7 Qualities of Great Brand Names
Developing a great brand name — one that is distinctive, memorable, easy to pronounce and emotionally appealing — is a critical element in creating any brand identity. We all know that great brand names can differentiate companies, products or services in crowded markets. They can help create brand awareness, increase brand preference and build brand loyalty. But it’s important to point out that a name on its own is just a word — an empty shell — until it is filled with user experiences created by hundreds of interactions that bring it to life creating meaning and value.
So, what qualities make a brand name great? In our experience, whether it’s a product brand, business name, rebrand, or startup, it requires seven things:
1) Building upon your brand strategy.
A winning name starts with a clearly defined brand strategy and value proposition. Without this there is no framework for the name and no foundation to build upon. In some industries, like professional services, witty names may not sound serious or professional enough. While in other fast-paced, high-tech industries, professional brand names feel stodgy, dull and anything but progressive. Having a well-articulated brand strategy ensures that your brand name will be built upon a solid foundation.
2) Ensuring distinctiveness.
Standing out in a crowded market is important. Distinctive brand names are memorable and provide differentiation for your brand in your category. It may seem like all of the good brand names (and domain names) have been taken. But, we’re here to say that it is still possible to develop brand names that are truly unique and effective like Nike®, Google™ and eBay®. Or, to leverage associative words like Amazon®, Target® and Apple® used in an otherwise unrelated context. In some cases, like BlackBerry®, the name was born out of a visual cue taken from the look of the device…the keys looked like dots on a berry. In others, like Caterpillar®, it emanated from product functionality. The fact that these brand names are unique in their product category helps to make them memorable and distinctive.
3) Connecting emotionally with your target audience.
Good brand names evoke positive associations and emotional connections with members of their target audience. In other words, they resonate. Depending on your brand strategy, this could mean fun or functionality, innovation or intimacy, high-tech or luxury. Metaphors are often used to accomplish this because they provide immediate, intuitive connections. And they’re memorable. Consider Explorer and Safari. Both of these brand names tap into the adventurous side of human nature, whether that means surfing the Web or driving a vehicle.
4) Protecting your investment.
Strong brands add value to the balance sheet. Taking proper steps to ensure that your brand name can be protected under national and international trademark laws, in your product category, is a crucial first step in any naming process and will safeguard your investment. Once protected, follow appropriate usage steps consistently — even on social media — to keep it that way. Xerox®, Teflon® and Kleenex® brand managers have some stories to share about the importance of protecting their brand names.
5) Paying attention to linguistics and meaning.
Your name should be easy to say and understand. Be sure to consider all the ways it might be mispronounced or misinterpreted wherever it may appear. Hire a professional to perform linguistics and translation checks to avoid the translation blunders we’ve all heard about like Chevrolet Nova and Ford Fiera. We recommend taking steps to ensure your name won’t offend in other cultures, even if you don’t consider yours to be a global brand.
6) Testing it with your audience.
Talk to members of your target audience. Ultimately, you want to know: Is it appropriate for the market? Does it have any negative meanings or connotations? Does it reflect your brand strategy and reinforce the desired brand attributes? Does one name work substantially better than others when it comes to differentiation? Use research to inform your decision-making process, but don’t let it make your decision. If you missed the mark, don’t settle. Develop more name ideas. Conduct another brainstorm session. Hire an agency that specializes in brand name development. And above all, don’t worry about creating the perfect brand name. Great brand names aren’t necessarily perfect.
7) Creating the brand experience.
Once you’ve selected the best brand name, it’s time to bring it to life. Be sure you’re creating the desired brand image and identity through things like your brand story, the logo, visual identity system and consistent set of experiences that support your brand strategy. Over time, if execution is consistently on brand and resonating with your target audiences, you will build meaning and value into the name by creating a relationship with end users and forging strong emotional connections. No one has done this better than Coca-Cola, Apple and Google. None of these names are descriptive, and on their own, they are meaningless. But because these companies have invested in brand management and marketing their respective products and services consistently over time, these names have meaning…and enviable brand equity.
Indeed, what makes a brand name great is, in part, the name. The more distinctive, memorable and emotionally engaging the better. But always remember, a brand name by itself means nothing to the customer or consumer. It’s the overall brand experience — created and delivered consistently over time through spot-on brand positioning, marketing strategy and creative execution — that is what adds value and helps build successful brands.