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 Jeremy Miller  - 26th january 2022

A brilliant name is the basic differentiator of your brand. It helps create awareness and convey meaning.

Now, what would Apple be without its name? There are many innovative technology companies around the world, but Apple has the brand. The name provides a platform for the brand and is the first indicator that this company thinks "differently".

The name gives Apple a great deal of power because it resonates with consumers. It is a trusted brand. Consider the power of names like Velcro, Formica and Kodak. In fact, a name can be more useful than a patent, which can be difficult and expensive to defend."

A brilliant name sets the stage for branding. This becomes apparent when you read the top 100 brands lists. You see names that immediately evoke meaning and trust: Google, VISA, Coca-Cola, Facebook, Amazon, Disney, Starbucks, Subway, FedEx, Red Bull, Twitter, or Shell.

Without any other description or explanation, you know these companies. You know what they are, what they represent, and where they fit (or don't fit) in your life. The brand name is the container of meaning. We may know the symbols of the brand or its mascot, but we refer to and talk about its name.


Therefore naming your brand is so important. The brand naming process is not something you delegate to a committee or a few brainstorming sessions with your agency. Naming your brand, whether it is your company, products or services, is a decision that can shape the future and trajectory of your business.

In this article you will find an introduction to a brand naming process. You will learn a systematic approach to generating and selecting brands, and how to test them. It's a proven approach, but it takes time and creativity to get it right.


Four kinds of brand

The beauty of naming your brand is that it rewards creativity.

There is a lot of flexibility in generating and selecting the right name for your brand. You can make up a word like Twitter or Kodak. You can use a descriptive name like PayPal or Toys R Us. You can even name the brand after the founder like John Deere or J.P. Morgan.

You really do have a lot of options. There are four main categories of brands.


Descriptive name: Indicates what the company, product or service is or does.

Descriptive marks are the oldest class of marks. John Deere, for example, is the brand name of Deere & Company. The company was founded in 1837 and the name is derived from its founder.


Descriptive names are also effective in describing the business. PayPal is a payment company. These names clearly position brands and make it easy for consumers to identify their products and services and when to choose them.

The pitfall of a descriptive name is that it can be restrictive. For example, Salesforce.com was founded as a CRM software provider focused on sales force automation. The company has dramatically evolved into a cloud computing company. It offers a variety of applications that go far beyond sales teams. The company name is much less relevant than it was in 1999.


Acronyms: Abbreviation of a descriptive name.

Many of the world's most recognized brands are acronyms: GE, UPS, IBM, SAP, HP, and TD, to name a few.


Most acronyms evolve from functional names. Whether deliberately or organically, descriptive names can be paired in bite-sized chunks. For example, it is easier to say AFLAC than American Family Life Assurance Company, or GEICO than Government Employees Insurance Company.

An acronym can be quick to say, easy to remember, and easier to record. But and this is a big but, they lack a soul.

The main pitfall of acronyms is that they are empty vessels. They are not based on any other words in our lexicon, and even with many acronyms in use they do not absorb much meaning. They are just a grouping of letters.


Made up names: An invented word.

Some of the most iconic brands are made up words: Kodak, Xerox, Acura and Google. They are names created specifically to represent a brand.


Made up words are very powerful, because they don't come with any baggage. They are empty containers designed to represent a brand.

But using invented words is very complicated. Not all invented words make compelling marks. It's best to avoid made-up names with Greek or Latin roots like Verizon, Cingular, or Agilent. It takes the advertising budget of a giant global corporation to imbue them with meaning and make people remember these kinds of names.

For example, in 2002 Cingular spent more than $428 million on advertising. This was just two years after the company was founded.

The best invented brands are based on poetically constructed names. Twitter evokes the experience of communicating quickly in 140 characters. Google resonates with the act of searching and discovering. Kodak demonstrates strength and being in the moment.

Manning explains, "By design, the target audience likes to say these [poetically constructed] names, which helps drive and saturate them across the target audience”.


Experiential names: Build on what is the feeling or experience that the brand offers.

Experiential names are the most powerful class of names. This is where the most emblematic brands are found: Apple, Virgin, Caterpillar or Oracle.


These names are positioning statements. They help a company stand out in their market by setting an expectation of what it's like to choose them.

The biggest hurdle to generating an experiential name is connecting the meaning with the brand. This requires a thorough understanding of your business and what it stands for before the appointment process begins. If the name is not in sync with the positioning of the business, it loses impact.


Competition map

Before you start brainstorming or putting pencil to paper, the first step is to map your brand's competitive landscape.

To begin your nomenclature project, develop a comprehensive list of all of your brand's competitors. Consider both direct and indirect competitors. As you collect the names, divide them into four categories:

 • Descriptive

 • Acronyms

 • Made up

 • Experiential

Once you have an exhaustive list, look for trends:

 • What are common words or phrases?

 • What are the naming conventions? For example, do competitors flock to one category more than the others?

 • What attitudes or beliefs do the names of the competitors evoke?

 • Which brands stand out the most and why?

Mapping the competitive landscape provides two benefits to your brand naming process. First, it allows you to see what you're up against. Second, a clear picture of the playing field will help you develop guidelines for your naming project.


Establish brand naming guidelines

Naming your brand is strategic. It will be a part of your business for a long time.

The next step in the brand naming process is to define what your name will represent and how it will support your business. This starts with what you are naming. Is it a product, service or the business itself? What you name will influence how you name it.

In 2004 Miller led the rebranding of his family's business, Miller & Associates. The company was being repositioned from IT staff to sales and marketing recruiting, and they were developing a fresh new identity.

In order to change the name of Miller & Associates, they established some guidelines. The new name had to be:

 1 Easy to say, easy to remember

 2 Short, ideally less than 8 characters

 3 Have a .com domain name

 4 You Couldn't Use The Words "Recruitment," "Recruiter," Or "Staff"

These guidelines were established based on the type of brand experience they wanted to present to their customers and how they wanted to differentiate their company from the competition.

When you name your brand, whether it's a company, product, or service, set your guidelines. How do you want your brand to function? What rules should the name adhere to? What are the areas you want to avoid in the naming process?


Notepads, sticky notes and a thesaurus

Generating names is a creative process, and it works best if you give yourself the freedom to explore. Start wide and create lists of names.


To change the name of Miller & Associates, he relied on three tools: legal pads, sticky notes, and a thesaurus. They looked up interesting words in the thesaurus and then created as many word combinations as possible in their notebook. Every time they found an interesting word pairing, they wrote it on a sticky note and stuck it on the wall.

They also explored made up words. They invented the words in two ways. First, they pretended to speak in gibberish and grabbed words or statements that seemed convincing. They also explored the combination of strong words and syllables. Once again, each interesting name was on a sticky note and posted on the wall.

They did not generate any brilliant names in their first attempts. It was a process. For the better part of six weeks, they spent twenty minutes a day generating names. They focused their efforts on generating evocative, descriptive and invented names.

By the end of the process, they had filled dozens of notepads and had twenty potential names on sticky notes. This was a good starting point.

You may have a different approach to generating names, but my key recommendation is to let you explore freely in the name generation phase. It generates many options. Push yourself beyond the obvious. Explore many words, phrases and ideas.

A brilliant name may show up quickly, but it will most likely be much deeper in the cycle.


Domain Name Termination

A key decision in the nomenclature process is whether the brand requires a domain name. If you are naming a company, you can guarantee that a domain is required. With a product or service, you can have a little more freedom and not need a domain name. The domain name requirement depends on how you market and promote the brand.

Finding an available .com domain name is very difficult, unless you're working with made up words. Even finding domain names for unique word pairings is extremely challenging. It is almost a given to assume that all good names have been registered, but that does not mean that all domain names are being used.

In many circumstances, you can purchase domains that have already been registered.

If having a domain name is important, I recommend setting aside a budget to purchase domain names. For a small business I recommend a budget of €2,500. For consumer-facing brands, or brands that will appeal to a large audience, I suggest a budget of €25,000. The basic logic is simple. A great name will more than pay for itself in the long run.


Brief list of brands

You can try every name on your list, but it's a good idea to sacrifice the list before going any further.

The short list can be a humbling moment. You may reach this stage and realize that none of your names are good enough. Happens. It is a natural part of the brand naming process. The key is to not let this setback stop you. Avoid committing yourself by selecting a name just because it's there. Go back to the name generation phase if none of your names are good enough.


Committees kill names

It's worth noting that committees are the bane of creativity. Don't let them slip into your appointment process at any point.

Choose your team names deliberately. Who is generating names? How are you testing names? Who is helping select the shortlist? What qualifications do these people bring to the process?

Build your naming team from scratch. There is nothing more frustrating than having a dozen voices and no way forward.


Five features to prove your brand

Do a quick assessment of your brands and consider each one for five characteristics:

 • Distinctive: How does the name stand out from the competition?

 • Sound: Say the name out loud. How it sounds? Is it easy to say? Is it poetic?

 • Stickiness: Is the name easy to remember? How many times do you have to listen to it before you remember it?

 • Expression: Does the name demonstrate what your brand is about? Does it fit your brand personality?

 • Appearance: How does the printed word look? Does it look as good as it sounds?

A brilliant brand will excel at all five characteristics.


The Swiss test

To test the appearance of your brand, print the name in all caps in Helvetica Neue Bold. What you are looking for is balance and readability of the name. How does the name look in a standard sans-serif font?

If you are deliberating between a handful of names, you can print each name on a piece of paper. Print each name in huge characters so it fills the page.


Give the pages to people and ask them two questions:

 1 What do you think of when you read each name?

 2 What name is your favorite and why?

A few days later, go back to each person and ask them to remember the names they shared with them. Take note of what names they remember and how quickly and easily they were able to remember the names.

The more people you can have complete the test, the more information you will collect.


The visual universe of the brand

If you're happy with the name and it's resonating with your test subjects, the next step is to develop the brand universe and its visual expression. This point deserves its own article that we will address soon.