“What’s in a name?
That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Choosing a brand name
What’s in a brand name? Quite a lot, actually! And whether for a company, product line or specific initiative, it’s rarely one of those quick, tick box tasks. Here we take a look at how to find the right name without getting stuck in the proverbial mud.
Often, having been through an intense inception phase to nail their proposition, complete a business plan and source finance, many entrepreneurs are surprised how long it takes them to come up with a brand name they’re completely happy with. And even then, many say they’re not completely convinced by the time they make a commitment such as buying a URL, printing business cards or investigating trademarks. Anyone would think they were naming their first child….
The best way to find a name for a new brand or for a company rebrand is to first consider the brand from a strategic perspective. This is different for every business but might involve fine-tuning the nuances of market position, carefully mapping the customer journey, crafting the mission statement or elevator pitch and identifying the core brand values that the company will embody. These elements offer useful signposts for decisions about brand names.
Why is it hard to find a brand name?
Well, for a start, it matters, right? A business is likely to have the name for a little while to ensure it can establish brand awareness with the target audience. Frequent changes of name would mean diverting significant portions of marketing budget to rebranding communications and could ultimately damage the company’s reputation.
Many businesses also feel the pressure to pick a name that is right for now and right for the medium term – they need a bit of headroom. Crystal balls aside, simply being aware of the future and the company vision should help a business to avoid the major pitfalls here.
5 guiding principles for choosing a name
When a founder or employee is asked about the name of their company, it’s good to be able to share the reason behind its choice:
- Is it memorable? Will it resonate with your audience and create instant association? Clearly brand communications will play a part here.
- Does it have meaning or a story behind it? The story behind the brand name and the associated feelings or emotions that are evoked help to create strong associations that clients remember.
- How unique is it? Being unusual creates stand out and in today’s busy world, differentiation can be hard to come by. From a practical standpoint it means that URLs and search terms will be easier to claim. A little due diligence will also ensure that a name is properly ‘ownable’ and won’t conflict with other brands.
- Is it appropriate? Stand out and disruption are one thing but those must be boldly owned by the business if they are to work effectively. Any business not seeking to completely re-educate its audience – and in our experience, those operating in a professional services environment – would be wise to think about what the target audience might expect and find appealing or reassuring. We’d add that this need not be at the expense of creativity in the execution.
- Are there any practical considerations? For example, a long name is impractical in some circumstances and may make the creative execution and application tricky.
Omer Simjee, business founder and Bretom client, needed a name for his distinctive legal and HR consultancy offering. Magma Legal emerged as the perfect choice: fluid, fast and disruptive summed up the business personality and what his clients could expect.
The nitty gritty of name formats
So, what are your options for choosing a name? There are a number of different routes:
- Descriptive – a ‘Ronseal’ approach (it does what it says on the tin) which indicates the product or service that will be delivered. Simple and functional, they support the brand story but may be restrictive if a company wants to diversify later on. Think ToysRUs, Wholefoods and WeTransfer.
- Abstract – usually singular and creative, abstract brand names seek to convey the experience or positioning of a brand, and one which is bigger than simply the products or services on offer. Nike, Apple and Amazon are all strong examples. Over time, abstract names develop momentum to become synonymous with other products and brands – Alexa, for example, is now inextricably linked to Amazon devices.
- Invented – making up a name has definite advantages and is a sure-fired way to be unique. Many are based on foreign words which allude to meanings aligned to brand values or personality – Kodak, Xerox – whilst others have sprung from obscurity into everyday language, like Google.
- Lexical – wordplay brand names can be clever and memorable, involving puns, compound words (this is how Bretom was created!), alliteration or intentional mis-spellings. Used with care, they can be a huge success but can also result in negative connotations if poorly executed.
- Acronym – a series of unrelated uppercase letters as a brand name have their place, but usually as a rebrand. It’s harder for start-ups to find a solid reason for an acronym-based name and they’re typically harder for an audience to remember. Professional services firms with strong, established reputations, such as KPMG and E&Y, have been able to successfully use acronyms.
- Founder – naming a business after those that founded it is a long-held tradition, dating back to the earliest brands and offers an opportunity to create a unique and distinctive brand. Consumer brands like Kellogg and Heinz are some of the oldest examples whilst in the professional services sector, law firms often make use of their founding partners’ names.
Of course, finding the right name is just one element of successful brand development. The brand name in isolation does not create worth or meaning and its choice should not distract focus from – or delay the launch of – a product or service since they will ultimately define business success. As the Bard said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet.”