Naming is one of the trickiest aspects of the branding process. It’s relatively easy to change your logo or website, but your name is far less elastic. You don’t want to get it wrong.
And the stakes are high. According to Al Ries and Jack Trout, authors of Positioning, “The name is the hook that hangs the brand on the product ladder in the prospect’s mind. In the positioning era, the single most important marketing decision you can make is what to name the product.”
Naming is more than a creative endeavor. Take the time to thoroughly evaluate a brand name, and consider these 7 questions.
1. Is the name distinctive?
A great brand name is unique yet comfortable.
Twitter, for example, sums up the platform perfectly. The name also differentiated it from its competition. In 2006, when the platform launched, the predominant social networks were Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, StumbleUpon, and Blogger. Twitter was a revolutionary idea, and the name clearly distinguished it from “friend” and “connection” based brands.
To test the distinctiveness of a brand name compare it to the competition. Create a list of all your direct and indirect competitors. Is your brand name following a trend, blending in, or standing out?
2. Does the name support your brand positioning?
The wrong name can stunt your brand.
The Yellow Pages were an important source of leads in the pre-internet era. To game the system many companies chose names that placed them high on the alphabetic list: Acme, A1, ABC, or some other variant.
Naming your brand to rank high in a search result, whether for the Yellow Pages or Google, is flawed. You can’t control these platforms, which means your brand name can become irrelevant if the platform changes.
Evaluate your brand name through the lens of your customers. How do they relate to the brand compared to alternatives in the market? How do they identify with your company? Does the brand name reinforce that experience?
3. Can the name stretch?
A key benefit of a functional brand name is it clearly describes the product. Shredded Wheat is shredded wheat cereal. USPS is the United States Postal Service.
The challenge with a functional brand name is it does not stretch. This can be problematic for naming a company or a complex product in a shifting marketplace. There’s a chance your company will outgrow the name.
Challenge your brand name. Would the name still fit if your company entered a new market or launched a new service?
4. Are there any negative connotations?
If you have any ambitions to compete internationally, test your name. Does it have a negative connotation in another culture?
Barf is a brand of detergent in the Middle East, but I am pretty sure North Americans don’t want to wash their clothes with it.
Even if you’re not competing globally, test your name in other languages and cultures. You don’t want to face an unpleasant surprise.
5. Can you defend the name?
Your brand name is an asset. You want a name that you can own and defend.
Before selecting a brand name conduct a trademark search. Is the name being used elsewhere? If so, understand the risks. You may abandon names early on in the naming process because you can’t acquire, defend, or own the trademark.
6. Is the name easy to pronounce, and easy to spell?
A great brand name is easy to pronounce and easy to spell.
Names like Cingular and Agilent are too smart for their own good. They don’t roll off the tongue, and searching for them on Google feels like you’re competing in a spelling bee.
Focus on words that are simple. A good test is to ask a group of 10 year olds to spell your brand name. If they struggle with it look for another name.
7. Is the name sticky?
Finally, is the brand name memorable? Does it stick in your customers’ minds and create a reference that they can come back to again and again.
A test I often use to evaluate a brand name is to share the name with a few colleagues. Ten days later I will call them up and ask, “Hey, what was that name we were talking about?” I am testing stickiness. Do they recall it immediately, or does it take some prodding.
The more memorable a name, the more sales it can generate.