calgary from Atlanta.  When the franchise left Georgia for Alberta it kept its name, just as baseball’s Milwaukee Braves did when they relocated to Atlanta in the 60s.  Unlike the Flames move to Calgary, the latest relocation of an Atlanta hockey team will likely result in a new name for the franchise.

A Public Naming Debate

There is a very public naming debate raging in Winnipeg.  With the National Hockey League’s Atlanta Thrashers moving to Manitoba, the big question is: what will the team be called?

Intense discussions are taking place in the media, online and at the corner of Portage and Main.  Thousands of people are offering emotionally charged opinions on the team title.

The Frontrunners

Should the team become a new version of the Jets?  It’s the name known to all hockey fans, but it is tainted with memories of abandonment – the original Jets migrated to Phoenix 15 years ago.

Should the Manitoba Moose name be called up to the big league?  True North Sports & Entertainment, the owner of the NHL franchise, has spent the last 15 years building the Moose brand as a team name in the International and American hockey leagues.

Should the team resurrect a title from the city’s hockey history?  The Winnipeg Falcons won the first ever Olympic hockey gold medal in 1920.

Or should the newly relocated franchise take on an entirely new name?

How To Decide?

How should the new franchise owners decide?  Blindly adopt the most popular name from the online polls?  Not if they want the best long term result.

As demonstrated by the fans’ passionate fervour in the debate, naming is an emotionally charged endeavour.  Emotion is a powerful force and an inevitable part of any naming project.  But to base name selection solely on emotion is a recipe for disaster.

Love Is Blind

When ill-informed love takes the leading role and logic is brushed aside, substandard results usually follow.  Companies select names that feel good inside, but don’t measure up to the time tested criteria that determine the name’s marketplace effectiveness.  Products end up permanently burdened with names that impair economic performance:

  • Names that position products as commodities
  • Names that are readily confused with those of competing products
  • Names that are awkward to pronounce
  • Names that customers avoid
  • Names that blend in rather than stand out.

Strategy Must Come First

To avoid the perils of blind love, Winnipeg’s NHL naming debate, like all naming projects needs a strategic framework.

A comprehensive strategy will help True North assess the three front runner names and any other candidates under consideration.  On client naming projects I typically build criteria in more than a dozen categories, which is far more than I can address in this article.  But to give you a feel for the type of analysis needed I’ll discuss three criteria: imagery, phonetics and visual brandability.


The name is for a professional sports team competing in the world’s most elite league.  The name needs to evoke big league imagery and fit the context of “the world’s fastest game.”  The name needs to convey a sense of excitement and inspire the players who will wear the uniform.

Among the top three contenders, the Jets name is the best for imagery.  Jets are fast and powerful.  Jets are sleek, impressive and high tech.  Jets soar to great heights.

Falcons also take to the skies.  They are agile flyers, but are nowhere near as fast as a jet.  A falcon is a cunning bird of prey, but only capable of killing rodents and other small animals.  A falcon might be able to take down a duck or a penguin, but wouldn’t stand a chance against a bruin, panther, coyote or shark.

Moose are plodding, ground-based creatures that spend a lot of time knee deep in the marsh munching on bulrushes.  Moose are backwoods herbivores.  The Manitoba Moose was a great name for a minor league hockey team, but probably lacks the urban cachet NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is looking for.

In the hockey world a Falcon would be a speedy right winger – dynamite on a breakaway but ineffective and hesitant in the corners.  Moose would be an appropriate nickname for a super-sized, flat footed defenseman.  Calling a player a Jet would be a supreme compliment, as it was for Hall of Famer Bobby Hull, the Golden Jet and former Winnipeg Jet.

The Jets name is best for imagery.


Phonetics can make or break a name.  Letter combinations need to create sound qualities that fit the product.  Ideal ice rink phonetics should be confident, crisp and authoritative, like the Canucks.  (It’s too bad for Vancouver fans that their team’s performance in game seven of the Stanley Cup final didn’t measure up to these phonetic qualities)

For phonetic qualities, Jets and Falcons are both acceptable.  The opening sounds of both words – the J in Jets and the F in Falcons – are a bit soft, but both words end well.  The Jets name has a crisp, definite ending.  The –con finish in Falcon is strong and commanding.

The Moose name on the other hand is bulky and a bit clumsy.  It lacks definition, like a baggy pair of sweatpants.

Given the phonetic qualities of the names, a chant of “Go Jets Go” or “Go Falcons Go” has a far more decisive cadence than “Go Moose Go.”

For phonetic qualities, Jets and Falcons are both good.

Visual Brandability

The name that the team selects will be seen without exaggeration billions of times in the years to come.  The name will be printed in newspaper stories, tickets, programs and signage.  The name will be viewed on TV screens, webpages, Twitter feeds and blog posts.  And perhaps most importantly from a team revenue point of view, the name will be embroidered or silk screened onto jerseys, T-shirts, ball caps, duffle bags, coffee cups and trinkets of every kind.

The team needs a name that will be a star performer in each of these visual applications.

Shorter Is Stronger

While any of the front runner names can be made to work, the Jets name is the strongest because it is shortest.

The Jets name is tight and concise, just four letters in length.  The Moose name has only five letters, but because the letters are all wide and bulky, it looks much longer.  The Falcons name is seven letters long.

In logo form the Jets name can be used in a small square space.  The Moose and Falcon names need more horizontal space.  In the same horizontal span, Jets can appear twice the height of Falcons and 80% larger than Moose.  The bigger font makes a stronger impression.

The Jets name is the best option for visual brandability.

The Best Name: Jets

There are many strategic factors to be considered in selecting a name for a company, product or NHL team.  This is not an exhaustive analysis.  But based on the factors of imagery, phonetics and visual brandability, the Jets name is by far the best of the three frontrunners.

What Do You Think the Team Should Be Called?

How About Your Company?

Do you have a product that needs a name?  Make sure you establish a comprehensive strategy to guide the naming process.  If you have a question around what factors need to be considered, give me a call to discuss your project.

What’s Your Most Important Marketing Decision?

There are a myriad of decisions that must be made in bringing a company or product to market.  Out of all the vital issues, one decision stands above all others as the most important.  The decision of what to name your company, product or service.  What makes the name so important?

Crucial First Impressions

The name is the first piece of information customers encounter in the sales cycle.  It plays a crucial role in forming first impressions.

In our communication overloaded age, customers don’t wait until the end of a formal sales presentation to begin forming opinions.  From the point of first contact customers start making judgements:

Is this product interesting?  Is it appealing?  Is it worth buying?  Is it worth a premium price?  Is it worth the time of day?

Names that make a great first impression open the customer’s mind to the products they represent.  They earn a place on the customer’s radar screen and create momentum for your sales efforts.

But if the name fails to communicate a pertinent message, the name and the product are swiftly cast aside as irrelevant.

Names Form Thought Patterns

When christening a product or service, you have the opportunity to plant ideas and images that command attention, pique curiosity, build emotional rapport or claim a strategic advantage over competitors.

Some Good Examples

In six short letters, Acura conveys a message of accuracy and exacting standards – excellent qualities for a luxury automobile.

Ben & Jerry’s uses personality-rich names to promote calorie-rich ice cream.  Imaginative names like Chunky Monkey, Chubby Hubby, Neapolitan Dynamite and Jamaican Me Crazy surround the high end frozen treats with a spirit of pure fun.

Spark Buying Demand

Names can also spark buying demand and accelerate the sales cycle.  Hertz entices customers to buy its GPS upgrade option with the name NeverLost.  In just three syllables, the name offers a solution to the common fear of straying into a rough neighbourhood in a strange city.  NeverLost is far more effective in the up-sell process than the accurate but boring title of GPS Mapping System.

Choose A Name Worth Repeating A Few Million Times

The name is not only the message customers encounter first, it is the message they encounter most.

The name is present every time a customer sees the product, uses the product or talks about the product.  The name is at the core of every sales pitch, webpage, video, blog post, social media page, brochure, email campaign and public relations initiative used to promote the product for years and often decades.  Over the life of the product, the name will be repeated millions of times.

An engaging name presented a million times will yield substantially better sales results than a bland name repeated a million times.

Not Just for Consumer Giants

Huge consumer goods companies have leveraged the power of naming to earn billions.  But you don’t have to be a giant corporation selling to the mass market to reap the rewards of effective naming.  Naming offers tremendous benefits for business-to-business enterprises and even start-ups.

The story of one of my clients is a great example.  A seasoned CFO contracted Identicor to name his new business – a boutique consulting firm that advises corporations on mergers, acquisitions, and other complex financial transactions.  The client needed a name that would portray his start-up company as a credible entity when competing head to head for business against international accounting firms.

A thorough, professional name development process led to the name Corplan Advisors – with Corplan being an abbreviation for corporate planning.

This concise, direct, confident-sounding name positioned the new consulting firm as a solid, trustworthy organization from its first day of operations.  The Corplan name has been very well received with clients in the target market and continues to play an important role in the firm’s growing reputation.

Not Just Any Name Will Do

Naming offers an impressive array of benefits.  But capitalizing on the possibilities is by no means automatic.  The results you’ll realize depend on the quality of the name you choose.  Not just any name will do.

If you select a name with a compelling message and engaging imagery, then every time the name appears, you’ll create a sales opportunity.

But on the other hand, if you select a name that conveys a non-message or the wrong message then every promotional piece you create will have to compensate for a missed opportunity or waste energy correcting the naming deficiency.

Naming is your most important marketing decision.