Building Better Brand Names

4 months ago  •  By  •  0 Comments

In a past blog post, I discussed reasons why a DIY approach to naming is not always the best idea. In this blog, I will share some best practices for getting to better brand names.

1: CHOOSE A MASTER. Anyone can come up with a name, but mastery ensures the names developed and chosen are best for your brand and your audience. As I’ve discussed previously, an agency or firm with verbal strategy / naming capability will deliver better results. They will have a proven approach to naming; know-how to develop clear briefs to INFORM the work, robust naming tools & techniques used as they IDEATE, a rigorous INSPECTION process, and proven results in IMPLEMENTING names. From product descriptions, to naming new technologies, and creating new brands — experience makes the difference. The right partner will be able to quickly lead your team in the right direction, and help you understand the WHY? at every step.

2: GET IT IN WRITING. Most internal teams do not have the time or the expertise to identify and gather all the important information (a clearly defined brief) or fail to seek proper alignment before starting a naming project. When there are not clear parameters or success criteria agreed to amongst the team or management, it often leads to failure.

Here again, experience pays off, because the right partner knows how to help you establish a proper foundation before jumping in, and they’re likely to know or anticipate problems that can arise. Their strategic focus makes them experts in determining issues and hypothesizing solutions beforehand, making the process that much easier and more effective.  This up front mindset not only makes the process faster, it also keeps everyone accountable to the strategy, prevents subjective detours in unhelpful directions, and drives objectivity vs. “I’ll know it when I see it”.

3: DON’T REINVENT MEANING. During the ideation process, stop thinking about names, and start thinking about words and their meaning.  I regularly hear people say “…all new names are taken”. An understandable perspective, when you go online to do a quick search of almost any name, you’ll find it’s likely used in many ways already. Now what?

Think meaning. Remember, it’s not just the word, but the meaning or feeling that it carries that is most important in naming. Here are some approaches:

  • Marry existing words together. For example, Garden Genius = more intelligent gardening products. This is a great way to communicate your brand’s positioning.
  • Come up with a “new” word by fusing existing words together. For example Thinkfruit is a smart, more thoughtful snacking choice. This helps to create distinction and memorability in a category.
  • Rely on how the word sounds (Phonetics). For example Prozac was picked as the name for an antidepressant because it sounded positive, professional, quick, and efficacious.
  • Leverage what is already working for you, and simply add category context or descriptive words to communicate an experience or your proposition. Tostitos Artisan Recipes, is a great way to leverage a strong existing equity, while helping the brand stretch into promising a new kind of product experience.

4: TAKE A TEST DRIVE. Say it. Hear it. Great names are ones that people love to say, and talk about. Developing a name that rolls off the tongue takes not just practice and robust naming techniques, but considerable understanding of linguistics as well.

Remember when Yahoo! (Sound Symbolism Technique) came out, and how everyone said it just like the commercial? Or how Shake & Bake (Rhyme Technique) made it into the Talladega Nights movie as Ricky Bobby’s mantra?  Or Snapple (Fusion and Sound Symbolism Techniques) who now owns the “snap” the cap makes, when opening the product? All of these names have something in common – they are ownable AND sound appropriate for each brand and the product they offer.

There is a science to the meaning of sounds called Phonosemantics. Many companies hire linguists to ensure the sound a name makes is communicating the right message. If that is not within your budget, we suggest that you say a name out loud, over, and over. Use it in your conversations. Sing it in the shower. Ask yourself, “How does it make me feel?”  You may not be a linguist, but most people have an intrinsic knowledge of phonosemantics. People instinctively know how a sound feels. A name may feel powerful or weak, big or little, serious or fun (and so on) depending on the way it sounds. Once you do this, make sure to ask yourself “Does the way my name sounds coincide with my brand values, promise, and personality?”  We hope so. If it doesn’t, you should think of a different name.

See it. Visualizing a potential name candidate can make all the difference. This ensures team members will interpret it as intended during your internal reviews / milestones instead of getting hung up by something it “reminds them of.” Imagine being presented the name Virgin without any visual context. Right? A partner that has the ability to quickly design and visualize potential names can help set them up for successful adoption. In Virgin’s case, being seen as progressive and adventurous instead of young and innocent.

Image from Virgin.com

Visualizing also helps to see if the letters flow nicely together, or if the name is just too long and hard to read on its primary intended touchpoint (e.g. packaging, business letterhead, a smartphone screen). This is actually a success criteria we add to many naming creative briefs.

5: CHOOSE A WINNER. Remember, a name is only the beginning of the brand story to be told. Choosing the right name is often the hardest part for most companies, especially if multiple stakeholders need to agree. The challenge is keeping the process from devolving into analysis paralysis or a popularity contest. I always bring the team back to the strategy in the creative brief, and frequently remind them that you can’t make the right decision by making no decision at all.

If all else fails, test it. You shouldn’t have consumers pick the name they like best. In fact, that’s often unhelpful. Consumers can be pretty conservative and downright unimaginative when asked about names. Deciding on a final name is a strategic decision that should be made by the people building the brand, product, or service. That said, consumers are very good at telling you HOW a name makes them feel, what associations they have with the name, and what values they associate with it … and best of all – this can be very quickly discovered in research.

Whether your decision is simply made by the most senior manager in the company, or you use consumer insight to help, there’s no way know definitively in advance that your name will be a success. That said, once you decide, you have to pull the trigger, go all in, and support the decision. And, if you’ve engaged the right verbal strategy & naming partner, the process has been very carefully & thoughtfully managed at every step, so you can feel confident you’ve done your job and your due diligence … and not accidentally named the next (Chevy) Nova or Barf detergent.

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Ellen Craven

Director, Strategy & Innovation at Coho Creative
Ellen Craven, Coho’s Director of Strategy & Innovation, is a provocative thinker and challenger of the status quo. She is constantly in a near-clinical state of consumer empathy and always onto the next insight that will build brands, grow business, and make life a little better for all of us. When she is not strategizing, she's excelling in her other job; swim, tennis, karate, and band mom, or discovering new restaurants with her husband.

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