How to Develop a Valuable Brand Name

Alan Kaplan

As we have emphasised in previous posts, brands are potentially a substantial source of income and value to organisations. Brand names chosen at either organisational or product levels can serve as a strong signal to customers and other stakeholders and, as a consequence, a well crafted brand name can enhance the prospect of a brand’s performance substantially.

Brand names are equally important to companies operating for profit and for non profit entities, from the perspective that the more a name enhances and adds value to a brand the more positive the likely outcome, relative to objectives.

An excellent brand name can add value in a number of possible ways, depending on the nature of the name and include:

• Helping to easily identify the brand and build awareness, salience and positive associations.

• Significantly differentiating a brand from others at both a corporate or product level.

• Strengthening the positioning of a brand as the best option for the needs or wants of the target market.

• Emphasising the value proposition and/or unique point of difference

• Evoking an emotional bond or imagery with the audience
• Providing longevity to a brand across diverse cultures and countries.

The development of an exceptional brand name should, however be viewed in context. As important as an excellent name is, the best of brand names cannot salvage a poor product or strategy. A great name still requires the support of commendable branding and marketing efforts, and is further enhanced by successful word of mouth, and viral communications through Social Media.

There are no ‘hard and fast’ rules associated with naming a brand but there are guidelines that can be followed and issues that should be avoided. These include not choosing names with negative connotations in societies and sectors in which the name will be introduced.

The term negative has a number of meanings including cultural connotations in the way the name is spelt or pronounced. When General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in Latin America with poor outcomes they were not amused to find that ‘no va’ in Spanish in essence means ‘it doesn’t go.’ After Toyota introduced the Fiera in Puerto Rica they discovered that ‘Fiera’ translates to ‘ugly old woman’. Clairol had great difficulty in Germany with their Mist Stick brand, as mist in German is slang for manure. Even those aspiring to speedy hair growth would not have deemed this an ideal association!

Names that are difficult to pronounce or recall or those that are likely to become redundant, usually as a consequence of technology, are also not ideal. Brands with names that cannot be protected through a trademark or for which domains are unavailable are also at a substantial disadvantage.

There are a number of categories into which most brand names fall and these can be summarised as follows:

• Names of founders of partners are a simple way of naming brands. These can be of considerable importance if the founders have special skills and are recognised experts in their respective fields. Lawyers, accountants, architects, advertising agencies and tradespeople often choose this approach. However large corporates, such as Ford. Disney and Dell also use this option. In some companies the value of the name may diminish if a founder or partner retires or dies and clients of a professional firm may only be satisfied if their account is personally serviced by a founder or partner, which may not be feasible once the firm grows beyond a certain size.

• Letters which sometimes comprise the owners’ initials or acronyms of longer company names are often perceived as a ‘neutral’ or even staid way of naming. By themselves, they convey vey little and therefore require relevant support, either formally by way of commendable branding and marketing, or through word of mouth or viral communications. BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke) is, however, an example of a company that invests millions of dollars annually to build on and sustain high levels of brand awareness and other forms of brand equity. Famous brands that have shortened their names over time include Lucky Goldstar (LG), International Business Machines (IBM) and Kentucky Fried Food (KFC) the last of which shortened its name primarily for health reasons when fried foods fell out of favour, if not flavour.

• Descriptive names describe the product or service concerned… Examples of companies with descriptive names are Commonwealth Bank, General Motors, Reader’s Digest and Sports Illustrated. Descriptive names are often seen as one of the simplest options to adopt and can create an immediate association with the product category concerned and aid recall. Many regard descriptive names as being on the lower end of the creative spectrum but there are many brands that have used this option very successfully. In some sectors, however, there may be a plethora of similar names and in addition a trademark may be difficult to obtain if the name consists of words considered to be those used in everyday language.

• Benefit Related Names are similar in genre to descriptive names but incorporate a direct product or service benefit. Nice ‘n Easy and Quick Print are two names that fall into this category. Benefit related names have an advantage over purely descriptive ones in that they communicate a value offering.

• Suggestive Names are names that rely on visual and/or auditory cues to suggest the benefit they wish to convey. Energizer and Ray Ban are examples of suggestive names. Compared with descriptive names suggestive names have the ability to differentiate a brand to a greater extent. In addition obtaining trademarks and domains are often not as difficult, on a comparative basis. A possible shortcoming of suggestive names is that additional associations with the name beyond the original one can be difficult, (but not impossible) should this be required at a later stage, an issue that also impacts on descriptive names.

• Evocative Names conjure up images that enhance the brand. The name Nike, for example is derived from The Greek God of Victory, whilst Oracle is another name that evokes rich imagery for this predictive software brand. Compared with brand related and suggestive names, evocative names are able to evoke a lot more imagery and stimulate the imagination to a much greater extent. Trademarks and domains are also more readily available to those ‘first in’ with names in this genre.

• Geographic References can be used at a number of levels. Locally (e.g. in the case of an estate agent) it can convey the sentiment that a particular brand focuses on the needs and wants of a specific geographic region or, in a wider context, that the origin somehow adds value. Bega and Buderim are two local examples of companies using this approach, whilst names like Philadelphia Cream Cheese and New York Bagels also demonstrate this principle. Names derived from different languages, for example French or Italian to create imagery surrounding fashion or cosmetics, are variants of this theme.

• Invented names can either be created, (for example Kodak, Exxon, Squiidoo), or consist of words used out of a rational context, such as Blackberry or Shell. A consideration regarding this option is that it will initially take more resources to build awareness and recall and create positive association with the brand and its value offering, as compared with a more direct approach such as a descriptive option. The upside is that the name’s uniqueness can result in a brand standing out in its market sector. Furthermore invented names don’t pigeonhole your brand should you wish to create additional values or associations. It is also relatively easier, generally, to obtain both trademarks and domains for these sorts of names.

• Word constructs are names that either combine whole words like LiveScribe or portions of words such as Microsoft and Optivance. In many instances the value of these names is worth far more than the sum of their parts through the synergy of the enhanced value proposition. Another advantage is that once names are crafted in this way there is often more opportunity to obtain trademarks and domains compared with the individual words from which word constructs are derived.

In addition to the above there are many other types of possibilities for names including numbers, puns, and deliberately misspelt words, to name but some.

When considering which name to choose the following is useful:

• Establish the optimal team to be involved in the brand naming process. Will you use internal resources, external specialists or a combination? Keep in mind that naming involves both strategic and creative elements and that your team should reflect this. In addition it is wise to have a lateral thinker on your team. Names like Apple, Amazon and Caterpillar may have never seen the light of day if visionaries had been replaced with a conservative mindset.

• Define the sectors and target market you will focus on as well as the naming objectives. Is the name a replacement for an existing brand that is unsuccessful (rebranding) or for a new name? Will the name be used at a corporate or product level or both? Is there a specific image you wish to convey, for example innovativeness, success, intelligence? Are there elements in the name that are essential to explore or that you wish to exclude? Are there specific sources, such as Greek Mythology that you wish to specifically include in your name source?

• In addition, the brand’s identity, promise, positioning and brand architecture should all be carefully considered in relation to the proposed names. Ensure that the brand names you consider are compatible with all these elements.

• Pay close attention to the competitive landscape within your sector and consider where you want your name to feature relative to competition and your reasons for this. For example if there are a lot of closely related descriptive names and you have a distinctive offering you may want your name to reflect this in a more creative way in the form of an invented name.

• From a legal perspective ensure as best possible, through name searches, that a proposed brand name will not be challenged because it is too close to an existing one in your sphere of activity.

• Choose which categories of names are best suited for your objectives, taking the above points and the factors associated with each category of name into account. The naming team should then brainstorm names in these classifications.

• Shortlist names in each relevant category.

• Establish which names on your shortlist you can trademark in all relevant territories and whether suitable domains are available. In addition to providing you with a greater extent of legal protection, the acquisition of trademarks is important in that business and domain names do not, in themselves, bestow proprietary rights. The right to use, license or sell a trademark is confined by law to the registered trademark owner.

• From your shortlist consider only those names you can trademark and obtain suitable domains for. Ideally test these options with your target market through relevant research. Whilst focus groups are often used the methodology chosen needs to be weighed against the objectives and other factors. Should market research be unaffordable test (even torture) the different options in relation to your objectives as well as strategic and creative considerations.

• Ensure that your considered names meet your objectives to the fullest possible extent and that a name destined for international markets is acceptable for the countries and cultures concerned and is unlikely to be misconstrued.

• Once you have chosen and registered a name you can begin implementing your brand identity. Whilst elements like a logo and tagline are important constituents they are but a very small part of the task at hand. From this perspective it is often best to work with a professional to assist not only with the development of a brand name but also with the many other associated and integrated areas.

• For more information on brands and brand development refer to our other blogs and articles.
About the writer

Alan Kaplan PhD has international experience spanning more than twenty five years across academic, media, agency, client and consulting areas. Alan’s profile can be viewed on LinkedIn and he can be contacted on 041875855.

Contact us

Contact Optivance 360 for a no obligation discussion on how we can assist you with all your branding, marketing and communications in a consulting, non executive management or mentoring capacity, or for any of our other key business services including franchising.

Alan Kaplan © 2012

This article is for general information and the reader should seek specific expert advice before taking any action.

Posted in: Branding

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