Look at all the start-ups who have grown to become iconic brands in their own right.
Facebook. AirBnb. Uber.
What do they all have in common?
A few things maybe, but one thing they definitely have in common is they have an unforgettable brand name.
But what actually makes a great brand name?
And how can you name your brand to strategically position your business and optimise the likelihood of success?
If you look at the best brands out there, you’ll see their names all meet the 6 key rules all great brand names should follow:
First things first. If a customer can’t remember your brand name, then the likelihood you’ll be first to come to their mind when they want to buy what you’re offering is never going to be overly great.
There are ways to make your brand name more memorable and help your customer remember it more easily.
But the most important rule to help recall your brand name with ease is using words they are already familiar and comfortable with.
Look at a brand name such as Facebook. Their name is made from words and sounds that their customers are used to saying in their day to day lives. Therefore a brand name including those words is going to sound and feel strongly familiar too.
The second thing, all great brand names should do is evoke a thought, wonder & curiosity around your brand. The brand name should do this in a way that also suggests something about your brand.
Look at Pinterest for instance. Their name suggests that you can 'pin' your 'interests'. It communicates a little something about the brand from the second you hear or see the name.
This is usually linked to the brand’s core message. This is usually what the brand's name is focused on. So taking some time to think about what makes your brand different should be your first step.
Then you can take the thing that makes you different and unique in your marketplace and craft your name around that particular word or phrase.
As humans, we are visual creatures. We like to see and visualise things. People even visualise their future in order to motivate themselves on a daily basis. So it’s easy to believe that our minds can connect visual memories and associations with words to help certain brand names seem more attractive than others.
Look at a brand like Bluebottle Coffee for example.
Just from hearing the name, you can get a sense of how the brand should look and feel. You get a taste for its personality and all of these little factors add up to help the brand name become more memorable overall.
Meaning it should aid memory through imagery (we're visual creatures, after all) which naturally means your brand can grow faster as a result.
Although every brand name is different, great names are all aligned with the business’ long term strategy.
Take Amazon for example. Their long term strategy was always to sell everything and anything online, but they began by simply selling just books.
By knowing this in advance, they made sure their brand name was broad enough to sell other products later on instead of pinning themselves in a corner by just focusing on what they were selling at the time.
The best brand names all withstand the test of time and have the business’ long term vision in mind from the very beginning.
There are certain times and situations when companies do have to rename a brand.
But imagine putting in years of work and effort only to have to rebrand 10 or 15 years down the line and start building all your brand equity up again from scratch.
No, thank you!
Having a brand name that is hard to say is worse than not having a name at all.
Brand names that confuse customers and make their mouths work harder than necessary will work against your company when trying to be remembered by your target audience.
Creating a name which is easy to say can be achieved in two ways:
You can use phonetic symbols to make sure your name sounds right and we would even suggest testing it on a handful of people you know to see if anyone struggles with saying the name.
Finding the perfect brand name is one thing. But making sure it is not already being used or is trademarked by someone else is a critical step in the process of naming your company.
Doing all the relevant checks via relevant trademark directories can save you a big headache later on down the line if you’ve been using someone else's name all along.
So hiring a trademark attorney or an agency to make sure all of the key checks are done properly is always going to be a worthwhile investment.
Better to be safe than sorry.
Last but not least, how do you get your brand name to rank on page 1 of Google?
Over 63,000 people are using Google’s search bar every second on an average day. So yeah, making sure your name has the potential to reach the first page of search engines is pretty important.
If your name is the same or even similar to another name out there, or if it is too generic and matches with a general word, your name is going to struggle to reach the top pages when your customers are searching for it.
When creating brand names, it is necessary to understand the different types of brand names that can exist and what each category means. Broadly speaking, there are four types of brand names.
Descriptive names typically tend to be literal and describe the service or product. These can also be called functional names and can sometimes also be connected to the unique selling point the brand offers. For example, if a clothing company has their entire product range made from recycled plastics, the name could be focused around the concept of renewable materials.
The pros with these types of names are that they are easy to understand and quickly let the audience know what the brand is about. There is rarely any confusion as to what the business is or does. The name is a peep hole into what makes the brand special or what the brand can offer the customer.
The cons with descriptive names are that they may come off as generic and would have a tough time with trademarks, domain URLs, and social media handles etc.
Examples of this type of name would be: American Airlines & Pizza Hut.
These names are all about positioning the brand rather than any indication of the product or service or even any kind of experience. These names are also sometimes out of context and can create a negative connotation which may suit the brand if their strategy is aligned with such a connotation.
The pros with evocative names are that they are usually very unique and can differentiate the brand powerfully. They can also launch the brand into larger than life positioning.
The cons are that if not aligned properly with the positioning strategy, they can look completely out of place and odd.
Examples of this type of name would be: Nike & Twitter.
This type of name is exactly what it says on the tin. You basically create a name which sounds good and that you feel confident about.
Not the most strategic approach to naming a brand, but typically invented names are either created from other languages and even slang. It can be as simple as just throwing some letters together and seeing what sticks, or taking a word you feel represents your brand and pulling it apart to create something completely new.
The pros with invented names are that 9 times out of ten, they are unique and can be easily trademarked. They also facilitate great brand recall.
The cons are that sometimes it may take an effort to make sure the audience understand what the brand represents.
Examples of this type of name would be: Oreo & Starbucks.
These are otherwise known as punny brand names.
As we all know, a pun is a humorous play on words. The humor comes from a word's multiple meanings or its similarity to another word with a different meaning. Using puns in a business name is not new and it is a great way to grab and hold people's attention.
By using words or phases that your target audience is already fully aware of and familiar with, your name can instantly come across as recognisable and relatable.
Other pros to wordplay names is they can get people talking and are very easy for customers to recall, as we find humorous or entertaining memories stick in the mind more readily.
A con is that if it is not done correctly, the name can come off as cheap and confusing.
Examples of this type of name would be: Paypal & Dunkin' Doughnuts.
A sure-fire way to create new business names is two combine two words.
There are countless successful businesses out there that have made a new business name by combining two words.
Microsoft and Facebook are all great examples of business names that combine two words.
Think about two words that sum up your business and put them together. It’s that simple.
You are bound to come up with endless options for business names using this method.
Pros of this approach include that uniqueness is generally very high and the ability to trademark the name is usually successful too.
Cons however, could be that (depending on how generic the words are that you put together) your trademark application may be denied. It’s also difficult to find two words which come together well, which can take a little finesse, creativity and expertise.
Other examples would be: Groupon & Youtube.
Misspelt names are often clever—sometimes, arguably, too clever—and get their impact from pairing or modifying existing words for linguistic effect.
The risk with these types of names is that they can come off as shamelessly salesy. Modern audiences have been exposed to decades of schlocky advertising techniques and sometimes (if not done correctly) the name can come off as cheap and nasty.
That said, misspelt brand names aren’t all bad.
Intentionally misspelling a word so you can leverage its original meaning while skirting trademark concerns, is a subtler approach to lexical names that has been used to great effect by notable brands like Krispy Kreme and Tumblr
Pros of this approach include a higher chance of your trademark application being passed due to the uniqueness of the name.
Whereas, a con could be that (unless the approach is done well) the name could be hard to understand and may confuse customers.
Examples of this type of name would be: Krispy Kream & Tumblr.
Now that we have looked at the different types of names you could create, it is time to get down to the process of how to create the perfect brand name for your startup.
Always start with your brand positioning strategy. Most business owners pick a brand name first and then work on the brand or positioning strategy. While this may not be a bad thing all the time, it does have an opportunity cost. If you nail down your positioning strategy first, that will then inform the brand naming process and help you come up with a brand name that would align with your core values and the brand essence.
To create a brand positioning strategy, you will have to go through the following action steps:
Example: We will take the case of one of our clients, a fashion, and apparel brand, for whom we were tasked with creating a unique brand name. The positioning strategy was that the brand represented the need of their target audience to choose the best in life and live life to the fullest. This is not about selling clothing or apparel. The brand strategy goes beyond the product and is aspirational.
Once you have created your positioning strategy, compile a list of keywords based on your value proposition, core values, mission or vision statement and use these words to build a word bank of relevant words.
Work on adding ideas to a word bank and add expressions, and hints for the main words to arrive at brand story ideas. These story ideas can then be used to decide whether you want to explore one or more of the brand name types we talked about above.
Example: To continue the example of our client, the word mapping had, amongst others, words like choose, select, rise, aspire, achieve, status, ambitions, life goals etc.
Take the story ideas from step 2 and start working on possible alternatives. This means using websites such as thesaurus.com and other word play websites to gather words or phases that have a similar message to the original set of words in your word bank.
Sometimes you may find inspiration in Greek mythology or other languages. So don’t be afraid to explore outside your comfort zone.
Once you have branched off from your original set of words and have a selection of wothers which are related, categorise them under one or more of the brand name types we discussed earlier in the article.
An example would be a name needing to be focused around the idea of rising to the top and choosing the best in life which hit upon, amongst other, the mythology of Perseus and Pegasus. A winged horse that could take the rider anywhere they wanted in a world where mere mortals were tied down to the slow pace of land and sea travel. So you can see how the brand’s story has now been opened up to a whole new world of possibilities.
This is where you take the original words from step 3 and start working on your alternative ideas to create unique words that could be used as your brand name. The trick here is to take the words you have organised and gathered in the last two stages of the process and use them as foundations for brand name ideas.
An example could be a candle company which looks to help people relax in the evening after a long day at work. Words related to this company could be candle, flicker, burn out, relax, kindle and calming. So if we were playing around with those words and we looked at some of the different brand names out there, we would use the misspelling approach to create the name Kindal, which is the word Kindle slightly manipulated. Do this with a few different words you’ve gathered and once you have 4 or 5 good ideas written down, we can move on to the next step of compliance.
Once you have a short list of names that you have derived from the above 4 steps, you need to run them through a thorough compliance process of checking for:
Domain name availability
Check for negative connotations in a Global setting
Availability of social media handles
Search engine optimisation potential
Market saturation or competitiveness
This compliance process will whittle down your shortlist to the final list of candidates from which you and the rest of the stakeholders in the company can make a final choice.
Make sure you do all of the checks properly as getting the checks wrong will most likely result in you having to change your brand name in the near or distant future. So if you are not 100% sure, hire a professional to do it for you.
Once the final perfect brand name is selected, you will have to register the domain and secure all the social media handles. If you have engaged an agency to come up with the brand name, make sure to get the copyright transferred to your name. For the domain name, register as many top-level domains as possible (.com. .net, .co, .biz, .usa etc) and also register variations of the name such as misspellings, just to be safe.
If your budget is super tight, just focus on getting the .com domain and social media handles. But if you have the funds spare, you might as well secure the others too while you’re at it.
Less magic. More logic.
It’s very rare that you have a light bulb moment and the perfect name falls on your lap.
The feeling of finding the right brand name should be more focused around finding a name which ‘makes sense’ to you and that fits the long term strategy of your brand.
It should also meet the criteria we outlined previously:
Remember, your brand name should be:
Meaning they can be trademarked successfully.
Meaning it can rank on the first page of Google & other search engines.
Meaning it should be unique and easy to remember.
Evoking a thought, wonder & curiosity around your brand.
Meaning it should aid memory through imagery (we're visual creatures).
Meaning it should fit your long term brand vision.
Be sure to check phonetic symbols too, just to make sure!
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