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What makes a great brand or product name (and how to find yours)
They say don’t judge a book by its cover, which seems obvious right?
Why would we assume the contents of several hundred pages based on a simple sketch, graphic or picture? Yet, have you ever walked into a bookstore and not picked up the first book that drew your eye? We can’t help it, first impressions matter - brand names matter.
With over 5 million companies in the UK alone, finding a unique, intriguing and compelling brand or product name might well be more complicated than naming for your first child.
For founders, businesses and brands looking to launch new products, it’s a process that must be taken on with rigour, a process that we’ll teach you today.
Three great brand names (and why they work!)
Innocent Drinks - Innocent, immediately we know they’ve got a point and something to say, they’ve got you hooked. Their slogan ‘Tastes Good, Does Good’ points to their emotionally driven “innocent” name.
Spotify - Simply put, it couldn’t be anything else. For years Spotify was the only major player in music streaming and its name almost became synonymous with streaming. It’s easy to say, spell and google - the perfect triple threat.
Patagonia - Patagonia’s marketing starts with its name, a homage to the untouched raw beauty of its namesake country. The country is also famous for its rock climbing, speaking to the brand's core product offerings.
So how do you find a market-winning name?
First, consider your approach.
A name should primarily be memorable and the stronger names have a visual metaphor attached to them. They conjure an image or feeling in your mind when you think of them. We see names a bit like vessels, some come pre-poured with meaning attached and some you add meaning to over time.
Whilst there are no hard and fast rules, here are some of the more popular approaches.
Descriptive names work well for service industries or those looking to get straight to the point. Think British Airways or WeBuyAnyCar, there’s no ambiguity, you know what you're getting.
Emotive names look to play on associations and guide us on how to feel about a brand. Tinder’s use of symbolism and language around dating provides great marketing opportunities (“new flame”, “sparks”), whilst North Face’s name plays on a geographical tie to Yosemite national park and its “on the edge” climbing roots.
Abstract names have the singular goal of being unique and “ownable”. Google and Hulu are totally made up and as such can’t be confused with anything else. The downside is that without a reputation, the lack of clarity can leave new audiences with little idea of what you do.
Compound names take two words and merge them together. Facebook, Microsoft. It’s a fun way of being creative and just like the abstract approach, it is good when looking to create a unique and ownable brand.
Acronyms and initials are often descriptive and abstract. They can be made up or related to names or words. BMW, IBM, IKEA.
When considering the best approach for your brand, ask yourself: What are our core brand values? And - what is it that we’re looking to communicate through our name? Just as an artist paints between the lines, creating some guiding principles is a great place to start.
Next, consider how it sounds.
Finding a name you love is step one - now it’s time to get vocal. The best names are unmistakable - could someone that overhears your name in a conversation say it, spell it and Google it?
Second, who are you trying to reach? In the same way we react differently to visuals (the colour yellow can elicit joy whilst blue might make you calm) sounds can change how we feel and who might be receptive. Offerings oriented towards a younger audience often use softer words that are easier to pronounce whilst brands like ‘Zipcar’ and ‘Bolt’ use onomatopoeia (words that sound like what they mean) to strengthen their brand identity.
The key is to get out and test your shortlist of names with family and friends. Brand names are like fashion, you have to feel confident wearing it or saying it. If you’re launching in more than one territory, check how the name translates and if there are any associations or connotations which you should be made aware of.
You don’t want to land yourself in a “Ford Pinto” situation which launched in Brazil with a name that translated to “tiny male genitals”.
Then, consider how it looks.
Some words just look and work better visually than others. As soon as you’ve got a shortlist of options, it’s good to begin work with a designer to conceptualise your ideas. Look for creative branding opportunities in logos, copy and design. Try words capitalised, non-capitalised, symmetrical, merged and apart. Remember also to keep the length of your name in mind - shorter names have cheaper domains and lend themselves to cleaner and more identifiable branding.
Again, sense check with your team - ask how the different options make them feel. You might love the way something sounds but think that it looks wrong on screen. A unique visual look is equally as important as the name itself we find it’s often best to trust your gut.
Then, look to your competition.
Before you open your wallet, dig into your industry. Use a combination of search engines and social media platforms to get a feel for the way people communicate in your space. Who are your competitors? If you know the landscape you’re entering you’ll begin to see how you might be able to position yourself in a way that sets you apart.
Here are a few important checks you should make before sinking time and finances into your dream name.
Start by checking the domain name and extension of choice (.com/.co.uk) is available, you don’t want to be forced into underscores or left-field options.
Follow this with a check of social media platforms - nobody will find @thereal_brandname_1234 and even if they did they might not believe it was legitimate.
If your business requires it, check for trademark and App Store availability.
If you manage to secure all of the above, breathe a sigh of relief. Now it’s time to start building your dream!
Tips and tools for finding your name
Etymology - understanding the origins of some of your favourite options might give you a new angle or nice story to work with
Translation - try translating some of your favourites into other languages, if you can link a story to this you’ll be onto a winner.
Mind map - create a visual map of all the words you can relate to your brand and industry
Onym - a collection of great tools and resources for idea generation
Panabee - is a search tool for company names. It’ll tell you what's available and offer some suggestions.
Namelix - a name-generating tool to spark some ideas.
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