- Brand Research + Strategy
- Brand Design
- Brand Technology
- Brand Awareness
what’s in a name?
Shakespeare was wrong. A rose by any other name would not smell as sweet. Choosing your corporate name may be the most important strategic marketing decision you ever make. In the last 27 years, increasing numbers of businesses have asked us to help:
- create a new corporate name
- develop a name for a service or product
- develop a name or theme for a project or campaign
- choose a name for merged entities
- revise an existing name
- develop a tag line or position statement
- create and register an Internet domain name.
The naming strategy
No one appreciates how difficult name generation has become, although most experts argue the corporate name is the company’s most important marketing decision. To make an unhappy process easier to bear, we have reengineered both our process and our pricing.
Phase I: Geological Survey
Naming is the perfect marriage of methodical and creative activity. More than anything, it’s like drilling for oil—there can be a lot of dry wells. But when we begin, we’re as hopeful as you are. We expect to hit a gusher on our first try. To achieve this level of reckless confidence, we take heart in methodology. We will:
- research the competition for existing names
- research the category for industry terms
- go to the linguistic well to prime the pump. Our list will include, for example, names of relevant: mythical figures (Greek, Roman, Chinese, Norse, Egyptian, African, etc., gods, goddesses and heroes); plants and animals; prefixes and suffixes that are commonly used in English from Greek, Latin and Arabic, etc.
We take all of these materials and run them through an Excel spreadsheet to determine if anything pops up. We figure this must be how Excel got its name (and certainly how ExLax got its name). But generally we don’t like names that are pushed together like car wrecks. While we want the strongest, most defensible name we can get, sometimes all of us miss the forest for the trees. Ultimately, our rule of thumb is if the name can cleanly be trademarked but grates everyone the wrong way, abandon the name.
We’ll then have a creative session to see if something bubbles up from the linguistic soup. If so, we’ll run an immediate PTO trademark and Internet URL check. If we get lucky, we’ll register the URL immediately since the cost has dropped to $10/name (That’s the cost of the insurance policy. We rarely register more than one or two names). If we are not so lucky, and the URL is already the property of someone else, you may have to pay the current holder for the rights to it. Or, we can help you come up with an alternate URL. That will work just as well.
We’ll share the research with you and see where we stand. We could be lucky.
Phase II: Start Drilling
We struck out. No names seemed quite right. We go back to the drawing board and expand our criteria. We may agree, for example, to different lines of inquiry that might prove useful. We decide that we are going to explore those strata. We drill again.
Phase III: Avoiding flares and spills
The Approval Process
The naming process can be long and meandering. While canvassing ideas from staff might help come up with creative monikers, it can also bog down progress interminably. By keeping the naming group to a workable number of individuals with decision-making authority, will be more manageable and confidentiality more easily maintained.
FORM A CORE COMMITTEE
Include no more than 5–8 executives—a balanced cross-section of the organization—with a strong advocate for marketing at the table. The goal is to develop and educate apostles for the program.
TAKE IT TO THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
The goal is to widen the circle of approval.
TAKE IT TO THE MANAGEMENT
They can contribute meaningfully to the program. By sharing the final proposed name with managers, we encourage broader acceptance of the goals and use of the materials. We can also often convert naysayers to neutral.
TAKE IT TO THE STAFF
Staff can subvert a program in many different ways, particularly a program that may involve changes in the daily routine. The goal is to ensure the success of the mission is maintained.
Handling Expectations Sensibly
Everyone wants their new name to be the next Coca-Cola or Intel, with an instantly memorable logo and immediate name recognition that encapsulates the company’s brand promise. But the hard truth is that may not happen: a lot of the good ones are already taken. And a new name alone cannot possibly represent the richness or complexity of an entire organization. But the name development process must, nonetheless, try to capture the essential spirit and value of the organization. Do not expect this to be evident at once. And be realistic: It takes time for both staff and the public to absorb and get comfortable with a new name.
We’ve finally landed on a name. Everyone is feeling hopeful. But there a still a few hurdles to overcome. One of these is navigating the tricky terrain of American trademark law. In the US, common law principles apply, which means that names do not necessarily have to be registered with the US Trademark Registry to be protected under US law. Unfortunately, that means if a consumer could confuse the name of your firm with a similar-sounding one already in existence, this could result in a prohibition against using the offending name. So, if your new appellation by some chance sounds like an outfit selling horse feed in North Dakota, it could create problems, even though your two businesses could not be further apart in type, location and service. We will scour Google, URLs and domains to try to ensure that doesn’t happen, But just be aware that there is no absolute way to know.
And so on through Phase IV, V and VI until we either strike oil or quit. But here is the basic rule of the venture: recognize that every failed effort has helped us define the direction for the next effort. We may ultimately decide that we’re going to pursue a name we uncovered in Phase I. While we may be frustrated and feel we’ve simply put money on the fire to burn, the bottom line is that we must remember that all we have done has contributed to finding the best name available.
guidelines for naming
Keep it short
Research shows name recall begins to drop sharply after the third syllable.
Leave your ego at the door
Your family name may not be the best decision for the company. Payne Home Health isn’t the best option here.
Go with your “street name”
The market tells you what your company should be called–or shouldn’t be called. The market renamed Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith “Merrill Lynch,” for instance.
Unless you can send someone to jail (IRS, SEC), or you are a monopoly (AT&T, IBM, GE), it is difficult to get enough reach and repetition to make initials memorable. Initials convey so little personality, so it is difficult to develop a “relationship” with the customer—which is central to branding.
Avoid unappealing names
If it’s slimy, icky or ugly like Horny, Schitz, etc., don’t use it.
Embrace class distinctions
In America, the more a name sounds like someone who stepped off the Mayflower, the more the name is associated with high social status.
- Can we include the benefit or position in the name?
- Can we create and own a new category?
- Can we associate a visual with the service or name? This will help avoid trademark
confusion in the marketplace.
- Is the name part of a system of corporate names?
- Can it be easily pronounced and/or spelled?
- Does it convey the medical nature of the service?
- Does it stress the caring/warm quality of the service?
- Does it distinguish itself from others in industry? Do something bold and different.