Brand Naming Do’s and Don’ts
“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.”
With the number of startups highly on the rise, with corporate companies facing startup disruption more than ever, and with everyone and everything moving online, there has never been more noise in the business landscape than we see today. There are now more businesses than ever! So how can a new one become famous?
I’ve put together a list of essential naming DO’s and DON’Ts to shed some light on the process and help you make better choices right from the start.
Work on a suggestive and evocative positioning
Before choosing a name, you must define your brand positioning and clarify what you want your name to do for your brand. The name you choose must be derived from that positioning and say something about your brand, without plainly describing it. The more distinct the positioning, the more effective the name. Strong names allude to what a company or product can do, or suggest to users a positive experience. However, you shouldn’t expect your brand name to say it all. Give it room to work and activate your customers’ imagination.
Good brand names challenge, excite, and mentally stimulate us. They fuel our imagination and reveal a multi-layered, rich personality that makes your brand shine. Think of Slack, Monday, Discord, Carrot, Virgin, Impossible Foods, Pandora, Gap, Caterpillar. Despite the apparent “negative messages”, consumers love these brands, find them intriguing, and appreciate their sense of humour.
The shorter the name, the easier it is to remember. Memorable names create associations with familiar concepts and figures. For people to remember it easily, your name must look familiar, be understandable, and relatable. Your customers shouldn’t have to remember how many vowels you have in the middle of it. If you opt for a made-up name, try to stick to two or three syllables.
Use visual imagery
Our brains are better suited to remember images, tastes, or smells than it is to remember abstract concepts. People even have a hard time remembering other people’s names, but they do remember faces and things they see much easier. That’s why having a name that creates a visual representation in your customers’ brains is a tremendous advantage. If you can find a name that has image, taste, and smell, that’s even better. Think Citronade. ;)
Be future proof
It’s hard to predict the future, especially if you’re an early-stage startup that might have to pivot a few times until it can find its grounding and reach the product-market-fit. That’s why you need to start this trip next to a name that’s flexible, that can grow with you and adapt when you need it to. Think of it as a marriage — you’d ideally want it to be for life. Sure, should things go south, you can change, but it’s gonna cost you and leave some scars. It’s simply better to try to get it right from the beginning.
Have a theme
When you’re naming products, it’s better to opt for a theme. People like to make logical connections and see the relations between your product lines or iterations. It gives your product line a sense of belonging, family, and togetherness that people long for. Especially after experiencing the extended lockdown and isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic…
Powerful names connect with us emotionally. We are attracted to names that echo our needs and desires. And savvy brands know how to take advantage of that. Think of Calvin Klein’s Obsession perfume line, Impossible Burger, or Queen.
“According to Forrester Research, 50 percent of every buying decision is driven by emotion. Not only do we buy things that make us feel good, but we are also inclined to buy things with names that make us feel good.” — Alexandra Watkins, “Hello, My Name is Awesome”
“Naming things, breaking through taboos and denial is the most dangerous, terrifying, and crucial work. […] I believe freedom begins with naming things. Humanity is preserved by it.”
- EVE ENSLER
Don’t be difficult to pronounce or spell
Try to pass on acronyms, numbers, hyphens, special characters, double or triple letters. And it’s a good idea to keep the “c” as is — do not try replacing it with a “k”. Valid as well for “q” and “k”, etc. If Alexa, Siri, or Cortana can’t spell your name properly, you should pass and keep searching. When your name looks like a typing error, spelling it to everyone, every single time you talk about your company, will be exhausting. Think investors will remember it?! Think again. Big NO!
Adibas, Reebook, Rulex — they’re not inspiring much trust, are they? If your name isn’t original and sounds like one of a different, well-known company (movie, band, book), you don’t really sound innovative. You sound more like a fraud. Would you buy an Aple computer? Would you read the New York Tines? If not, then try to not sound like a fake. People don’t trust fakes — or at least they didn’t use to — and, unless you plan to compete exclusively from the perspective of low price and a matching “quality”, this is another big NO!
You should also try not to go for what is trendy. Names that end in — -ly or — -fy will date poorly unless you’re the original company that made them famous. Beyond mere plagiarism, it’s advisable to also try to avoid copycats such as — — monkey, 50 shades of — -, — — rocket, — -topia, — -ology, etc that will not work in your favour.
You’ll be seen as lazy and unoriginal at best. At worst, you’ll be called a fraud and sued.
Don’t get a restrictive name
I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again: it’s hard to predict the future. Your company might have to pivot a few times to find its feet. So don’t give it a name that will only match its activities today. Think about where you might evolve in 5–10–15 years and give it a name that is suitable today and will also be suitable then.
Don’t be silly
Don’t get quirky names just because. Try not to be annoying, sound silly, or forced. When your consumers don’t see any connection, they can get frustrated and try to avoid you. And the press will rub the floor with you. A recent example is the Fiat-Chrysler-Peugeot merger which will be called… Stellantis. The press had a few words to say about it that likely didn’t make any stakeholder happy…
Don’t use jargon
If you intend to market your business to people outside your industry or field of expertise, be they consumers, investors, or prospective employees, then avoid using names that only have meaning to your specific industry. If people need to be in your industry to understand your name, or if the name only has meaning to yourself, then it suffers from insider knowledge. You simply can’t explain your name at every single consumer touchpoint, so it’s better to stay away from jargon or, even worse, jargon acronyms, or any acronym really.
Don’t be descriptive, it’s boring
Does your name appear meek, plain, or boring? A flat and uninspiring name will not make it above the noise. If your brand’s name is descriptive, it will get lost in the background. Think of the countless Something-Something Consulting, Something-Something Software, Something-Something Solutions. I know, it’s easy to criticize and, you’ll probably think that, unless you explain to your customers what you do exactly, they won’t get it and will pass on your offerings. I know that feeling — I’m a startup founder myself and have felt the urge to adopt names that explain what we do exactly. It saves quite a bit of a headache, right? Wrong. The thing is, if your name is boring, then you simply cannot claim you’re an innovator. Well, you could, but customers will have a hard time believing it. Moreover, a descriptive name is a nightmare — if not impossible — to trademark.