The Art of Name Calling… What Does Your Brand Name Say About YOU?!
There is a school of thought that says it really doesn’t matter.
After all, who would ever have thought that the Halifax Building Society (let alone Bank) could reach the dizzy heights it did?
And surely a shop called Boots can only sell one thing, can’t it?
And can Carphone Warehouse survive in this day and age,
when no-one buys car phones?
Well clearly each of these examples has thrived. But perhaps they’ve succeeded despite their names, rather than because of them.
And they are the exceptions, of course, rather than the rule, and they shouldn’t steer us away from the importance of creating appropriate names for our new businesses.
But what do we mean by ‘appropriate’?
The only answer is that they should work.
And that leads to the next question… what does work, and what doesn’t?
And this is where it all starts to get a bit subjective, and the concerns are raised
about how much will this naming exercise cost? And is it really necessary,
as my wife’s sister came up with a really good name, and she’s an English teacher…
Let’s start by separating the company name from the brand.
The company name is the one you register, and is the legal entity. It doesn’t have to have any connection to your brand name, which is the overall name by which your products or services are likely to be known.
And some companies own lots of brands, just to make things a bit more complicated.
And within each brand, there may be sub-brands, and even sub-sub-brands!
So Ford Motor Company Limited is the company. And Ford is the brand. And Focus and Fiesta are two of its sub-brands (although they are generally called models in the automotive industry). And Zetec could be described as a sub-sub-brand, although it might also be termed a sub-model or descriptor.
(I do hope that you’re keeping up with this!!).
Anyway, let’s define some typical characteristics of a name, and for the purpose of clarity, let’s assume it’s a brand name.
The most straightforward type of name is descriptive, and it does what it says on the tin. They can be very obvious, like Carphone Warehouse (before people stopped buying car phones) or more proposition-led – such as Nationwide or New Look – which seek to promote a characteristic of the product or service. Many of these will have the type of product/service and/or a geographical element in the name.
The other really basic name form is eponymous – in other words, named after the person or persons who inspired, launched or created it. As in Marks & Spencer. Or Sainsbury. Or Boots, for that matter. And, of course, the names might be abbreviated or initialised, as in the case of B&Q.
Some names are onomatopoeic, and are intended to sound like the product or service itself, or a benefit it delivers. Swish curtains, for example.
Names can also be abstract, having no obvious connection to the product or service, or any of the benefits it delivers… even if the smart-arse agency then post-rationalises a connection to make it fit. Such as might have been the case with Apple or Orange!
And finally, names can be invented words (also known as neologisms, and sometimes known as ‘poncy’ words), which are just made up words, such as Wii, Consignia or Accenture. For legal reasons, it’s important to stress that this judgement is based on my own subjective analysis!
Now no sooner have we covered all of these categories, than you will be thinking;
“what about such-and-such a name? It doesn’t fit into any of those categories”, or maybe: “it fits into two or three of them”.
And at this point, I have to say it really doesn’t matter.
The categories are purely a starting point, and a convenient, structured way of approaching what can otherwise be a very confusing challenge.
So what are the pros and cons? And which type of name is appropriate for you?
Much depends on the impression you want to convey, so you need to have a clear strategy that defines your target audiences, and the style and tone you wish to adopt in order to engage with them.
If your audiences are likely to buy from you because of your senior people, it might be best to use their names (this was very popular with law firms and advertising agencies at one time). The downside is that when the named people leave for whatever reason, the relevance of the name diminishes.
A small business which has ambitions to grow and eventually sell out might be well-advised to avoid an eponymous name, as it links the organisation directly to the person.
Descriptive names have a definite advantage in communicating the type of business or the geographical coverage quickly, but they suffer from three major drawbacks: firstly, descriptive names are notoriously difficult to protect against imitators. Secondly, they are often very restrictive when it comes to expanding the business into new geographical regions, or diversifying into new products or services. And thirdly (and most importantly), they are often DULL.
Abstract and invented names can certainly be more distinctive and evocative, but they also require greater investment to convey the message behind the name, so may take longer to become established.
The best advice I can offer is to test a shortlist of names amongst a representative sample of your target audience. They’ll very rarely give you bad advice.
And make sure you ask yourself these questions before committing…
1. How distinctive is the name, and is there a chance that people will confuse it
with someone or something else? (- in some cases this could be a good thing!)
2. Is there an appropriate website domain available?
3. Is the name easy to spell, and easy to pronounce?
4. What does it say about the organisation?
5. How do other people perceive it? (at the very least, ask family or friends)
6. Does the name lend itself to a visual hook? (this may or may not be important)
7. Does the name work equally well for people who speak other languages
(again, this may or may not be important)
8. How easy would it be for an imitator to use a similar name
(this can be very difficult to avoid)
9. Will the name go out of fashion quickly?
and most important of all…
10. How memorable will it be?
Here at Purple Marketing, our process follows the following stages:
> make sure the brief is clear
> do the background research
> come up with a spectrum of proposals
> refine the list based on the client’s preferences
> show a shortlist ‘in situ’ as a piece of type or logo
> market test the shortlisted options
It’s tempting to think that coming up with a name is easy – after all, we all speak English. But some people also believe they can do their own dentistry, or plumbing.
Having the right tools does NOT qualify you to do any job, without a healthy dose of knowledge, understanding and experience.
But if you follow these simple steps, you should be well on your way to creating the next proprietary eponym, joining the ranks of Brillo Pads, Hoover, Post-It Notes, Q-Tips, and Sellotape.
Jeremy Silverstone is a brand and marketing specialist, and owner of Purple Marketing Communications Limited