You need a brand name. You want to give your brand the best possible brand name. You want more than just a list (oh gosh, did we say list?) of viable options. Something that’s memorable, interesting, turns heads, and makes a person perk up like a happy slow loris and say, “oh, what’s that?”
The art and science of brand naming relies on the process, that is, a proven structure that can get you from point A to point B, and leaves you confident and able to move forward with your branding. And a good brand name is important because it can really, well, elevate your brand, and emotionally and verbally link people to who you are and what you do.
In this post, we’re going to take you through the ins-and-outs of brand naming. We’re not going to tell you about how brainstorming with a lot of people doesn’t work, or what the different name types are.
We’re going to take you through a tried and true process on how to come up with a brand name that’s suitable. But first, some hidden tips on what can make brand names really stand out, so saddle up.
Part 1: 4 Ways To Make A Brand Name Stand Out
1. Sound It Out
Ever notice how some letters sound quick, fast, and snappy, while others are softer, and more, well…seductive, shall we say? Believe it or not, the letter choices you make in a name can have a subliminal effect on your brand image. Look up the fascinating Bouba/Kiki effect if you haven’t already.
A few quick examples: “Twitter” disseminates short, fast-thinking communication, whereas “warble,” another perfectly acceptable bird word sound, doesn’t do the same. “Nike” has that plosive “k” sound, that makes it sound definitive, whereas something like Nova, or even Nivea, have smooth, rounded sounds (the “o” and “v”) that give those words, well, a softer, even, luxurious or mysterious effect. Not ideal for a “just do it” mentality.
The point here is to channel your inner poet, linguist, or even speech pathologist to get a feel for how letters can subtly help communicate what your brand is about.
2. Don’t Do Trends
Spotify and Shopify. Calendly and Weebly. These are apt brand names, but now hundreds of brands have decided to “ify” or “ly” or even “r” their endings á la Fiverr, Flickr, Tumblr, to follow suit?
Of course, everyone wants to next, “Venmo,” with dreams of being in the OED. This is not a bad goal to have, but following the trend won’t get you there.
In fact, it may do just the opposite, and make your brand feel like a copycat of something else, or worse: lost in the crowd. Brand names should be representative of who you are and what you stand for, and following the popular, most-trendy thing at the time won’t do you any favors.
Our best advice: ignore what the popular kids are saying, and do you, boo-boo.
3. See The Future
It’s time to peer into your crystal ball and see what your future brand holds. And we realize, this might take a little more brainpower. A little more brand strategy, and possibly more stakeholders in the room.
Let’s start with a simple example. Your company is unveiling a new line of skincare. You’ll know you’ll need a name. You know it’s going to be the next big thing.
But until you figure out the niche you’re targeting, the market and positioning, and well, the whole persona, you’re going to have a tough time knowing what to call it.
A really cohesive brand can have a much stronger presence, versus something that looks like a bunch of elements cobbled together. So think about themes, color schemes, and where you want to be in relation to others in the category.
Maybe you’ll be the only mermaid-inspired underwater-themed skincare brand out there…or the next curated coffee company with a ‘90s electric europop vibe. Or, while everyone else is out there being crazy and colorful, you can choose to be the more serious side.
The possibilities here are endless, and it’s fun (yes, fun!) to imagine where your brand fits into the ecosystem of the market.
4. Think Different
It’s red, juicy, and delicious. Sometimes it’s green, sometimes, golden, and it’s always associated with, well, education. Teachers. The smarty pants. Far from the technical world…but not so far, really, when you start to tie the dots. And the cool thing about a great name brand? It will do just that. Evoke all sorts of subconscious associations that can actually help add meaning and dimension to your brand.
Apple’s multiple layers give it more volume, so to speak, a quality that makes for a great name. It’s so unexpected that it actually sticks. It also helps that there are layers of meaning with the brand name. Now, many real-word names are taken, yes, but this shouldn’t stop you from thinking outside the box.
To be different in the marketplace, you’ve got to think differently, and we’ll go over more on how below. It’s all about building a foundation. A start to the story. A pillar to your castle, and that means spending time, following a process, and well, taking naming seriously.
Part 2: The 5-Step, Tried & True Brand Naming Process
Okay, now that we’ve gotten into cool name tips and why a name is so important, let’s get to the heart of it. How the heck do you even come up with one of these things? Here’s the step-by-step process that will get your engines revving.
Step 1: Know Your Limits
Hit the brakes. Before you even start to think about names, you need to have some guidelines to work with. You wouldn’t write a story without knowing the alphabet, would you? Knowing your naming preferences, the tone, and your brand’s personality are all part of this initial stage.
Take some time to choose adjectives that describe your brand, (hint hint, Word Cards make it easy), and talk about which themes or ideas you want the name to reflect. Even if you end up somewhere different, having a starting point is key.
An initial list of questions like these can help lock in the parameters, and set the blueprint for success:
- What are we naming? Who is it for?
- What’s the customer experience?
- What kind of names are on the table? (Descriptive, combined word, abstract, etc.)
- What languages are on the table?
- What’s the tone? What themes or adjectives describe your brand?
Step 2: Be A Sleuth
Next up, name generation.
It’s time to channel your inner Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot or Pink Panther, or what have you (all quintessential names), and look for words in places you wouldn’t expect to find them. Jargon is your friend here, so open up an electrical engineering dictionary, for god sakes. There’s no better time.
And if you’re thinking, “I just want a straightforward name that says what I do,” that’s okay too. Just know the reason behind it, and explore new ideas anyway.
This stage involves some digging, but it also is about seeing things in a new way. So go out, and take a break or a walk, or play with the cat for a bit, and grab your deck of Word Cards and look for clues outside of the computer screen.
It also involves writing down everything you think of and more, even if it’s not quite right.
Because the more ideas, the better, and that’s a key tip to naming. It’s quite easy to think of the first 100, or 200, words, but more volume gives you a better chance of finding a true gem that’s right for your brand. It also helps with trademark pre-screen, which we’ll get into next.
Step 3: Prepare for Nothing to Be Available
Half the battle is won when you’ve got a really long list of names to check. The other half is getting them through trademark checks, if that’s something your brand or company is looking to do.
The main reason a name will be rejected is not simply because there’s another company with that name, but rather, because it causes some confusion with some other brand in a similar category.
But not to worry, this part, as painful as it may be, it’s essential in pushing you forward to a breakthrough. We’re almost there, people.
Now, let’s talk about domain names. Say your name is available, but the domain name is not. What now, you ask? Don’t worry too much.
The idea of a clean dot com name is simply outdated. First of all, no one types in the URL, you just search. Secondly, ask yourself, is an exact domain name going to hold you back from a name that really works for your brand? Make do with what you’ve got, and trust us, it won’t kill you. Facebook started out as “TheeFacebook.com” and Tesla had to use “Tesla Motors.” Several brands add a word or two in their domain name, and it’s OK. If anything, it adds to brand recognition, and makes them stand out. Here are a few examples:
- Alphabet – abc.xyz
- Dove – dovechocolate.com
- Indy – WeAreIndy.com
- GoToMeeting – Goto.com
- Square – sqaureup.com
- Wag – WagWalking.com
- Zoom – Zoom.us.
Bottom line: Don’t let the domain name deter you.
Step 4: Ditch the List
Once you’ve got your available, pre-screened names ready, you’ll have to do the honors and pick one. Looking at a list for Excel document *oh god* Excel spreadsheets for 10 hours straight isn’t going to get you far.
The best way to evaluate and really “soak up” a brand name, especially as you’re nearing a decision, is to slap each one of those words on its own page like it was the showcase feature at the Louvre.
One word on a page gives each name equal footing, it’s own ground, and makes it less likely for a potential workable option to get lost in a crowd.
From there, you can really see which name can fit in best with the original parameters you set in Step 1. You’ve got to have a blueprint to know that building will stand.
You might even want to test a few names out creatively, with logos and copy. Hearing the name “in context” will help you know if it feels natural.
Important note here: Leave subjectivity out of it! We all tie certain names and certain words with our own personal emotional stories, but this is really about thinking about what’s best for the brand. So if you feel the personal coming into play, sit back, take a breath, and look at the big picture.
Step 5: Take the Plunge
We get it. It’s scary to pick a name with so many eyeballs on you. It’s unnerving to wonder, “Did I make the right choice?”
But as any mediator or therapist will tell you, whether you’re picking a new paint color or deciding whether to start a family, lingering in the middle, will only keep you stuck.
Think of it this way: There’s a party coming up. What are you wearing? The blue tie, or the black? The patterned dress, or the solid red? Laying out the different outfits from your wardrobe and choosing the one to present yourself with, is a lot like choosing your name, and what your whole brand is going to be, for that matter.
If one is trademarked or taken, for some reason, have a few backups, just in case. Fun fact, even Tesla had the backup, Faraday, as they were not the original holders of Tesla Motors.
Remember, the outfit is just a first impression. What you say, and what you do will reveal the true nature of who you really are. Your customers know this, which is to say, if you do right by them, your name will live up to everything.
Tying It All Up
Brand names are building blocks. Just like a logo, brand voice, tone, color palette, and imagery, they’re an essential part to branding that should not be overlooked.
The power of a brand name can take you far. Band-Aid, Zoom, Chapstick, Photoshop, and countless others have made their way into vocabulary and have left a strong impression on the world.
Will your brand do the same?
- Check out our Brand Strategy Kit here.
- Pre-order your set of Word Cards here.
- Crafting your Brand Experience Design
- The Ultimate Guide to Uncovering A Brand’s Tone of Voice
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