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How to get brand naming right
January 22, 2021
Creating a brand or product name is a vital strategic component of building a brand, and it plays a significant part in shaping the type of brand that is built following the naming and launch. Entrepreneurs and brand builders can spend thousands of hours on refining their product, but often the importance of brand naming is overlooked and can become an afterthought of inconvenience guided by what is readily available and trademarkable. Just ask Daniel Ek. We’d argue this is an oversight. Whilst a strong brand name won’t make your product remarkable, it can be the difference between strong growth and failure.
Why is a brand name important?
A brand name is the first thing customers hear when engaging with a brand. Creating a sense of intrigue and association can go a long way towards differentiating one product or service from another. The best brand names become synonymous with the product or service they are offering. Think of Uber, Netflix, Hoover, and Coke.
David Aaker writes in Managing Brand Equity, “A name can serve as a substantial barrier to entry once it is established. Consider the power of names like Velcro, Formica, and Kodak.”
And once these names become ubiquitous, the competitive advantage they bestow is material - think about googling to buy your next vacuum cleaner. Do you search Hoover, Dyson, or vacuum cleaner? Hoover, and to a lesser extent Dyson, have replaced the category name. Likewise Velcro.
But what about brand names that don’t reach those lofty heights?
Well, brand names are a business owner's opportunity to communicate as succinctly as possible what makes them different from, and better than, their competitors. The brand name can convey, in one or two words, important characteristics of the brand story. Dove, for example, immediately evokes thoughts and feelings of peace, care, and gentleness. All Dove products are known for being mild and caring to the skin. The name underpins the strategy. Likewise, Uber intentionally brings to mind the literal meaning of the word uber which is to be a supreme example or ‘above all the rest’.
Brand names give marketers an opportunity to generate curiosity in their customers, to create positive feelings and emotions about the brand, and to boost brand awareness and memorability.
And the data backs this up - according to this Nielsen study a company or brand name can be one of the “most valuable assets a company possesses”, and up to 80% of consumers prefer to buy a product from a brand name they recognise.
Types of names:
Brand names can be categorised into three distinct categories:
Descriptive names: It is what is says on the tin. These are names that describe the product or service, literally. Examples: British Airways, The Body Shop
Descriptive names can be useful for positioning a brand very clearly, and for B2B brands where purchasers want to know exactly what the brand is selling.
Suggestive names: Names that suggest and evoke a certain feeling or emotion based on what customers are already familiar with. Examples: Uber, Dove
Suggestive names already have some level of evocation in the mind of the consumer, and the brand name can then build upon this by tweaking them to their needs, like in our Dove example above, or for example with Fitbit, which alludes to fitness and tech.
Abstract (Empty Vessel) names: Completely abstract names that give a blank canvas to brand builders to build associations with the name based on the fact that it is a completely new or unrelated word, or phrase, that the consumer will never have engaged within this way. They can be either an existing word used in a new context (Apple) or a completely made-up word (Zapier).
Abstract words give a unique advantage to marketers, allowing them to paint a completely new set of associations in the consumers mind, untainted by prior conceptions of an existing word (as in descriptive and suggestive words). This, however, can be costly.
Sources of names:
We’ve already seen how important it is to have a name rooted in strategy that helps build memorability for a brand. But where do the names come from?
Existing words from any language: Dove, Pret, or Senetus
Tweaks to existing words / spelling: Flickr, Blu-Ray, Kellogg's Froot Loops
Combination of words: Snapchat, Facebook, FedEx, Salesforce
Invented words (abstract): Virgin, Orange, Zapier, Spotify
Acronyms: BMW, H&M
So, what makes a great brand name that will stand the test of time?
We assess all our brands, including brand names, against three key criteria: Memorability, Scaleability, and Ownability. The endeavour is always to be as high on each of the three criteria as possible, acknowledging trade-offs and constraints. In a naming context, we break it down as below:
Simplicity and Memorability: Is the name simple to remember, say, and spell? Is it memorable? It’s hard to forget ‘Google’ and it’s simple to say and spell.
Evocative: Does the name evoke feelings or emotions in the reader? Does it spark intrigue?
Strategic: Does the name align with the strategic goals / story of the brand?
Distinct: Is the name distinct and a differentiator? Will it stand out in its sector? EasyJet stands out in the European Airline sector against its blander named peers.
Global scalability: Does brand/product name translate coherently across regions in which it will launch? When Mercedes Benz first launched in China, it translated to “Rush to Die”.
Business scaleability: Is the name fit for future brand development? A name is, usually, for life. It is important to create a name that doesn’t pigeon hole the strategic goals of a business by tieing it too close to a particular product, service, or niche if it intends to grow beyond its current state.
Longevity: Is the name faddish? Avoiding tying names to particular fads which may or may not be around in several years and which may become too ubiquitous. Examples include names ending in ‘ify’ and ‘ly’
IP: Is the name trademarkable in the relevant classes and geographies? It is crucial to get this right in order to avoid building brand equity under one name and subsequently having to rename
Domain: Are relevant domains and social handles available?
Strategic / Story Alignment: Is the name ownable to the brand and aligns with the brand story and personality?
Budgetary: Can we afford it? Empty vessel names give a significant opportunity to create the type of brand emotional response that the marketer requires, however, given the consumer will have no prior affinity to the name, they typically require more marketing budget in order to build this affinity.
Naming is a crucial part of the brand-building process and must be aligned with the overall brand strategy. If you’d like to have a chat about either brand strategy or naming, please get in touch here.