What's in a (Good) Product Name? Sales

Cellphone Study Finds 'Cognitive' Monikers Work; Numerics Flop

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YORK, Pa. (AdAge.com) -- Can a clever product name translate to market share? And can an unpopular name sink it?

Researchers at Strategic Naming Development say yes. In a consumer study, they found the most-favored cellphone names belonged to Samsung and LG, while the less-liked were from Motorola and Nokia.

They also found that during the three-year period they studied (the third quarter of 2005 to the second quarter of 2008) and one year after the launch of Motorola's Razr -- the first phone to break away from alphanumeric names -- LG and Samsung gained U.S. market share, both moving to a 20% share from 16%.

Motorola began the third quarter of 2005 at 30% and has sunk to a 21% share. Nokia, which began the third quarter of 2005 with the same 16% market share, declined to 9%, according to NPD Group's Mobile Phone Track.

Name brands
Coincidence? Strategic Naming President William Lozito and Chief Linguistics Officer Diane Prange said they don't think so. For instance, consumers pegged LG and Samsung brands almost identically as modern, creative, engaging, original, cool and easy to remember. Nokia brands scored lower than the three other manufacturers on all 15 measures. Motorola received praise for its "Moto" brand architecture but ranked low on all six name attributes.

Five Laws of Brand Naming
1. Names matter
They create a distinct sense of identity and personality and allow an emotional connection with the product.

2. Don't lead with a number
Numbers are cold and impersonal, and placing them first in a name adds an emotional barrier between the consumer and the product.

3. Focus on the 3 Fs
Names that tell something about the product's form, function or features are more appealing.

4. Leverage lifestyle
Pick names that make people feel cutting-edge, stylish or sexy.

5. Match the name to the market
If your customers aren't into "edgy," round off the corners.

Source: Strategic Name Development

The study surveyed 515 Greenfield Online panelists who own cellphones. The iPhone was not included because it was introduced in 2007, midway through the study period. BlackBerry was also excluded because most of Research in Motion's sales have been in business markets.

Further evidence of a direct link: Both LG and Samsung stopped using numbers and letters as phone names in 2006, and started naming phones with words that not only described phone features but also provided aspirational attributes.

LG's success came after a first shot with Fusic (no gain). Chocolate was its first hit, in the summer of 2006, followed by Shine, Vu, Voyager, Dare and Decoy. The action names are "cognitive metaphors," Ms. Prange said, focused on the lifestyle of the user.

Samsung began its climb with the BlackJack at the end of 2006, followed by the UpStage, FlipShot and Juke. Early 2008 saw even more engaging "loose metaphor" names in the Access, Instinct and Glyde from Samsung. "The deduction is a lot of the seduction in these names," Ms. Prange said.

Ms. Prange and Mr. Lozito agree that Motorola's Razr name was brilliant. Unfortunately, the company couldn't seem to let go. After the Razr came the Rokr, then the Slvr and the Pebl and the Moto Krzr, a "much less intuitive" name. "They just held on to a good thing for too long," Mr. Lozito said.

Nokia is still having trouble letting go of the number system. Nokia is the worldwide leader in cellphone sales, but stateside, Mr. Lozito believes Nokia is "unlikely to succeed in the U.S. unless it learns the value of a good name."

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