Before crowdsourcing was a thing, hell, before the internet was a thing, the administrators of my rural college in southwestern Colorado asked the student body to submit name ideas to rechristen the student dining hall. With a speed and unanimity that startled even the most seasoned leaders, the student body rallied around "Alferd G. Packer" Hall. I'll save you a click and inform the unenlightened that Mr. Packer was a confessed cannibal having eaten 8 of the 9 Democrats in the state.
As beer-addled students, we loved it clever, memorable, irreverent-thumbing our noses at the man. While another college later adopted it for one of their casual dining spots, it received a failing grade here.
I am reminded of this with every news story of a company, start-up or other organization relying on the alleged wisdom of the crowd to help it name its company or product or flavor or sports team or ship.
And there are plenty of stories--each an example of failure. Though we can embrace failure, the teachable moment is one that is singularly not embraced, but instead ridiculed.
The most recent example is Boaty McBoatface, the crowd's hands down favorite for the name of a British Antarctic Survey's research vessel. It sure got a lot of press-but so did the Endurance. The former the butt of ridicule, the latter the recipient of praise, awe and honor.
The Binghamton, NY Mets, a farm club for the NY Mets apparently didn't read the stories and reached out to the crowd for more alleged wisdom and is currently considering noble sobriquets like (hey, look at us aren't we edgy) "Stud Muffins" and (we have wild turkeys in our neighborhood, so how about the) "Gobblers."
Pepsi got "Diabeetus" for a Mountain Dew Flavor. Kraft got iSnack 2.0, for a snack item, another farm club ended up with the "Yard Goats," and even the creative paragon of businesses, an advertising agency, got a set of initials when it asked for input from a bunch of people who clearly are not busy enough to be doing something other than surfing the web.
Crowdsourced solutions may have their place, political elections for one, but there is scant proof they produce great work. Note the 2016 presidential election for one.
A name is important. No part of your brand message will be used more often than your name. It is the embodiment of who you are, what you stand for, and the value you deliver Outsourcing its creation and selection to amateurs makes just a bit more sense than asking them to take out your gall bladder.
So here are nine things to consider when using crowdsourcing to generate a brand name:
1. With crowdsourcing you get what you pay for.
A very inexperienced person will spend eight minutes on your project with the remote hope that he/she will win the contest and receive a percentage of a tiny fee. Conversely, professional creatives are dedicated to producing great work They spend time, they think through the pros and cons, they try to see around the next bend That's what you pay them for
2. Crowdsourcing sites promise overnight results.
But ask yourself: When was the last time in your business experience overnight produced anything smart and sustainable? It doesn't pass the sniff test.
3. The names lean to the cute and clever at the expense of power and meaning.
This is a simple and natural result of a part-time or passing interest in producing good work. When a crowd member is not invested in the outcome the motivation to work hard, think hard and grind out the tedious but essential work in name development is not there.
4. The names are not strategic.
Crowdsourced names don't consider what happens in a couple of years. They don't reflect the core audience or the future prospects Take "Stud Muffins" for example Cute, clever, buzz value But parents are not taking their kids to see the Stud Muffins Even the most self-confident fan in the world is uncomfortable saying, "I love the Stud Muffins." Do you want to take your spouse or date to see the Stud Muffins? Your college buddy from Dallas will take great joy in breaking your chops about your hometown team.
5. Voting for winners usually produces losers.
Asking the crowd to vote for a name as a means of selecting the winner is worse than a beauty pageant At least in a beauty pageant you see the contestants in different contexts exhibiting different skills. The average voter in your naming contest will spend three seconds deciding your fate.
6. The crowd is not a subject matter expert.
The crowd will tell you that self-published "Post-Traumatic Brazilian Wax Syndrome" is a better book than "Lolita," "1984," or "Pride and Prejudice."
Crowdsourcing a vital decision sends a bad message.
What does asking a bunch of unknowledgeable, unskilled, uncreative amateurs for their help say about your team's leadership qualities, its decision-making skills, its creativity and innovation and the value it places on professionalism, experience and expertise?
8. It is inefficient.
If you think that amateurs, even thousands of them, can produce great work you might want to talk to any tech executive who will tell you that one great programmer is more efficient and effective than a hundred mediocre ones.
9. The PR is always bad.
If a PR boost is what you're after, a crowdsourced contest can provide a spike of awareness But the story angle is always the failure, the silliness, the mistake Bad news is the nature of news.
Naming your company or product is a strategic decision. It is also a near permanent one. If you believe a great name can help launch and sustain your business, make the effort to create a name that reflects and embodies that importance.