What’s in a name?

This post about product naming has been brewing for a while, but time constraints made it harder to write than anticipated. However, a Facebook link to an online shopping site reminded me that it’s long overdue, and very needed. The above mentioned female oriented site had several dresses, one of which was named “Rueda de Casino”. That irked me so much that I simply had to put, pen to paper fingers to the keyboard, and write this post.

Naming products is a difficult part of marketing. There are all sorts of subliminal clues that the name conveys. One of my earlier posts referred to the quandary of naming technology product series, and how names can suggest a steeper learning curve versus a functional improvement. In this case, it’s more of a question of names creating a personality for the product.

One one such Romanian site, the dresses were called Anelia, Daniela, Elena, Flory, and so on. I wouldn’t be caught dead in a dress called Flory, a pretentious way of spelling a common enough name. Flory is bleach blonde, pink lipped, and heavy-bosomed. Why would I want to associate with her? Joking aside, my comment above reveals the problem with such names. The brand / site, does not build the personality of the product they are trying to sell. Instead, that personality gets created inside the customer’s mind, using the subjective imagery that he or she associated with the name. Someone may have a friendly, pleasant Flory in their circle of friends, but for someone else she may be the highschool bitch, and the purchase, already iffy because you can’t really try on or even touch the product, ends up not happening. It is much better to use a descriptive: Knee length off shoulder satin dress. It also indexes better than Flory, should I want to find such a dress via websearch. I am not against naming products with people’s names, but there needs to be a reason behind the naming (is it a mascot, an embodiment of the brand persona, a virtual person?) A case in point is Siri, whose name is brilliantly discussed here.

“Rueda de casino”, as a name, is less problematic in terms of personality associations. Its problem is that it is too obscure (and too long). For those that don’t know, rueda de casino is a dance, originating from cuban salsa. It is danced in pairs, as part of the larger group who executes the same moves simultaneously, based on the signals of a leader called a “caller” or “madre”. Imagine a modern version of the reel, without the dosey do (dosado). 🙂 It takes a fairly knowledgeable person to recognize that the product name refers to a dance (other products on the site also have dance names, such as samba or salsa). Admittedly, there is nothing more obscure than  IKEA product names, and those still get bought, however let us not forget the equity of the IKEA umbrella brand, and that fact the products can be seen and tried in real life, not only virtually. Generally, though, a product name that means nothing to the customer adds nothing to the desire to purchase, and in fact can detract from it.

The second issue is that the dress itself has nothing to do with the style evoked by the name.  Certain words carry certain references. Samba is carnival, feathers, bare skin. Flamenco is ruffles, long skirts, bright colors. To name products that have none of those elements with words that evoke them creates a sense of disconnect. The customer is puzzled. Are there flounces that she cannot see in the picture? Or cut outs? All of a sudden, she is not convinced that the product will suit her, and she does not make the purchase.

It’s different when the customer can examine the product, but in online selling, naming and descriptions are paramount. The customer makes a leap of faith, and the goal of the seller is to make it as short as possible, eliminating any ambiguities the buyer might have about the purchase. Improper name creates ambiguities.

So what’s in a name? Sales. Or lack thereof.


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