The why and how of great brand names

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For most people, the extent of the time they think about names doesn’t go much beyond life’s special occasions, e.g. when you looked at your newborn son or daughter for the first time, or when you brought a new kitten or puppy home for the kids.

But if you’re even “loosely” in the branding or marketing business, life is full of special occasions. You’re launching, or evolving the name of, your organization. You’re introducing a new product or service. You’re merging your organization or product or service lines into another one. Regardless of the reason, your name is probably the most important intangible element of a successful brand.

Here’s why:

• similar to your kids (and kittens and puppies) a name is the one element you never hope to change
• it begins every conversation and captures every single penny of your marketing investment
• the more distinctive it is, the more powerful your intellectual property rights
• a powerful name is the springboard to other new launches
• it serves to create competitive space and distinctive associations between you and others
• it shortcuts the decision-making process for customers

There’s always a lot riding on new brand name success. At the same time, the process continues to become more difficult, given the vast number of names that are submitted for trademark application each and every day.

Here are five tips for getting it right:

1. Think about it early in your development process. You’d never approach product development or even a marketing campaign without a detailed plan of timing and events. Naming is no different. It requires discovery, creativity and analysis, typically multiple rounds of work, check points, buy-in from different audiences and time on the back-end for trademark search and opinion.

2. Begin with an approved brief. In the best of times, naming can become a very subjective process. So objectify it as much as possible by developing a naming brief for client approval that includes target audience profiles, naming considerations (short-term, longer-term), criteria (distinctiveness, brevity, appropriateness, extendability, etc.), strategic approaches (i.e. descriptive, suggestive, coined, arbitrary), linguistic considerations, competitive set, mandatories (e.g. URL availability), etc.

3. Speaking of URL availability, consider it early-on. Chances are, your favorite name might not be available as a URL. Which means you need a derivation of the name (which complicates search), or another name entirely.

4. Brainstorm far and wide. This is the time to imaginatively stretch. You typically need to brainstorm a very long list, using different starting points as concept springboards, to generate just a few potential “first-pass” candidates. As starting points, think about attributes, functional and emotional benefits, outcomes and target audience characteristics, to name just a few.

5. There’s more than one way to present names. It would be nirvana to present a shortlist of names (in 18 point black helvetica type) to a senior leadership team and have them agree that “strategically this is the right name for our…”. But nirvana is not reality. Think about your audience. Where are they coming from in regard to the name? What’s their expectation? What’s the most impactful way to share names with them? Maybe it’s an ad, the cover of an annual report or a mock-up of a package. As in all presentations, it’s all about engaging your audience on their terms.

Certainly, there’s more to a successful process and naming program beyond these five steps. But these will provide you with a good start to developing stand-out names that your audiences relate to, believe in, take pride in and become loyal to.