Four simple steps to a great brand name

Michael Dale

Written by Michael Dale

Nothing is more instant in shaping the perception of a brand than a name. Great brand names can appear in a momentary flash of inspiration or can be the product of a relentless search.

Many established names have become so familiar to us that we no longer question their meaning. It’s unlikely that many athletes conjure up the vision of a Greek goddess when they are tying up their trainers because, at this point, it’s the accumulated brand experience of Nike that matters most.

But for a new brand, or an established one seeking to reposition, that initial impression can mean the difference between interest or disinterest, engagement or rejection.

However easily your name arrives, every potential name must pass our four step acid test to be both truly meaningful and to avoid trouble ahead.

1. Meaning: What are we trying to say?

Step one in any naming strategy is to consider what your brand stands for. Mapping your competitors and then deciding how your name might differentiate you, and what you offer, is a priority.

There are four key types of brand name – Literal, Synthesised, Arbitrary or Metaphorical.

Literal names — names sometimes describe a product or business, such as Network Rail. They can originate from the company founders, as in Mercedes Benz, or be based on geography like the Halifax. The modern trend for brevity reduces many to rather uncharismatic acronyms like the BBC and HSBC. Literal names can be good for inferring a sense of trust and provenance but can lack memorability and must work harder to generate excitement.

Network Rail
BBC

Synthesised names — are made-up words. These are often created by joining words, as in the case of LandRover or Dropbox. Greek or Latin roots combined with parts of words can work – Veritek uses the Latin prefix ‘Veri’ to signify truth. You can also make up words that rhyme or are spelled differently, as in Kleenex or BluTak. Synthesised names are easy to own, since domains and trademarks are usually available, but do not have the depth of meaning of metaphorical names.

Kleenex
Land Rover

Arbitrary names — include no apparent link to the description, category or meaning behind a brand. Think Apple, Camel, Blackberry or Shell. These type of names have the ability to stand out in a market but require context to be meaningful until such time as they become widely known.

Shell
Blackberry

Metaphorical names — offer the opportunity to strongly position a brand within a category. Such names can be wonderfully evocative and create emotional allegiance. They can form the starting point for a story, one that describes the passion behind the brand. However, metaphors are not a gimmick. If they are not underpinned by genuine values and the attributes of the organisation they could easily backfire. Examples of great metaphorical names include Jaguar, Innocent, Nest and Virgin.

Innocent
Virgin

2. Availability: It pays to be different.

No naming program should start without extensive research of the marketplace. Some ‘me–too’ brands get comfort from imitating the naming style of the market leaders, but the most successful are disruptive and look to differentiate themselves. This strategy also makes your name easier to protect.

The availability of short, logical domain names is an increasing challenge but should never be allowed to get in the way of a really great name – there’s usually a way round it. Domain availability can be checked on various websites.

Provided your brand exists in a different one of the 45 trademark ‘classes’ it is possible to use the same name as another business. If you plan to trade exclusively within the UK, trademark availability can be checked with the Intellectual Property Office, or respective authorities if overseas.

3. Extensibility: Planning for the future.

Your name may sound great now but how will it fair if the business moves into new markets? This is where metaphorical names do better than descriptive ones. Apple can comfortably move into the watch market and yet the Carphone Warehouse has set it’s own obvious barriers.

This is less of an issue for organisations like P&G that create a ‘House of Brands’ - product lines such as Febreze or Pampers are unlikely to be extended outside of their category. However, unless you are sure of where your business will ultimately go, bear this in mind.

4. Linguistics: I never knew it meant that!

A good brand name should be easy to spell and pronounce… and pronounceable in only one way. Great names have a certain rhythm that becomes apparent when spoken many times. Generally speaking, ‘short–and–simple’ makes for quicker communication, but for a brand such as Choccywoccydoodah the length is a distinguishing feature that scores high on differentiation and memorability.

It’s worth studying both a standard and a slang dictionary for unforeseen meanings. Reebok once named a women’s training shoe ‘Incubus’, which was then discovered to be the name of a demon who ravished women in their sleep. And finally, even if you have no plans to expand into overseas markets, checking the meaning of your name in other languages is wise. Even a quick test in Google Translate could avoid a nasty surprise.

Top