If a business were a person, its brand name would be its handshake. Soft and gentle? Aggressive and enthusiastic? A warm double-handed clasp? There are so many (figurative and literal) choices — and coming up with the right one can feel a little like voodoo to someone who’s never done it before. A brand’s name plays a vital role in creating a lasting impression and establishing a strong identity in the minds of consumers. And a really well-crafted one? That’s kind of magical: it can evoke emotions, communicate values, and differentiate a product or service from its competitors. But how do you get into the headspace of naming? What’s the right process for finding the right one? And how do you pull everyone else who has to fall a little in love with the name along with you?
In this ultimate guide to brand naming, we will explore the essential steps and best practices to help you create a compelling and memorable name.
Here, we discuss:
- What a brand name is
- Why brand naming is important
- What makes a good brand name
- Why brand naming is so hard
- Who should be involved in brand naming for your company
- What a possible process is to pick a brand name
- What to be aware of when picking your brand name
What is a brand name?
Now, I see you rolling your eyes here — of course, you know what a brand name is, right? Google, Nike, Apple, yadda yadda. But take a breath: there is more to it than you might have considered.
A brand name is a unique and distinctive word or combination of words that serves as the primary identifier and representation of a brand. It is the name by which a company, product, service, or organization is recognized and distinguished from others in the marketplace. Bottom line: a good name plays a crucial role in creating brand recognition, recall, and differentiation.
A brand name can take on various forms and purposes, including:
- Company Name: In the case of corporate branding, the name is the name of the company itself. Examples include Google, Apple, Coca-Cola, and Nike.
- Product Name: Some brands are primarily associated with specific products or product lines. For instance, Microsoft's Windows operating system, Amazon's Kindle e-reader, or BMW's X5 SUV.
- Brand Name and Product Name Combination: Many brands combine a distinctive name with individual product names. For example, Procter & Gamble is the parent company, and they have various product brands such as Tide, Pampers, and Gillette.
- Brand Extensions: In some cases, a brand name is extended to cover multiple products or services within a brand family. For instance, Samsung offers a wide range of electronic devices, including smartphones, televisions, refrigerators, and more, all under the Samsung brand name.
- Brand Acronyms: Some brands utilize acronyms or abbreviations as their brand names. Examples include IBM (International Business Machines), GE (General Electric), and HP (Hewlett-Packard).
That’s super basic. What’s more interesting however is that there are a variety of very interesting different types of brand names, all designed to play on the emotion and the idea the brand is attempting to evoke in its ideal customer.
A few examples are physical names (eg. StitchFix), evocative names (eg. Lush), fanciful names (eg. Shopify), historic names (eg. Nike), science names (eg. Atom), and music names (eg. Melody).
Why is brand naming important?
If you were going to tell your friend about your favorite brand, how would you start by doing that? Would you first talk about their color palette, the shape of their logo, and their great customer service? Nah. You would probably start by saying the name of the brand. This is one of the most fundamental reasons why the brand name is so important. It’s the first branding element that people use to tell other people about your business. It’s also then the first thing your friend types into Google to search for you.
Besides this very basic but fundamental reason for taking your name seriously, a strong name serves as a key element in brand recognition, recall, and association. It helps differentiate a company, organization, product or service from its competitors, communicates the business’ value proposition, and creates an emotional connection with consumers. A well-chosen brand name can contribute significantly to the success and longevity of your business.
Let’s dig into some of these reasons here:
- Differentiation: In a crowded marketplace, a brand name helps differentiate a product or service from its competitors. It creates a unique identity and helps consumers identify and remember a particular brand among the sea of options available to them.
- First Impression: A brand name is often the first point of contact between a consumer and a product or company. It creates an initial impression that can influence a person’s perception before they’ve even pulled out their wallet. A well-crafted and compelling name can pique curiosity, generate interest, and establish positive associations.
- Brand Recognition and Recall: A strong brand name aids in recognition and recall. When consumers encounter the name repeatedly through various touchpoints such as advertising, packaging, or word-of-mouth, it becomes familiar and easier to remember. A memorable name increases the chances of being top-of-mind when consumers make purchasing decisions.
- Emotional Connection: A brand name has the potential to evoke emotions and create a connection with consumers. It can convey the brand's values, personality, and positioning, eliciting specific emotions or associations. A carefully chosen name can tap into the target audience's aspirations, desires, or lifestyle, fostering a deeper emotional bond with the brand
- Communication and Messaging: A brand name can communicate important messages about the product or service it represents. It can convey information about the brand's industry, purpose, features, or benefits. A well-crafted name can be descriptive, suggestive, or abstract, allowing consumers to infer something about the brand before even trying the product or service.
- Brand Equity and Loyalty: Over time, a brand name becomes an integral part of an organisation’s identity and can accumulate significant equity. Brand equity represents the value, trust, and reputation associated by the public with a company. A strong name contributes to building loyalty, as consumers develop a preference for a trusted and familiar brand name over others.
- Legal Protection: A brand name serves as a legal identifier and can be protected through trademark registration. Trademarking a name provides legal rights and prevents others from using a similar name, protecting the brand's reputation and ensuring exclusivity.
What makes a good brand name?
While there is no one-size-fits-all formula, here are some key characteristics to consider when creating a brand name.
There are inevitably anomalous companies that have been insanely successful without having a brand name that fits into these categories eg Virgin Media (As an aside, did you know Richard Branson got laughed off the phone when he tried to trademark that name because the trademark office thought he was a prank caller?!). However, these rules are generally solid guide rails to create a killer brand name:
- Simplicity: Simplicity is crucial for a brand name. It should be easy to pronounce, spell, and understand. Avoid complex or convoluted names that can confuse or alienate potential customers. Keep it simple and straightforward.
- Memorability: A good brand name is easy to remember. It has a distinctive quality that sticks in the minds of consumers. A memorable name increases the chances of being recalled when consumers are making purchasing decisions.
- Relevance: The name should be relevant to the product, service, or industry it represents. It should give consumers an idea of what the brand is about or convey a relevant attribute or benefit. However, it's important to strike a balance, as being too literal can limit the brand's potential for expansion or creative expression.
- Differentiation: A good name sets the brand apart from its competitors. It should be unique and distinctive, standing out in a crowded marketplace. Avoid generic or overly common names that may get lost in the noise. A distinctive name helps create brand recognition and fosters a memorable brand identity.
- Brand Fit: The brand name should align with the brand's personality, values, and positioning. It should accurately reflect the essence and resonate with the target audience. Consider the emotional or aspirational connection the name can create and whether it complements the desired brand image.
- Flexibility: Think about the flexibility of the brand name. Will it allow for future growth, product line extensions, or geographic expansion? A flexible name can adapt to changes in the business landscape and accommodate brand evolution without losing its core identity.
- Positive Connotations: Consider the connotations and associations the brand name may evoke. It should have positive or neutral connotations that align with the brand's desired perception. Conduct thorough research to ensure the name doesn't have negative meanings or cultural sensitivities in different languages or cultures.
- Trademark Availability: Before finalizing a brand name, conduct a comprehensive trademark search to ensure it is legally available for use and doesn't infringe upon existing trademarks. Registering a trademark protects the brand's identity and prevents potential legal conflicts.
- Emotional Appeal: A good brand name has the potential to evoke emotions and create a connection with consumers. It can tap into their desires, aspirations, or values, fostering a positive emotional response and building brand affinity.
- Timelessness: Aim for a brand name that can stand the test of time. While trends and fads come and go, a timeless name remains relevant and doesn't become outdated. Avoid overly specific or trendy names that may lose their appeal in the long run.
Remember, the specific qualities that make a name "good" can vary depending on the industry, target audience, and brand strategy. It's important to consider these characteristics in the context of your business and its unique positioning.
Why is brand naming so hard?
Fundamentally, it’s hard to be creative without a system or framework in which to center your creativity. So, what a lot of people do is try and come up with a name without a clear process or systematic approach, and that can be frustrating.
Here are some other reasons why coming up with a brand name can be challenging for clients (or even creative teams):
- Creativity and Originality: Developing a name that is creative, unique, and original is no easy task. With countless brands already in existence, finding a name that stands out and captures the essence of you can be a difficult creative process.
- Availability: The availability of a brand name is a critical factor. It needs to be legally available for use and not infringe upon existing trademarks or copyrights. Conducting comprehensive trademark searches and ensuring domain name availability can be time-consuming and complex.
- Strategic Fit: A brand name needs to align with your organization’s strategy, positioning, and target audience. It should accurately convey your business’ values, personality, and desired perception. Balancing creativity and strategic fit requires careful consideration and sometimes compromises.
- Global Considerations: If your brand aims to operate globally or in diverse markets, cultural sensitivities and language nuances become significant challenges. A name that may sound appealing or meaningful in one language can have negative connotations or be difficult to pronounce in another. It requires thorough research and localization efforts.
- Legal Constraints: Legal considerations add another layer of complexity to the brand naming process. Trademark laws and regulations vary by country, making it essential to ensure the selected name can be protected and defended legally. Consulting with legal professionals can help navigate this aspect.
- Domain Name Availability: In today's digital age, securing a domain name that matches or closely relates to your brand name is crucial for online visibility and accessibility. The availability of desirable domain names can be limited, especially for popular terms or industries.
- Stakeholder Alignment: When developing a name, multiple stakeholders often have different opinions and preferences. It can be challenging to achieve consensus and align everyone's expectations, making the decision-making process more difficult and time-consuming.
- Long-Term Implications: the name you choose has long-term implications for your business. It becomes a fundamental part of your brand's identity and can be costly and time-consuming to change in the future. The pressure to find the "perfect" name that will resonate with your audience and stand the test of time adds to the difficulty.
Considering these challenges, it's important to approach the brand naming process with patience, creativity, and a systematic approach. Thorough research, strategic thinking, and feedback from various perspectives can help navigate the complexities and increase the chances of finding a strong and compelling brand name.
Who should be involved in brand naming for your company?
One important idea that Juliet D’Ambrosio spoke about that I think really hits the spot is that “Nobody owns good ideas.”
“Nobody owns good ideas.”
Essentially, good ideas can come from anywhere in your organization - sales teams, marketing departments, and shop assistants. Ideally, they should be included in the process at the early stages of the brand strategy phase to share what they think about the company they work for.
However, the final decision should come from the key decision-makers in the business (usually the C-suite). We will get more into this as we dig into the process.
What is a solid brand naming process?
When creating a brand naming process, it’s vital to have a process that you and your team can follow. There are three big steps that Edgar Allan offers clients who want brand naming: brand strategy, creative strategy, and legal checks. If you want to have a go yourself though, we advise taking a similar process. Here is the overview of the process when Edgar Allan works with clients:
- Set Brand Position and Story: Before diving into brainstorming names, we need to clearly define your brand. Understand your purpose, values, personality, target audience, and unique selling proposition. This clarity will help guide the naming process and ensure that the name aligns with your brand essence. We do this by asking you a load of questions that will make you and your staff think deeply about what it is you do, who you do it for, and why.
- Set Objectives and Create Naming Criteria: Here, we will establish clear objectives for the brand name and determine what you want the name to convey and achieve. For example, do you want the name to be descriptive, suggestive, or abstract? Why do you feel strongly about one option over the other? By outlining the criteria and really stress testing your ideas of what the brand name should be, we will ensure we create a name that is memorable, simple, relevant, and differentiated from your competition. These criteria will serve as benchmarks during the evaluation process.
- Conduct Market Research: As part of this brand strategy work, we also deeply research the market, conducting thorough market research to understand your industry landscape and competitors' naming approaches. We also identify existing brand names and their characteristics. This research will help you identify naming trends, avoid naming pitfalls, and find opportunities for differentiation. We will then explore brand attributes and themes. By generating a list of your brand's key attributes, values, and themes, we can consider the emotions, concepts, or visuals associated with your brand. This exercise will help stimulate creativity and generate ideas for potential name themes or directions.
Brainstorm and Brainstorm Some More: Organize brainstorming sessions with a diverse group of individuals. Encourage free-flowing idea generation without judgment. Explore different word combinations, variations, and creative approaches. Leverage techniques like mind mapping, word association, or random stimulus to trigger new ideas. Aim for quantity rather than quality during this phase.
Refine and Evaluate: Once you have a long list of potential names, start refining and evaluating them. Consider the naming criteria you established earlier and assess how each name measures up. Shortlist the names that best align with your objectives and criteria. Seek feedback from trusted colleagues or stakeholders to gain different perspectives and insights.
Conduct Trademark and Domain Name Checks: Before finalizing any names, conduct comprehensive trademark searches to ensure the names are legally available for use. Registering a trademark protects your brand and prevents conflicts. Additionally, check the availability of domain names associated with the shortlisted names to ensure a strong online presence.
- Test with a Target Audience: Consider conducting market research to test the shortlisted names with your target audience. This can involve surveys, focus groups, or even small-scale ad campaigns to gauge the names' appeal, memorability, and perceived fit with your brand. Use the feedback to further refine and narrow down your options.
- Select the Final Brand Name: Based on the evaluation and feedback, select the final name that best meets your objectives, resonates with your target audience, and aligns with your brand identity. Consider consulting with legal professionals to ensure the name is legally viable and protectable.
Remember, the naming process requires time, creativity, and careful consideration. Starting with a solid understanding of your brand and following a systematic approach will increase the likelihood of finding a compelling and memorable name that helps establish a strong brand identity.
What to be aware of when picking your brand name
Sometimes, there can be complications when there are cultural or linguistic references that you are unaware of when picking a name. You may think yourself smart and worldly, but you’re only human – and there are countless organizations that have found themselves in a pickle because of an ill-informed, under-researched name choice.
For the sake of education (not snarkiness…though this entertaining), here’s a few of our favorites: Colgate launched a toothpaste in France named "Cue" without realizing that it's also the name of a French pornographic magazine.
Ford blundered when marketing the Pinto in Brazil because the term in Brazilian Portuguese means "tiny male genitals."
The American Dairy Association replicated its "Got Milk?" campaign in Spanish-speaking countries where it was translated into "Are You Lactating?"
KFC made Chinese consumers a bit apprehensive when "finger licking good" was translated as "eat your fingers off."
Mercedes-Benz entered the Chinese market under the brand name "Bensi," which means "rush to die."
As you can see, even large organizations can overlook the nuances of certain words and how foolish they can look! If you are in Spanish-speaking markets, for example, do your due diligence and check with Spanish language speakers (in not just Spain but Argentina, Chile, Colombia, etc.) to ensure your brand name works to the desired effect.
As you can see, naming is perhaps the most complex and important part of a company’s brand identity. It should not be rushed nor should it be done by just the exec team in a company. It requires a process that allows for creativity to flourish within boundaries that allow it to be engineered effectively.
An important note to say though is that a brand name is NOTHING without the rest of the brand identity around it. Your company’s name doesn’t exist in a silo. Yes, a brand name is the most important part of a brand identity but having just a name is a bit like having just an engine to a car rather than a car itself. If you are interested in learning about this further, check out our article on brand design or contact us to see how our team can assist you further:
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