Crafting A Modern Brand Name

By Gil Gerretsen

If you've tried to develop a unique brand name in today's global environment, you've likely seen how difficult it has become. In fact, it has been reported that just about every English word and two-word dot com pairing has been taken or reserved. As a result, naming a company or product well is one of those marketing topics that generate a lot of heated emotion and diversity of opinion. The emotions and arguments surrounding brand choices often carry more weight than they should. 

When emotions and opinions rule the branding process, it is generally a sign that people don't have a better and more logical mechanism to make a good selection. So, what follows is a model and checklist to build a modern brand. It will give it a workable framework that maximizes the chance of success. 

The first rule for building a modern brand is to keep the process as objective as possible. Subjective personal responses, such as "I like it" or I don't like it" or "I don't like it because it reminds me of an old girlfriend/boyfriend" are exactly that – subjective and personal. They have no bearing on whether or not a potential name will actually work in the marketplace as a powerful brand that supports all your positioning goals.

However, that rule doesn't go far enough. People still seek a straightforward process to help them create, dissect, and evaluate potential brand names. So, here are nine criteria to help you better understand why names work or don't work. As you develop your potential brand names, use these criteria to weigh the pros and cons of each.

1) Appearance – Simply how the name looks as a visual signature, in a logo, an ad, on a billboard, etc. The name will be seen in different placements and venues, so looks are important. If it is not visually appealing, set it aside.

2) Distinctive – Is the potential brand name different enough from its competition? Being distinctive is only one element that goes into making a name memorable, but it is a required element. If a brand name is not distinct from a sea of similar names it will not be memorable. When judging distinctiveness, it is important to always consider the brand name in the context of the audience it will serve, and among the competition it will battle with for the customer’s attention.

3) Depth – Is there layer upon layer of meaning and association? Brand names with great depth never reveal everything they have to offer all at once. Interesting stories appear as people dig deeper. Those "secret stories" cause them to be shared among friends. Good brands keep surprising people with new ideas and angles.

4) Energy – Is the brand name vital and full of life? Does it have buzz worthiness? Is it strong enugh to carry a sustained marketing campaign on its shoulders? Is it a force to be reckoned with? Does it have oomph? These are all aspects of a brand name’s energy level. 

5) Humanity – Does it feel warm and fuzzy? A measure of a brand name’s warmth is its “humanness,” as opposed to names that are cold, clinical, unemotional. Another – though not foolproof – way to think about this category is to imagine each of the names as a nickname for one of your children.

6) Positioning – How relevant the brand name is to the positioning of the product or company being named, the service offered, or to the industry served? Further, how many well-known concepts and relevant messages does the name map or connect to? It is always easier for people to connect with a brand if it brings up positive memories of something they already know and understand.

7) Sound – Does it come across easiy in conversation? Remember that the brand name WILL be heard. It may be heard in radio or television commercials, being presented at a trade show, or simply being discussed in a cocktail party conversation. The sound of a brand name has two vital components; how a name sounds and how easily it is spoken by those who matter most - the potential customer. Word of mouth is a generally a key part of brand marketing, so if people aren’t comfortable saying the name, the word won’t get out.

8) Magic – Is there an "insider secret" that could be leveraged? Consider the force of brand magic, and the word-of-mouth buzz that a some brand mystery is likely to generate. Think about KFC's 11 herbs and spices or the mysterious "33" printed on the back of Rolling Rock beer bottles for decades. Everybody talks about this because nobody is really sure what it means. "33" is that certain something that makes people lean forward and want to learn more about a brand, and then to share the brand with others. Can you create similar magic?

9) Trademark – Trademark availability is the ugly, meat hook reality of brand potential. Scoring is easy here, as there are only three options, and nothing is subjective: Excellent means it is likely available for trademark; Good means it may be available for trademark; and poor means it is not likely available for trademark. If you can't or don't protect your brand trademark, then you are in the weakest of all possible branding positions.