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Brand Naming --- Art_ Skill_ and Luck_

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									by: Karen Post

A great name is like extra octane in a brand. A bad, boring or sound-alike name won't necessarily
kill a brands chances for success. In most cases however, it dramatically dilutes the brand equity
and potency.

Do You Have A Name That Basically Sucks?

If so, shame on you. If you acquired it, I send my sympathy.

Should you change it? Yes. It will cost some bucks, but it's also a great opportunity to get a lot of
great attention and renewed momentum. Weigh it out, look at the cost versus the benefit and
remember that change can be scary, but a lame brand can be scarier!

Birthing A Brand Name

The task of developing that killer name has become quite complex. For years, business owners
and management named their offspring, then creative service firms and ad agencies jumped in,
often with a sprinkling of college talent, finally, the general public added their wisdom in naming
contests. I'm sure all have produced their share of brilliant names as well as some very scary
ones. Now this field of art, science, skill, and luck has gone professional. Naming brands is big
business and can come with a big price tag. Hire a professional naming company and expect a
bill of $10,000-$100,000 or more before the graphic execution or production.

So What Is A Great Name Worth?

The answer: a lot. If your brand is properly nourished, it grows and has a long shelf life or
history-do the math.

Not All Great Brand Names Cost A Lot

Nike(tm) is one of the best examples. Nike is Greek for victory and is also the Greek goddess of
victory. The name came in a dream to Jeff Johnson, Nike's first "real" employee, and replaced
the original name of Blue Ribbon Sports. It beat out Phil Knight's own name change idea of
"Dimension 6." However, the company did pay Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student at
Portland State University, $35 in 1971 to design the trademark "swoosh."

When faced with the challenge of naming, start with your ideas and those of your staff. No
matter what, even if the names you come up with stink, it's a good creative exercise about
defining your brand essence. If you have the budget, outside input and other naming solutions
can also be a valid investment. Remember that the life and benefit of your brand name may last
for years.

It will be plastered on lots of things including your market's mind. Whatever you spend, divide it
by the projected years of use and value. This same formula applies for investments in corporate
identities and tagline. They are as valuable as a great employee or, piece of manufacturing
equipment.

Whether you decide to outsource or to create on your own name, I suggest walking through the
following preliminary exercise.

Ask Yourself The Following:

Who will ultimately decide the name? One person or a team? Whoever that is should be involved
in the criteria-building process. What kind of brand are you naming? Company, consumer
product, business service, or event? What is the expected life of the brand name? Does the name
fit into a larger family of names? Will it be used only in the U.S. or will it go global? Remember
that today "global" can mean the Internet too. Who is your primary audience for the brand
names? Are you creating a new category or joining an existing one? If joining a category, what
are your competitors' names? What are the primary strategies for building your brand?

Once you've completed your basic criteria or framework, you can proceed with the grueling task
of a name dump of endless possibilities.

Should A Name Be Literal And Descriptive Or Obscure And Emotional?

My tendency tilts toward obscure and certainly emotional, primarily because I'm a strong
proponent of distinctive brands. However, I also believe each case is unique and sometimes
brand names get passed down and changing them would take an act of Congress.

An Obscure Or Unfamiliar Word Can Be A Brand Home Run

Consider Apple(tm), Nike(tm), Google(tm), FUBU(tm), and Yahoo(tm). They all have
visibility/frequency, brand-story telling communication, and brand performance. They are all
hugely successful brands but, started as small companies.

Although not my favorite, literal and descriptive words can work in some brand naming
situations. Generally, though proceed with caution because they can be more easily copied or
imitated, leading to buyer confusion. Such confusion usually defeats the purpose of a sound
brand.

If you have a big branding budget, you can salvage or sustain a boring, generic, or literal brand
name with some other compelling messaging. Take, for example, Southwest Airlines. Their
consistently creative and "on brand" advertising has transformed a somewhat nonexciting name
into a great brand name. However, most companies don't have the luxury of Southwest's media
budget or have not engaged a great ad agency like GSDM in Austin, Texas.

With that said, unless you have a big, endless budget, I say... Avoid like the plague:

Dumb Generic Names
Dumb generic names like Computer Solutions, Performance Printing or Innovative
Technologies. I'm sorry if I've offended anyone, but these names will just make you spend more
and work harder at building a brand. They don't have legs and will likely drown in the sea of
sameness. Avoiding generics names is also critical in consumer-packaged products, especially
when private label copycats by mass retailers are showing up. Many times the name can be the
strong point of difference.

Copycat Names

I also think copycat names or those that sound like a competitor or some other big brand are not
worthy of much.

Names That Are Hard To Spell Or Pronounce

Finally a name should be something most people can spell and certainly pronounce.

Whatever route you take, be it working with a naming company, a creative consultant, rallying
your troops and making it an internal company project, enlisting strangers in a naming contest, or
combining several of these methods, you have created an extensive list of possible contenders.
Now what?

More Big Naming Questions

How will the market receive the name? With supporting context, will the market get it?

Will it jive with your strategic positioning of the brand? Are there negative connotations or
associations with the name? Is it available to use? On the earth? On the Web?

Once you've boiled down the list of prospects, you can organize nonscientific opinion polls (i.e.,
in shopping malls, bars, office gatherings). You can also conduct focus groups to test reactions
further or you can do a pricey quantifiable study to gauge understanding acceptance, likability, or
associations with your name prospect.

Is there a magic, fool-proof method for testing names? No. In fact, sometimes too much analysis
just delays decisions and defeats the whole mission of naming your brand before the next decade.
I recommend that you test a little, listen a little to people you respect, listen to your gut feelings,
and proceed with a choice.

Great Brand Names

1) Are emotional
2) Stick in the brain
3) Have personalities
4) Have depth

While The Brand Name Is Very Important, A Brand Cannot Survive On Name Alone
The brand name and how the brand is executed are equally vital for a successful and sustained
brand life. A great brand name can serve as the anchor to your cause, a symbol to your story, a
point of difference in your marketplace, a memory trigger, or just one important part of your
branding arsenal. Go get you a great one!

This article was posted on January 16, 2006

								
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