Naming: What Makes a Brand Name Great
Developing a great brand name—one that is distinctive, memorable, easy to pronounce and emotionally appealing—is a critical element in creating a successful new brand. 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 communications, products, services and experiences that bring it to life and create meaning and value.
So, what makes a brand name great? In our experience, it requires seven things:
- Building off the 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 names feel stodgy, dull and anything but progressive. Having a strategy ensures that the name will be appropriate.
- Ensuring distinctiveness. Standing out in a crowded market is important. Distinctive names are memorable and provide differentiation for your brand in your category. It may seem like all of the good names (and URLs) have already been taken. But, we’re here to say that it is possible to develop names that are truly unique and effective like Wii™, 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 names are unique in their product category helps to make them memorable.
- Connecting emotionally. Good brand names evoke positive associations and emotional connections with customers. 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 names tap into the adventurous side of human nature, whether that means surfing the Web or driving a vehicle.
- 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 and will guard your investment. Once protected, follow appropriate usage steps consistently to keep it that way. Xerox®, Teflon® and Kleenex® brand managers have some stories to share about the importance of protecting their brands.
- Paying attention to linguistics and universal 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, even if you don’t consider yours a global brand.
- 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 associations? Does it support your brand attributes? Does one name work substantially better than others in the consideration set? Use research to inform your decision-making process, but don’t let it make your decision.
- Creating the experience. Once you’ve selected a name, it’s time to bring it to life and provide context through a logo, visual identity system and consistent set of experiences that support the strategy. Over time, if execution is consistently on brand, you will build meaning and value into the name by creating a relationship with the end user and forging an emotional connection. No one has done this better than Coca-Cola®, McDonald’s® and Google™. None of these names are descriptive, and on their own, they are meaningless. But because these companies invest in managing their brands and marketing their respective products and services, 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 remember, a name alone means nothing to the customer or consumer. It’s the experience—created and delivered consistently over time—that adds value and builds equity.