A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but would a brand by any other name perform as well?
This is the question facing many organizations that are up against a naming challenge—whether it’s naming a new product, renaming an existing brand, or naming a startup from scratch.
What will be that earworm of a moniker that none of your customers will forget? A name should be central to your brand story, a calling card for the main character that audiences will relate to on a deep and personal level.
On the face of it, coming up with a name seems like an easy enough proposition. There are only so many letters in the English alphabet, after all.
And then you sit down to actually do it.
Where to start? What to consider? Why did I think this was going to be easy? Luckily, the naming process is not a secret act of divination, nor is it a random roll of the dice. It does, however, require a lot of work.
There’s considerable risk involved, as if the process wasn’t challenging enough on its own. And the number of names still available for trademark protection is dwindling by the hour.
The fact is there are no baby name books for brands. So how do you craft the perfect name? Here are the 5 essential steps you should follow.
When it comes to naming, the discovery process is vital. This is where you get all your proverbial cards on the table so that you can analyze the bulk of what your brand comprises. The naming process should (ideally) always follow a thorough brand strategy and positioning phase, so the appropriate amount of brand research and analysis is already in place.
Even if your brand has been recently positioned, however, there’s still plenty to consider during this primary step. What are the various opinions of key stakeholders regarding the renaming proposition? What are the prevailing concerns? What would be the mark of a successful name? What naming solution will best suit your brand architecture?
At this stage it’s imperative for key decision-makers to reach a consensus on what the objective criteria are for a new name. This will make things much smoother down the road, when it’s time to decide between a shortlist of names. You should have a clear checklist of attributes that you require of a name, so when a list of contenders is presented, the decision doesn’t boil down entirely to gut feeling.
One important thing to keep in mind when developing your criteria is that a great brand name doesn’t try to represent too much. It focuses on the communication of one central idea, instead of trying to be a catchall for everything the organization stands for.
The brainstorming phase is where you gather the raw ideas that will serve as fodder for your name. Inspired by the core messaging and business objectives of your organization, and directed by the objective criteria you established in the discovery phase, brainstorming is a collaborative process among strategists.
“Directed” shouldn’t be misconstrued to mean “constrained,” however. This isn’t the time to let your imagination be hampered by what might seem to be out of bounds. Think unconventionally and take risks. The criteria defined during the discovery phase will be later used as a guide to determine whether or not an idea is sound.
The upshot of the brainstorming phase should be a list of unrefined concepts that can be honed or jettisoned in the refinement phase.
Here’s where we get down to brass tacks. Whereas the result of the brainstorming phases is a collection of concepts, the refinement phase is where a list of actual possible names is generated. Your first list should be a long one. Using the ideas generated in the brainstorming phase, each name in your long list should at least generally fit the objective criteria established in the discovery phase.
Once a long list is created, the process of whittling begins, and the objective criteria become more instructive. When deliberating over whether a name should make the cut, it can be useful to put the name in hypothetical contextual situations. How is this name going to look on a business card? A website? How does it sound when said on its own, as well as when used in various sentences?
You can begin preliminary testing in this phase. If a name is on the bubble (or if it seems too good to be true), do a quick Google search to see what pops up. Things to watch out for include whether a company within your vertical already owns the name and whether the name is directly associated with any negative press or connotations.
The outcome of the refinement phase should be a “shortlist” of names—half a dozen or less—that are viable candidates insofar as they meet the predetermined objective criteria and don’t raise any immediate red flags.
Testing is the vetting process of each of the names on your short list. In the testing phase, we look at qualitative factors, like how marketable a name is, how it looks aesthetically, its relevance, what type of brand voice it embodies, and its ability to differentiate a brand from its competition. How a name will figure into your brand’s narrative is of great importance.
The less qualitative side of the testing phase is screening for legal viability and potential trademark issues. Trademark availability can be among the most challenging obstacles facing a brand name these days. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has a useful online search system that allows you see if a name is already trademarked.
Legally, a name has prove that it does not cause confusion among consumers when put up against other brands, and that it does not dilute the marketplace, by confiscating an existing brand’s equity.
Names should be reviewed and approved by intellectual property attorneys before any action is taken. The availability of URLs and social media channels should be assessed as well.
5. Selection and Launch
The final selection of a name can be a difficult proposition. But the above process is designed to make it as straightforward as possible, illuminating the relative value in each of the names on your shortlist. In the end, choosing a name does involve a bit of gut feeling. You should know intuitively which of your shortlisted names feels right, and best aligns with your brand personality.
To protect your brand from trademark infringement you’ll want to seek the help of an attorney. This is a process you can do on your own, but when dealing with the complexities of trademark law, it’s always best to have professional help on your side.
Once you’ve got consensus amongst decision-makers, it’s time to pull the trigger. The launch of a new name can be either terrifyingly uncertain or confidently thrilling. Taking the process one step at a time and making sure to lay the necessary groundwork make the latter a much more likely outcome.