Naming Your Brand – Find the Approach That Works for You
The truth about the brand naming process is that it's as much about strategy and science as it is about creativity and art. And today, we'll take a deep dive into what it means to find— or invent— a truly great brand name.
At ZeBrand, we believe your vision deserves to be seen and realized. In this content series, we help you use brand as a tool to power up your business and jumpstart your growth.
Welcome to Part 3 of A to Ze of Brand Building -- 'Naming Your Brand or Business'. (Read Part 2 here if you missed it!)
Over time, even the most iconic brands can undergo drastic changes. Their products evolve, their website transforms, their advertising takes on a new voice, and they may even reposition themselves to align with a new target audience or category.
Despite these changes, there's one brand element that's so memorable— and so meaningful— that it remains intact: A brand's name.
Whether you're considering renaming your brand, building a sub-brand, or creating a new brand from the ground up, it's important to consider what makes brand names valuable.
First of all, the best brand names are memorable. They stick in your mind the first time you hear them, and they're different from competitors' names. They've got a unique sound that's both distinctive and understandable.
Good brand names are also easy to write and say. They're not easily confused with other names. And a good brand name sounds like how it's spelled— so anyone can pronounce it correctly simply by reading.
Strong names are also flexible and timeless. They can apply to multiple different markets and grow with your company. They're not trendy or tied to a certain season or decade, and they're not likely to go out of style as preferences or market trends shift.
While good names do have certain characteristics in common, brand naming isn't an exact science.
Many consider choosing their brand name to be a daunting task. They think there's one ideal brand name out in the world: Born through a burst of inspiration and recognized by all as brilliant from the moment it's uttered.
In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, this perception is what makes naming so frustrating for businesses.
Believe it or not, Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike, famously didn't warm up to the name Nike when he first heard it. Even though he went through the right process to get that name, it wasn't love at first sound. He only went on to trademark it because they ran out of time to come up with better options.
The truth about naming is that it's as much about strategy and science as it is about creativity. Good names serve a specific function— they enable your brand and your vision to be communicated, desired, and remembered.
Strong names communicate the essence of your business. Like how Sprite channels the meaning of its root word "spright," meaning "full of energy."
Good names are desirable, in that they draw people in and address their needs. As the bubbly and luxurious soap brand Lushdoes in just four letters
And lastly, effective names are easily remembered. They come quickly to mind, are easy to spell, easy to pronounce, and remain sticky.
As your company grows, your brand name is one of the main ways your potential customers will search for your products or services. Choosing a brand name that's memorable, easy to spell, and isn't like other businesses in your industry helps search engines direct all the relevant traffic directly to your website.
Plus, your brand name sets the tone for how you'll engage with your customers and clients. It's the key factor driving differentiation, the main title you'll be recognized by, and the fastest way to define who you are and what you do. If you want customers to point out your product or service in a lineup, your brand name goes a long way towards building that valuable recognition!
So you understand why your brand needs an effective name... But how can you start generating the kind of names that define your business?
The first step is to pinpoint what kind of name you need for your brand. Again, it's your vision and brand positioning that determines what the best naming approach is for your specific needs. You don't have to choose just one type of name before you start brainstorming ideas, but it's smart to get familiar with each naming style before you begin.
Most effective brand names fall into one of these six categories:
Eponymous names are the names of real people or characters. And eponymous names tend to suggest brand prestige, history, and luxury. Think about watch brands, such as Cartier or Tissot, alcohol brands like Johnnie Walker, or appliance manufacturers like Westinghouse. By the name alone, you know these businesses produce quality, luxury products.
Eponymous names are so powerful that some brands have even been known to create fictional characters just to channel the prestige of an eponymous name.
However, you have to be careful naming your product after a person or character. Even if it's a fictional figure, if you choose an uncommon or difficult name, your audience may have a hard time spelling or sounding out the syllables.
Consider the brand name Hermès, for example. Every month, 8,100 people search"how to pronounce Hermes" or "how to say Hermes." Despite its tricky name, the brand is successful. But new businesses may not be as lucky!
This kind of name is as straightforward as possible to convey a product's purpose or function. Think of names like Bank of America, General Motors, Royal Mail, or Art and Science Blog.
Description names are often used when the value of your product is easy enough to understand. These types of names also work better when you have fewer competitors or are the first to move into a category.
A good example of this type of name is Snapchat. Its name is the perfect explanation for exactly what the service does!
Traditionally, explanation-style names can be quite dry. But in today's innovative economy, where we're using transformative technologies to reimagine older products and services, explanatory names can be both clear and curiosity-invoking.
How can you create an explanatory name that isn't bland? Try changing commonplace words slightly to make them more ownable. You could change a single letter, as the ride-sharing platform Lyft did, or repurpose a noun into a persona, such as Viber, or into a verb, like Spotify.
You can even use your name to describe the original product your invention is based on, like how Coca-Cola reimagined the original cola drink to produce the world's most popular soft drink in the world!
Evocative names don't necessarily describe the product itself, but they do suggest its function or value.
Sometimes this involves using a word with a pre-existing meaning in a new way. In the traditionally dry category of component manufacturers, Intel sets the right tone with a savvy name that speaks to faster computing power.
AndAmazon, named after the planet's most diverse collection of flora and fauna, was an ideal name to showcase the breadth of what the global distributor and industry disrupter has to offer.
You can even experiment with combining different words to create desired meanings. One of the best examples of this is Airbnb. ‘Air' speaks to today's peer-to-peer, cloud-based economy, and the platform's on-the-go usability. And ‘bnb' evokes trusty bed and breakfasts. That combination of universal convenience and home-away-from-home comfort makes the company feel safe, authentic, and fun.
It might be tempting to name your product something completely random. And you wouldn't be the only business to try! After all, Google made abstract names famous, right?
Actually, Google was derived from the term ‘Googol'— the mathematical term for ten to the power of 100. But you get the idea.
Names like TiVo, Tiktok,and Adidas may also seem equally abstract, but they're just as deliberate.TiVohas its origins in ‘TV', TikTok is an onomatopoeia to connote the brevity of the content on the platform, and Adidas is short for Adi Dassler, one of the company's founders.
While these names may seem totally random at first glance, upon a closer look, you'll see they're actually highly strategic. Abstract names are your opportunity to communicate with originality and purpose.
Acronyms may also seem like an easy shortcut to a name. But remember, if you want to be understood, desired, and remembered, you must make it easy for your potential customers to do so. And some acronyms struggle to convey the clear meaning of the brands they represent.
Some companies have made acronyms work in their favor, like AOL, PwC, and H&M, but remember, these acronyms are only recognizable to us because of the significant investment and decades of brand awareness these companies have worked towards.
If you're starting a new brand, it's best to stay away from acronyms as much as possible as they're difficult to remember. Unless you're certain your letters can speak for themselves— or your acronym also spells a clever word, we recommend staying away from letter-only business names.
Now that you know the main types of names, it's time to start the brand naming brainstorming process! We recommend coming up with as many different names as you can think of, then narrowing down your selection from there.
For added brainstorming power, grab a friend or business partner and work through these fun exercises together!
- List out your objective criteria. Think of all the things you want your new name to embody. Should it be creative and original? Identify a particular aspect of your brand? Communicate a particular sense or feeling? Write those criteria down!
- Get inspired! Before you start thinking of your own names, take a look at the other big names in your industry. You can do internet research, or use a tool like your state's LLC lookup to see what names are already taken.
- Start with a free association exercise. Now that you're ready to start generating names, let your imagination run wild! Try starting with an image that represents your company and write down the phrases that come to mind. You can even listen to music to get your brain working. No title, phrase, or sound is off limits. Just list as many possible options as you can think of! By the end of your session, you'll have generated hundreds of names. This is when you can start whittling the list down.
- Get feedback. Meet with your teammates, business partner, or a peer to review your name options together. Individually choose your top twenty names, then reconvene to discuss where your lists overlap and why. Evaluate them on both their emotional pull as well as practical considerations, like whether they're easy to spell and remember. Then narrow those down to the top 7-10. Then 3-5. Be careful not to fall in love with any one particular name—always have a few in consideration for the trademarking process in case some don't make it through.
- Have one more brainstorming session. Before you settle on your final favorite names, try coming up with a few more options. Now that you have an idea of what you like— and don't!— your best ideas may be just around the corner. Build on each other's names and don't be afraid to get inventive. Is there another way to express the same idea? Can you define your business using new terms?
By the end of these planning sessions, you should have a handful of brand names that convey the meaning of your company in just a few letters. But your work isn't quite over.
- Cut any names that don't meet your most important criteria. If you started the naming process with the goal of finding a name that sounds creative and prestigious, or conveys a particular sense, look for any names on the list that don't meet that objective. Similarly, if finding a single-syllable name that's easy to fit on your marketing collateral was the most important thing to consider, use that objective to narrow your selection.
- Consider your target audience: Your ideal customer should relate with the brand name you choose. Consider the age, gender, interests, and other demographics of your target audience when selecting a name.
- Ask your key stakeholders. It's a good idea to get feedback from the stakeholders around your business as early in the naming process as possible. If one name resonates above the others, you may have your answer!
- Conduct trademark searches. Before finalizing your brand name, conduct a trademark search to make sure that the name is available and doesn't infringe on the trademarks of other businesses.
- Look up possible domain options. If your name options have passed all criteria so far, it's time to see what websites are available for your brand. Run your brand name ideas through a domain lookup until you find a brand name you like that also has an available URL. Remember, if a name is already taken, you probably don't want that name anyway!
Once you've narrowed down your list of possible brand names and chosen your favorite, confirmed it meets every one of your criteria, and double-checked that the name is both available and has a matching domain, you're ready to launch your brand with confidence!
By doing the hard work to identify a brand name that aligns with your unique value proposition, resonates with your target audience, and is easy to remember and write, you're in a strong position to build a company that's successful long-term— if you follow it up with the right brand strategy.
Again, remember that there's no such thing as the ideal name. The right name is the one that communicates your business' value, makes your company desirable, and is easily remembered by others. When you take the time to carefully consider your options, your effort will pay off in the form of a strong brand identity, increased marketability, and clear brand positioning. By launching with an effective brand name, you're ready to succeed.
A to Ze of Brand Building is a 10-part series about all things branding, with an eye to using branding to engage your customers and grow your business. Continue on to Part 4: Building a Strong Brand Culture.