Don’t Give Your Products A Bad Name

A white paper by The Naming Group


Few question the vital role names play in defining brands. But banks sometimes forget about the importance of giving the correct names to products or services. Names create first impressions and are far more permanent than any ad copy or promotional offer. And beyond describing a company’s offerings, names shape expectations of the surrounding brand experience.

When naming new products or services, banks have their work cut out for them. The category has extremely limited vocabulary to define concepts that are complicated (if not boring) to the average retail customer. There are not many synonyms for “checking account” or “online banking,” and–given that teaching customers new language for these concepts is not automatic–most banks are content to stick with the tried and true.

The result: an industry pandemic of well-worn words, where products are rarely differentiated and names are rarely engaging. That ubiquitous sameness is a big oversight for most bank brands, and it has long represented a golden opportunity for innovators to differentiate themselves through the names they use to introduce new products.


Within the past decade, consumer usage of digital services has surged, as has the quantity of relationships consumers entrust for niche financial purposes, from direct banking (Mango, UPside, Ally, Electric Orange) to payment methods (Square, LevelUp, BillMeLater) to financial management (SmartyPig, Mint, HelloWallet.) We handle our money with more casual, lifestyle-consistent interactions. And, fittingly, the names of these new entries are routinely more conversational, sociable, and even more playful than banking products of old. Few are purely descriptive, and most evoke associations beyond the products themselves.

An early pioneer of this cultural revolution, PayPal, has a name that exemplifies the shift in consumer expectations from services to relationships (or friendships, even.) To capture our affinity, names must make such connections amid online ecosystems of Google results and friend feeds–unlike the days when, once inside the brick-and-mortar bank walls, generically named services saw little competition.

Given these shifts within the financial category, the opportunity to differentiate is quickly becoming a necessity for survival.

To compete, new products must move away from traditional bank-speak and towards names that spark emotional connections.


To keep up with this diverse influx of new competition, banks not only need to remain innovative with new products and features, but they need to do it in a way that rivals the human interest of the changing landscape. When naming new entries, these four tenets are key to keeping ahold of divided consumer attention:



    Introducing more points of interaction with customers means new revenue sources and deeper loyalty. But getting customers interested enough to actually sign up and engage with new products takes a story they have not heard a million times. A dynamic name is chapter one of such stories. It sets the stage for whether an offering will be perceived as useful or frivolous, exciting or forgettable, from the first interaction. That’s why industry leaders are embracing more engaging names for new account features.

    Bank of America’s “Keep the Change” and “Add it Up” products are two such examples. One is a forced-savings tool, the other a cash rewards program, but rather than “Automatic Savings” or “Cash Rewards” or similarly descriptive concepts, the chosen names are more suggestive. They capture the function of the services, but in a way that asks the customer to make a figurative leap. (Keep what change? Add what up?) And the reason customers are willing to spend that extra moment to figure it out is the fact that the names are conversational and familiar. They aren’t typical bank-speak; rather, they use language that’s casual and natural for a person to use in the context of their money. By choosing names that sacrifice descriptive clarity, Bank of America in turn piques enough interest to encourage a consumer to open an email or an envelope, and to continue the natural interaction that these names invite.


    The best way to be perceived as friendly and authentic is by selling products that feel friendly and authentic, like the PayPal name. Emphasizing relationship over transaction is key.

    Beneficial Bank (assets: $4 billion), a Philadelphia-based regional bank, branded a white-label rewards program (from RewardsNOW) with the name “BankThanks.” Rewards programs are another popular route to deeper loyalty and increased card-based purchases, but to overcome common skepticism of complexity and limitations, the right name should feel easy, approachable and accessible.

    And “BankThanks” does so by giving these rewards some human personality. Beyond the benefit of the name’s ownability (only Beneficial gives you “BankThanks”), the name also fosters approachability. Earning BankThanks is no different from earning “rewards points,” except that a reward feels formal and paternalistic, whereas “thanks”–more than “Thank You” even–is a way we express gratitude to our friends.

    Driving that familiarity home, Beneficial introduced a “thx” identity–mimicking a common email signoff with a casual abbreviation that further familiarizes the “thanks” that you earn with every purchase.

    Beyond enticing customers to enroll in the program, “BankThanks” serves a loftier role in shaping customers’ understanding of their bank. A bank that says “thx” is a lot more approachable than one that bestows rewards, and the corporate perception is benefitted by the product’s influence.


    Each bank’s advertising dollars aim to carve a unique story about why it’s different from competitors. But, at the end of the day, save for a few industry pioneers, the products that support the story are often equivalent from bank to bank.

    So tagging a brand-building ad with a product like “Personal Checking from XXX Bank” negates any difference the campaign sought to delineate. Compounding the challenge is the fact that–even after attracting potential customers with a compelling offer–a Google search to find it reopens the floodgates to similarly named products from other banks. By creating a distinctive name for each product, the path to a sale sees fewer distractions.

    MainStreet Bank (assets: $282 million), Herndon, Va., has done a great job of creating an ownable suite of retail product names, centered around its flagship “airbanking” platform. Unlike a ubiquitous descriptive term like “mobile banking,” “airbanking” becomes an ownable new category-definer. It communicates extra benefit right within the name, accentuating not only the definition of “banking from anywhere” but emotionally resonant themes of freedom, flexibility, openness–a breath of fresh air.

    It means that, if MainStreet makes a compelling offer, and I go looking for it, I’m Googling “airbanking” by name (and not “mobile checking account,” which would have reopened the door to all the other competitors.) The term “airbanking” is MainStreet’s alone and gets the first hit on Google every time.

    Moreover, the themes suggested by the name strengthen the brand platform as a whole. By attaching the “air-” prefix to every product (airchecking, airmortgages) MainStreet has strengthened its brand consistency and cohesiveness at every customer touch point, resonating their “bank where you breathe” tagline that supports the bright, blue-sky vision of a different approach to banking.


    Beyond defining individual products, names are part of what our company calls the “namescape”–a company’s entire portfolio of names and how they interrelate to support the brand. When viewed together, a cohesively named suite of products can weave a deeper illustration of the intended brand personality.

    A particularly colorful example can be found in the Lone Star state. The Cowboy Bank (assets: $51 million)of Maypearl, Texas, has created a suite of names that not only distinguish its products from competitors, but also reinforce a unique brand story. Product names like Wrangler Savings, Longhorn Savings, and Silver Spur Money Market use a simple technique of pairing evocative language with otherwise commonplace account descriptions.

    The result: each name works harder, distinguishing the product tiers while also distinguishing the brand experience as a whole. The thematic approach to naming increases the consistency of the brand voice, heightening likelihood that customers will remember the bank for its products in conjunction with an ownable brand personality. Granted this thematic approach is a bit more maverick than the average bank can comfortably embrace, but the takeaway is this: A dynamic and thematically interwoven namescape can elevate the overarching brand as much as the products themselves, helping to support broader brand-building efforts.

    Time to name with purpose.

    A bank that invests millions positioning itself as the most helpful, supportive bank–and then offers products with bland, impersonal names like “Preferred Rate Savings”–has missed an opportunity for that product name to better introduce the intended spirit.

    With an onslaught of competition that is getting more and more focused on friendlier, brand-advancing names–from Popmoney to SmartyPig–now is the time for banks to reassess whether the products they offer are named to meet changing customer expectations–because customers don’t have to look far to find a friendlier face.

    Names shape expectations of the surrounding brand experience.

    To compete, new products must move away from traditional bank-speak and towards names that spark emotional connections.

This is an article written for ABA Bank Marketing by Jake Hancock while Strategy Director at The Naming Group.

About The Naming Group
The Naming Group is an LA-based naming agency. We partner with leading brands to create brand-empowering names – and provide the guidance needed to inspire informed decisions. Our focus on namescape strategy ensures that naming decisions are guided not only by what’s best for the offerings we name – but also for the strength of our clients’ brands as a whole. For more information about our philosophy, approach, and work for brands such as GM, Capital One, Sony, and Nestle, visit us at