Memo To All BizTrekers

Naming a company or product well is one of those marketing topics that generate a lot of heated emotion and diversity of opinion. In fact, our experience is that the emotions surrounding brand choices carry more weight than they should. 

However, there is a justifiable reason that opinions and emotions tend to rule the process. Few people know, or have even seen, a scientific or logical process for brand development and selection. So, we're taking this opportunity to show you a better way. It won't replace emotion and opinion, but it will give it a workable framework that maximizes the chance of success. 

The fundamental rule is that, when considering potential names for your company, product or service, it is vital that the process be kept 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.

Most people quickly understand that basic counsel, but it doesn't go far enough. Clients often ask us to be more specific, to explain objectively just what makes a name work. With that in mind, we created a straightforward way to dissect potential names into the following nine categories to make it easier to understand why names work or don't work, and to more easily weigh the pros and cons of one name versus another:

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. 

2) Distinctive – How differentiated is a given name from its competition. Being distinctive is only one element that goes into making a name memorable, but it is a required element, since if a name is not distinct from a sea of similar names it will not be memorable. It’s important, when judging distinctiveness, to always consider the 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? Names with great depth never reveal all they have to offer all at once. They keep surprising people with new ideas and angles. Ever more interesting stories appear the deeper people dig.

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

5) Humanity – A measure of a name’s warmth, 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 name is to the positioning of the product or company being named, the service offered, or to the industry served? Further, how many known and relevant messages does the name map or connect to?

7) Sound – Again, while always existing in a context of some sort or another, the name WILL be heard, in radio or television commercials, being presented at a trade show, or simply being discussed in a cocktail party conversation. Sound is twofold – not only how a name sounds, but how easily it is spoken by those who matter most: the potential customer. Word of mouth is a big part of the marketing of a company, product or service with a great name, but if people aren’t comfortable saying the name, the word won’t get out.

8) Magic – Consider the force of brand magic, and the word-of-mouth buzz that a name is likely to generate. Think about 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 to want to share the brand with others. Can you create similar magic?

9) Trademark – This is the ugly, meat hook reality of trademark availability. Scoring is easy here, as there are only three options, and nothing is subjective: 10 = likely available for trademark; 5 = may be available for trademark; and 0 = not likely available for trademark. If you can't or don't protect your trademark, then you are in the weakest of all possible branding positions.