As a branding agency, I would say that naming is probably one of the hardest things that we ever have to do. Like many things though, these things always seem deceptively simple after the event. Great names sometimes feel like they were just plucked out of the air but I’d say that they probably came at the end of a lot of blood, sweat, tears, tantrums and several disagreements. Or, maybe it was one of those rare occasions when they just got lucky.
But if you’re not feeling lucky, there are some basic things that you should think about. These are not “rules” per se but just some general guide points.
Set some (reasonable) boundaries
You don’t want to stifle your creativity before you’ve even begun but it’s important to set yourself some general rules before you get going. Before you embark on your quest for the perfect name, you need to set yourself some clear boundaries. That way, whether you are working alone or as part of a group or even briefing a branding agency, you’ll be able to keep a fair degree of control over the potential routes that you could take.Generally, by the time we get to the naming phase we would have already conducted extensive research as well as created a brand strategy or strategic summary. So, in these cases, we will have a pretty clear idea of our product’s “personality”, audience, promise and voice. These help to shape and control any potential names by answering fundamental questions such as “are we serious?”, “are we fun…amusing…cheeky?”, “are we talking to teens, mums or business men?”, “are we talking to everyone?”, “are we budget or premium?”,“Who should care about us?” and “why?”.All branding agencies tend to work in their own way. At Garden, we initially tend to work on naming ideas individually (to a short brief) before convening and conducting a group brainstorm (or 2 or 3…). I find that the individual exercises are useful, as people tend to feel a lot less restricted when working in isolation. It also means that you can start a brainstorm with some fair preparation and avoid any tumbleweed moments.
To some, approaching a naming exercise can seem daunting and – at times – even embarrassing. Although I’ve said that you need certain boundaries (for practical reasons) you should still feel free (and encourage everyone) to go for some more interesting – and maybe even wacky – routes: apples have nothing to do with computers but it’s a pretty good name & oranges have nothing to do with telecommunications but, likewise it works too. Having said that, I can’t say I’ve ever been a great fan of BlackBerry! Of course, there are infinitely more routes (& some non-fruit routes too) but hopefully you get the idea!
Keep an open mind in your brainstorms. Listen to every name idea and try not to shoot them down or judge too harshly as soon as you hear them. It’s an interesting thought but sometimes the silliest sounding names can spark off some really good ones. And also some of our best ideas come from the most unusual sources – some branding and design agencies stick purely to the creative roles for these sessions but we always involve the entire agency wherever possible. Great ideas are not limited to job titles!
Don’t be too mathematical
Democracy is great but it often doesn’t work. Let me qualify that: we’ve often generated names and put them to a vote (where you are not allowed to vote for your own) and quite often everyone’s collective 3rd or 4th choices end up mathematically with the most votes.
Rather than ache over single names, try and run your way through as many as possible. It’s often whilst you are in a flurry that the best names come out. Encourage others to do the same.
Be brave and don’t play too safe
Feel free to make up names – Xerox, Sony, Häagen-Dazs are 3 simple examples – the latter is especially interesting as it’s an American brand that wanted to sound as exotic (and European) as possible. Similarly, sometimes bolting words together can also produce some interesting results. Superdry looks like a strange & historic Japanese/American hybrid but it’s a relatively modern English brand.
If at all possible. For example, if you’re an online only offering, it would make great sense to be descriptive in terms of what you do in the name. So, if your business is booking hotel rooms then something like “co.uk” may help in terms of being a good, practical name. OK, it’s not the sexiest of naming types but a descriptive name will help immensely in getting people to find your site. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a pretty complex area and a little beyond the scope of this piece so we’ll post a piece on that soon. Most names however – especially the more personality driven ones – are not descriptive. But if they feel right for the brand and offering then you are probably on the right path. What is important to remember here though is that marketing spend and campaigning may have to be increased in order to embed the brand in the public consciousness. Spotify opted for a more “verb” driven name when launched in October 2008. They invested heavily in marketing and awareness-led campaigning in general – so much so that they actually reported a significant loss at the end of that year (-$4M+) but the overall investment paid off as they had in the region of 10M paid and 30M paid subscribers by mid 2014.
Once you’ve found your name you may just want to check them. You’ll need to do a couple of checks:
IPO check.http://www.ipo.gov.uk/tmtext/ This will identify names that have already been trademark registered and in the relevant classes (of course, you’ll need to check which classes are appropriate to your product)
But, note that not every brand will be registered. Some are not (and cannot be) registered – or certainly would be met with a lot of resistance – Chanel, for example, failed to register the word “jersey” in the UK after objection from the Channel Islanders. Similarly “Google Glass” can be (and is) registered but Google may struggle to get “Glass” registered on its own (it’s too generic)
Acronym or initialism. If you go for a multiple word name, it’s worth checking that you don’t accidentally have an unfortunate or rude acronym. In 2009, The Wisconsin Tourism Federation had to change their name to the Tourism Federation of Wisconsin because they got tired of the jokes – although to be fair the WTF expression probably came afterwards. But in 2000, a newly formed Canadian political party came up with the Canadian Conservative Reform Alliance Party or CCRAP for short. They quickly changed it to the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance.
Other language fails
This one is a little harder and clearly some of the biggest brand owners have fallen foul of it over the years. Mitsubishi’s Pajero works well pretty much everywhere but in Spanish (you can check the meaning of that one yourself!). Nokia’s “Lumia” is Spanish slang (again) for prostitute, whilst Apple’s “Siri” is a rude Georgian word for a certain part of a man’s anatomy. Finally, “Pee cola” from Ghana just about fails in most parts of the world as does “Urinal Hot drink” – except the Czech Republic where it’s from.
Say it over and over and over again, if you’re not bored of hearing it after a 1000 times then it’s probably not that bad.
Look at it over and over again
Write it out, type it out, stick it up on the wall – look at it endlessly. If your eyes don’t get bored then you are almost there.
Ask yourself if the name is capable of creating intrigue & interest. You don’t want to be mysterious – far from it. But you do want something that will catch the imagination. And who knows, maybe create or completely redefine a category. Innocent smoothies did just that with their brilliantly named brand a number of years ago.
Ask yourself if the name is “campaignable”
If your chosen name is of the made up variety or not especially descriptive, it could still lend itself to being campaigned or “taglined”. In fact, as a branding agency, these are areas that we look at separately to the naming phase but it doesn’t hurt to think about them as early as possible either. Think: Believe
Because you’re worth it, Just do it, Indeed – and certainly in the case of the latter – they can stir up an emotional connection on their own – even without the brand name.
Ask yourself if the name feels “right”
If you think you’ve ticked all these metaphorical boxes, then all you need to do is:
Finally, find a great designer!
Now that your hard work is over, take a breath, create a nice brief, find yourself a great designer and enjoy!