Upgrade Magazine

Beyond Code:
Finding the Right Creative Team

By Valorie Cook Carpenter, Market Savvy Consulting Group



 The job's not done just because the code is written. In the packaging and naming stage it's imperative to amass the right creative team members.
When it comes to naming your product and designing the package, there are a number of issues to consider. Granted, a poor name and ineffective package design won't necessarily kill your product. But a top-notch name and a sit-up-and-take-notice package will certainly help in the competitive software industry.

Let's examine the naming issue first. Here's how to improve your odds of coming up with a great product name.

Start with a nondescriptive working title - one that couldn't possibly become the final name - for the product while it's under development. This is important for a number of reasons:

  • It lessens the possibility that a competitor will understand the essence of your product concept when if anyone overhears your staff discussing it at lunch, on an airplane, in a retailer's lobby, at a trade show, etc.
  • It also lessens the possibility of "locking in" a name too early, before the marketing group really understands the product's key differences from the target customer's point of view. These key differences should guide the product naming and positioning to maximize its effectiveness. Development groups get very attached to names, even nonsensical ones. Don't compromise your marketing effectiveness by giving your product anything but the name that best communicates your key message to your target customers.
Have your development group members give products in development code names if they'd like. Just make sure the names won't embarrass the company if they do appear in print. Company themes (animals, rock types, etc.) from which individual product code names are chosen can work well. Strive for whimsy and charm rather than grotesque or just plain gross in your code names.

The first step in creating a final name for your product is to develop a strategic objective statement. This is a short (1/2 page) written document specifying:

  • what the product is, in one or two sentences, maximum
  • its target customer
  • the why-to-buy or key reason the target customer will want to buy the product, ideally expressed in four to seven words
  • that the name should relate to the product in some way; be easy to say, spell and remember; be trademarkable; and be appropriate to use internationally
All interested parties should approve this finalized document at least eight months before the product is scheduled to release. This lengthy time frame allows for the inevitable dead ends and roadblocks that occur in the naming and package design process.

The Way to Go
There are several approaches to creating an effective product name once you have a strategic objective statement that everyone agrees upon.

Brainstorm internally: Invite a small group (15 people maximum, and 10 is even better) of creative people to a one-hour brainstorming, preferably in the morning when people are fresher. If there are lots of interested parties, hold several smaller brainstorming sessions rather than one huge one.

Give the participants a copy of the approved strategic objective statement in advance, and ask them to think about possible names before the meeting.

At the meeting itself, make sure a dictionary and thesaurus are available. Have a leader set the ground rules. The objective is to generate lots of names, without any evaluation/judgment, and take down all names (even Roadkill!) on a large pad of white paper on an easel. Use masking tape to put filled sheets of names on the walls for reference. Try to come up with at least 100 names. At the end of the session, try to get some consensus on the best five or 10 names, and circle those. Have the list of names typed up, with the circled names highlighted.

Repeat as necessary until a handful of preferred names emerges. Obtain trademark clearance on the top five names. This is probably the most difficult step, as many great names are already taken.

Hire an outside agency specializing in creating company and product names: This is expensive (it can cost $25,000 or more) and the agency's commitment is only to provide you with a trademarkable name. However, large companies with the resources to go this route have obtained outstanding names in this manner. It may be worth getting a proposal, particularly if you're unsatisfied with the results from your own internal brainstorming.

In-house vs. Outside OK, so you've developed the name to end all names. Now you're ready for the package design. Should you hire an outside agency or stick with in-house talent? Either can work; what's important is that the creative team can deliver great creative and can work to meet strategic objectives.

If you're going the out-of-house route, here's one way to conduct a design review to select an outside agency.

Ask around: Identify packages you think are effective in the retail environment and find out who did the graphic design. Sometimes the designer is even listed on the package. Or the software publisher will often tell you if you ask and you aren't a direct competitor. Your objective is to identify three to six designers to meet with. Meet with the potential agencies: Ask them to present their portfolios. Listen to see if they mention what the initial objectives were and what the results have been. Discuss with them how they like to work; be sure they are willing to work to a strategic objective statement, within a competitive time frame and to present a number of alternatives. Be wary of agencies with a particular "look" unless you're sure you want that look for your product. Having at least some software package design experience is ideal but not absolutely necessary.

Select the agency that does the best creative and is the most willing to work with you: If forced to choose between these objectives, go with the agency that's willing to work with you rather than the one with the best creative. You'll be more satisfied with the results.

Although most graphic design firms work on an individual project basis rather than on a continuing retainer, if you have an in-house design group or find an outside agency that you work effectively with, I'd suggest using them exclusively for all of your design work.

There is a learning curve for every agency or in-house design team, and once you have a group that understands your products, company and what you're looking for, the design process will go faster, more smoothly and deliver consistently outstanding results.

For More Information This article is taken in part from SPA's newest publication, "Software Publishers Handbook." To see the table of contents, check out SPA's Packaging SIG Web site. One copy of the handbook is free to Software Packaging SIG members. The book is $99 for SPA members and $199 for nonmembers. To order, contact SPA's fulfillment department.

Once you have a group that understands your products, company and what you're looking for, the design process will go faster, more smoothly and deliver consistently outstanding results.
OK, so you've developed the name to end all names. Now you're ready for the package design. Should you hire an outside agency or stick with in-house talent?.

Valorie Cook Carpenter is president of Market Savvy Consulting Group, Los Altos, Calif., which focuses on strategically driving the creative process to deliver marketing materials that work. Carpenter can be reached at vcarpenter@aol.com.


This article was published in the August 1996 issue of Upgrade Magazine.