Maintaining Secrecy in a Naming Project

By Beth Gerber

May 31, 2013

3296054642_91196af986Secrecy is a key ingredient in any naming project. Without it you court disaster, risking time, money, and marketing impact. However, maintaining secrecy too tightly for too long brings its own dangers, including lack of creative input and failure to find potential problems. It’s important to find a balance to protect yourself, and the success of your naming project, from start to finish.

Of course, as naming experts, we see hiring a professional naming firm as the best way to find that perfect balance. However, the tips below will help you whether you choose to work with a naming company or opt for a do-it-yourself naming strategy.

Begin with a Small Naming Team
You should smart small with any naming project. In order to create a master list of potential name candidates, the naming team needs full access to marketing plans and strategies. For a company name, that includes current and future product plans, market positioning and strategy, competitive landscape, and long-term goals including going public or expanding into international markets. For a product name, that includes key features and benefits, strengths and weaknesses relative to competitors’ products, overall brand strategy of current products, and future product plans.

All of this information is essential to know before beginning the creative stage of a naming project. Without it, the brainstorming of naming candidates will lack direction, and the resulting names won’t fit current and future marketing plans. However, this kind of information also can’t leak to competitors. So it’s important for the initial stages of a naming project to be limited to a small team with access to all relevant information.

In our experience, a smaller more focused team fully briefed on all of the issues is going to produce a much more focused and useful list of name candidates. A larger, less-informed naming team is likely to overwhelm you with unsuitable names. For instance, sending out a companywide email asking for naming ideas isn’t likely to yield many actually useful ideas.

Dangers of Crowdsourcing — Keeping Name Candidates Secret
As our own Laurel Sutton pointed out in her article on the horrors of crowdsourced naming, involving too many people in a naming project is fraught with danger. Setting aside concerns with the leaking of proprietary information about the company and products, the name candidates themselves need to be kept secret.

For instance, let’s say that as part of the naming process, you coin a new name. It may be vital to the success of the project to own the .com domain name. If details of your naming project are too widely known, or if it is a public or semi-public crowdsourced project, someone could register that domain name ahead of you. Or, if you find yourself needing to purchase a domain name, public information about your interest in that name will make it harder to acquire the domain at a low price. The same concerns arise relating to trademark registration.

One way to protect against this is to register the domain name for any promising name candidates early in the process. You can use an anonymous registrar to hide your identity to maintain the best security. Spending $15 each on a few domain name candidates is cheap insurance against problems later.

The Flipside Danger — Keeping Secrecy for Too Long
At some point well before the launch of a new product or company name, it is vital to widen the process to include more people. This is especially true if you are planning to launch the name in key international markets. It’s important to get feedback, both at home and abroad, on potential problems with a name. There may be negative connotations or marketing conflicts that escaped the notice of a small team.

This widening, though, still needs to be done judiciously. Whether you have a few potential “short list” candidates, or one name you are hoping to use, you still should involve as few people as possible. Once a name candidate is widely known, it can take on a life of its own. It’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle once people become attached to a specific name, but any name may need to ultimately be abandoned due to lack of trademark availability or other issues. Keeping the knowledge of the name as tightly controlled as possible keeps you nimble and flexible.

Finding the Balance of Secrecy and Openness
In short, you should limit the number of people involved in a naming project to as few as possible, but that number will change through the life of a project. Start small and involve more people as needed. The biggest danger is to start big and then try to maintain control of the process; that is a recipe for failure.

 

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