It goes like this:
Have you ever named food?
Have you ever named frozen food?
Have you ever named frozen peas?
We’re really looking for someone with specific expertise here.
A fictional version of a conversation that’s happened countless times: cookie shops, new-age health products, luxury cruise lines, whatever—people are looking for an expert to name their whatchamacallit. A voice in the back of their head is asking, Are you sure you’re getting the best? Maybe that voice isn’t even internal—it could be a boss, a spouse, a business partner doing the convincing. Make sure you’re finding the best.
Next, they decide that the best person for the job both (1) is an experienced namer generally, and (2) has experience naming the specific product at hand. There’s a leap here, from “best namer” to “most experienced namer in my industry.” As a general proposition, this holds: more experience is better than less. But the move from “I need a naming company” to “I need the best frozen pea namer out there” is a bad one. Here’s why:
There’s no such thing as a frozen pea expert.
Leave unicorn hunting to the pros. Naming is a niche already. Count up the experts—the ones who don’t just throw naming as a line item on a list of services—and you’ll find about two dozen firms. None of them can afford to keep a frozen pea expert on the payroll.
Maybe worse, imagine what life would look life as the frozen pea guy. It looks like a whole lot of cardboard signs and spare change. No one can keep the lights on doing it, and even if they tried, come on—who wants to work with someone that strange?
You’re the frozen pea experts. We’re the naming experts.
You probably do something specialized, too. You’re close to it. What do we need to know about it that we can’t learn in a few hours? Naming companies aren’t successful because of encyclopedic knowledge. They’re good at distilling the information in encyclopedias, dictionaries of American slang, and lists of obscure Lakota words into small, attractive packages. Naming is also about what to focus on—knowing how to pick out the right name, not just an attractive one.
There’s a difference between domain expertise and process expertise. If naming companies had to be experts in everything we name, we’d need PhDs in everything from biomechanical engineering to the San Francisco beer scene. On second thought, that doesn’t sound so bad.
Strangers are wise.
Any business is serious business when it’s keeping a roof over your head. For the other seven billion people in the world, it’s not the same. Peas? They’re silly-sounding vegetables. (Here, the pea guy would protest, “They’re fruit!” which, we admit, is technically true.) As consultants, we namers get inside the minds of the seven billion, because often, the guy who knows the most about your business knows the least about how people think about your business.
That outsider’s approach results in a name that’s different from all of the others. Better to connect to an audience than to the inside of an industry, even one as venerable as the frozen pea industry.
That’s why the best firm to hire isn’t the one who knows your industry. It’s the one who knows people.