Six Steps to Simplifying Business Naming and Branding
Faced with a corporate or product naming assignment, you may conjure visions of silly corporate naming competitions over cold pizza or the endless search for the elusive, available url, which often results in a substandard name by default. While happy accidents can happen, most naming exercises fail because they are purely subjective, not based on any brand strategy.
Because a name is the most visible manifestation of your brand, whether it is a corporate, product or service brand, it needs to be built on a solid foundation. Having lead quite a few naming processes, I’ve found success by breaking down the process into six steps.
Before you consider a name, ask:
1. To whom does the name need to appeal?
It’s easy to fall back on what you like but it’s less about you than those you are targeting. Creating buyer personas is a branding exercise that can hone your understanding of your target audience.
2. When is a new name appropriate?
In addition to launching a new company, product or service, a new name can be a great way to symbolize a change in direction or that you are appealing to a new audience. If the brand equity you’ve accrued under a current name is either negligible or negative, a new name may be just the thing to make a fresh start. Depending on size and scope of your business, the decision to rename may be something you can decide internally, but in some cases it may be necessary to consult customers and other external audiences to gauge receptivity.
3. What decisions need to be made before a naming process can begin?
There are three essential ingredients needed before beginning a naming process:
- Company or Product Vision – Be able to articulate a clear vision that embodies the scale and scope of your aspirations.
- Brand Architecture – Brand Architecture describes how a family of brands relate to one another. Before beginning any naming process, be sure you’re clear where the new name wlll sit within the corporate hierarchy, assuming one exists. There are essentially three architectural naming models to which businesses subscribe: Masterbrands (most small companies and many large holding companies like Virgin are Masterbrands in which the single name is where all brand equity accrues); Endorsed brands (in which a brand name includes an endorsement like the small Marriott text under the Courtyard logo, indicating that Courtyard, a hotel brand, is a Marriott property); Individual brands (the P&G model of individual brands with no visible connection to the parent brand).
- Competition – Look at the naming conventions of your competitors or similar types of companies or products. You may find approaches you like but you want to steer clear of anything too close to your competition.
4. How do I begin brainstorming a name?
It’s easiest to think of naming in terms of “genres of names.” This has both creative and functional benefits. Creatively filtering naming by genre provides a broad framework of approaches that will free your creative mind. Functionally, you need to be aware of which genres are easiest to attain legal trademarks.
Following are the genres of names I like to use, with brief descriptions:
- Descriptive – Descriptive names are, as they sound, names that describe the business or product and its function. While these names are easiest to come up with and often great, they are sometimes difficult to get through the legal trademark process. BestBuy and OfficeMax are descriptive names.
- Invented – Conversely, Invented names are made-up names that have been “brainstormed” or “created” and have no inherent meaning, except what you build into their marketing; they are easiest to trademark but entail the most effort in building meaning. Google, Accenture, Shazam and Spotify are invented names.
- Evocative – Evocative names elicit an impression of what the business does, without being literal and descriptive. Evocative names are short and meaningful and call up a good feeling. Nest, Waze and Twitter are evocative names.
- Metaphorical – Here we center on the question, “What does your business or product do?” We’ll take each of the words and phrases we come up with and parallel them with other things in life that do these things. Examples include The Ladders for executive job search, Amazon for it’s sheer size and power or Jaguar for its speed and predatory elegance. The benefit associated with metaphorical names is that by their very nature, the marketing concept is built right in.
5. What Should I Avoid?
There are a few things to avoid such as:
- Company naming processes, which are seen as a way to save money and time but as is true with most things, you usually get what you pay for.
- Getting stuck on a name too early. Naming is not for the impatient; it involves a lot of trial and error and consistent revisiting of the strategic brand vision. The temptation is to stop working once you have a decent name, but with the challenging process of attaining a trademark and an available url, it’s best to have at least five name options.
- Deciding on something YOU like without considering your customers.
- For the most part, descriptive names, which are getting harder and harder to trademark, should not be your only options.
6. What Should I Strive For?
In brainstorming names for your company or product:
- A name should sound good. Does it roll off the tongue? Say the names out loud; it’s amazing how hearing the sound reveals awkward words or words with the wrong associations.
- Do the word roots offer broader ideas? Creating hybrid words from two different word roots can be effective. Serendipity can occur this way, opening new possibilities. Accenture is such an example of combing accent and future. Trubiquity is a cool name I came upon recently, a hybrid of True and ubiquity for a global data exchange business.
- Will a metaphor encapsulate your marketing goals? Go about describing your company or product; are there metaphors that apply? Your brand is a story that you tell the world and metaphors are powerful storytelling vehicles.
- Will it resonate with your audience? Your audience is your mantra, keep coming back to it by reminding yourself to whom the name must appeal.
- Put your top names on a business card; it should look and feel natural.
Follow these six steps and you will generate a long list of viable names that you will be able to defend based on strategic thinking and a methodical approach. It’s actually a lot of fun and no pizza required!