On naming new product
In the lead-up to the launch of our AI offering, we explored giving it an entirely new, bespoke name. However, we ultimately decided against it. Here's why.
It’s not just high(er)-definition, it’s Retina™
It’s been close to 15 years since Steve Jobs first announced the Retina display with the release of the iPhone 4:
"iPhone 4 is the biggest leap since the original iPhone," Jobs said. "FaceTime video calling sets a new standard for mobile communication, and our new Retina display is the highest resolution display ever in a phone, with text looking like it does on a fine printed page.”
They could have just called it what it was: a new, higher-definition display. But instead, they chose to trademark a new term. A term that would not just serve the purpose of differentiating the iPhone 4 from other smartphones but also future iPhones and products they’d release soon after.
Almost a decade and a half later, Retina is still a term in use in Apple’s marketing, with the “Liquid Retina XDR” featuring on the latest versions of the MacBook Pro.
There’s a lot more to the name that you can read up on Wikipedia, but for now, let’s dive into how this example is relevant to naming new software products.
Does it even need a name?
Some might give you a fancy framework to make this decision. I even started to sketch what one might look like, but at the end of the day, this one’s simple.
You should name a feature or capability if it meets at least one of the following criteria:
a. A key action users take or thing they interact with in your product
b. An important consideration in a buyer’s purchasing decision
For example, in traditional spreadsheets, you need to manually expand datasets and update calculations and charts as new data comes in. But, in Equals, you can enable ”Auto-expand”.
Auto-expand is both a key action users can take and a unique selling proposition. It’s nameworthy.
“What are we calling it?”
This is one of the questions I ask in preparation for every new feature release, along with the following:
What is it?
How does it work?
What jobs can you hire it for?
What are people hiring already?
Why will they hire this instead?
Does it have any notable limitations?
The answers to these questions are all inputs to deciding “What we should call it?” – in the product and in marketing.
Like any product marketer, I treat everything we ship as a potential marketing opportunity. So, most recently, I asked this question when it came to planning the release of our new AI offering – a massive opportunity to make a big splash.
Comprehensibility vs. marketability
About a month before I joined Equals, we released what would be the first version of AI Assist. It made Equals the first spreadsheet with AI natively built in.
Many months later, with all the advances in AI technology, we took a step back and completely reimagined what AI Assist could be. It’s cliche, but we’d end up completely rebuilding and redesigning AI Assist (from the ground up).
So the question begged, should we re-launch AI Assist or launch something completely new? I (marketing) was pushing for the latter, and Ben (product) was open to but not sold on the idea.
The tension between product and marketing
I’d been in this situation many times before. The most memorable example was in the earlier years of Intercom when we launched “Live Chat”. Or, as the VP of Product (Paul, now CPO) called it, an “Asynchronous messaging product”. I cover this in more detail in the talk I gave below at the Inside Intercom World Tour:
It wasn’t that Paul and the product team were wrong. They were actually 100% correct. We just had our own biases. If it’s the product team’s job is to innovate and build the product of the future, then it’s marketing’s job to make sure people a) find that product, b) understand it, and c) convince them why they need it.
We landed on calling it “Live Chat” because, at the time, there were more than 100,000 global monthly searches for “live chat software” but next to nothing for “asynchronous messaging”.
Accuracy vs. marketability
As part of that launch, we’d also release a new feature that enabled new conversations (what others called “tickets”) to be automatically assigned to a group of teammates (what others called “agents”) in a “round robin” fashion. This was a table stake feature in alternative live chat products.
When it came to deciding on the name for this new feature, the product team wanted to name it such that it accurately represented how it worked and would fit well into the information architecture of the product.
On the flip side, the marketing team wanted to call it something that was more directly aligned with what competitors called it. Why? To aid discovery, evaluation and, ultimately, a purchasing decision.
Product’s recommendation was “circular assignment.” Marketing’s was “round-robin assignment.” While it did not fit (as) well into the existing information architecture of the product, we went with “round-robin assignment”. It was closer to (if not the exact) terminology that prospective customers would use in conversations with sales, as well as actively look for in our marketing and documentation when evaluating Intercom.
We could have called it circular assignment, but then we’d need to educate the market on what that was and why it was better than what they already knew. While the feature was better designed on its own, it didn't offer a better outcome. It just ticked the box, which made round-robin assignment easier to market and easier for target users to discover.
Coming up with a new, bespoke name
We came up with more than a handful of potential names in exploring options for the new AI Assist – Celly, Caddie, M…and a dozen more.
I’d love to tell you we conducted thorough research and user testing before we landed on a name, but the reality is we’re not equipped to do that as an early-stage company that intentionally ships frequently and fast.
Ultimately, this decision was made over a couple of video calls, and threads on Slack and email between Ben (CPO), Bobby (CEO), and me (marketing). Here’s one example:
After a live brainstorming session, we came up with a front-runner – Q. We liked Q because:
It had 3 syllables or less, making it easy to pronounce and remember
It didn’t feel personified or gender-specific
It sounded unique and memorable (even more so for James Bond fans)
What would “Q” look and feel like?
With a name in mind, Martin (founding designer) explored how Q would show up in the product. Here’s an example of Q appearing in different states in Equals:
Ultimately, we decided not to go with Q and instead stick with AI Assist. Here’s the moment we made that decision collectively as a team:
Was this the right decision? Maybe. Maybe not. While it’s not very unique or memorable, it accurately describes what it is. And it landed well in the market as well, so I guess it was marketable (again), too.
Who should name your next new thing?
My connections might be a little biased on this one.
Truth is, I don’t think there’s a cut-and-dry answer here. It will vary from company to company. Fortunately, we’re still small enough of a team, with trust that’s been built over many years of working together in previous roles, that we’re still able to make decisions collectively. But, of course, that won’t scale. Hopefully, we get to tackle that problem soon, though.