Thursday, August 13, 2015

Brand Naming

I have been called upon a lot lately to develop names for new brands. So, I thought it would be interesting to write about the process of brand naming. 

Brand naming always starts with a solid understanding of the brand that is to be named including its mission, vision, values, essence, promise, archetype, personality, etc. This also includes a solid understanding of its target markets and what's important to them and the language they use.

Once we have this in mind, we ideate. We come up with as many naming options as possible. This usually numbers in the hundreds, if not thousands. How do we do this? First, we look at what the names of competitive brands are. Next, we find words that describe the brand's primary benefits. I use Roget's International Thesaurus and Bartlett's Roget's Thesaurus and J.I. Rodale's The Word Finder books to help with synonyms and modifying words. We explore as many angles as possible. A simpler but less exhaustive approach is to use Microsoft Word's thesaurus function.

We often riff on alliterations. And we often go to other categories to come up with words that have analogous and metaphorical meanings. For instance, I am working on naming an urban residential real estate development today. It is in the middle of a cultural district near theaters and art galleries and other cultural amenities. I am looking to other cultural and arts references, famous artists' names, cities ancient and modern that are known for culture (Athens, Paris, New York, etc.), famous arts neighborhoods in other cities, well-known hip neighborhoods in other cities, famous building names in other cities, names that refer to the architectural style of the client's building and names that appeal to urban pioneers, aesthetes and cultural creatives. The idea is to maximize divergent thinking. One must explore as many separate paths as possible.

One can also combine word parts to create new words with the combined meanings of the roots, suffixes and prefixes. 

I have thousands of reference books to which I can refer and, of course, the entire Internet. One gets really good at Google searches when exploring naming options. 

It is generally better to involve several people in this process. Picking the right people who are creative and understand the goals of the exercise is important.

Once a fairly exhaustive list of naming options is generated, then one must cull the list down to the top options to consider. I usually pick three to five options to present. My evaluation criteria is as follows. The name:

  • Reinforces the most important benefit(s) to the brand's target customers
  • Evokes positive emotions
  • Is unique and will stand out among peer brands
  • Is easy to spell, pronounce and remember
  • Is legally protectable
  • Is available as a URL (in some simple and intuitive form) on the Internet

The next part is tricky. One must present the recommended options in a way that is compelling. Otherwise, the client will want to have you iterate several more times or, worse yet, share the entire list of names that you generated. Then they will notice one name that you did not choose on the long list of options and will think or say, "that is a stupid name." Of course it is. It was developed very quickly in a stream of consciousness in an effort to get the creative juices flowing and to arrive at a few names that could work well.

While I really enjoy this part of the branding process, it is not nearly as easy as it looks. A large number of names must be generated to arrive at just a handful of names that could actually work. And most are ruled out because competitors are already using them or their URLs are already taken.

I roll my eyes when a client suggests that maybe they will hold a naming contest with their employees. I have never seen one of these contests generate a name that can actually be used. In fact, we are often brought in after this approach does not work.

I wish you great success in your naming project.


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