Naming a brand may be one of the most complex things you ever do. What you decide can directly impact how well a market responds to a specific product or service and can greatly lead to either the success or failure of the brand! So it’s extremely important to understand what is behind creating a successful brand name.

With the market filling up with competing brands there is a growing need to select one that distinguishes, differentiates, brings value back to your parent brand, and is absolutely unique in the market. An entire business category of “Naming” has grown up around this process and illustrates just how important this truly is. After naming companies, divisions, services and products for 25 years I can say that there is both art and science behind a successful brand naming.

Brand Naming

How the consumer sees and interacts with your brand often starts with its name. It’s the one ingredient that will remain constant throughout a brand’s life cycle. When designing a brand name you will need to build strong identification with the true purpose of the brand promise and combine it with creativity to build a lasting name. The brand-building process often leads us to re-name a company or a brand to include the trademarks that set a company’s signature products and services apart. The distinguishing factor often starts with the product’s unique name.

If you have ever created a name, you already know how difficult the process can be, particularly if you don’t have a clear plan to achieve your goal. It’s a lot like two people trying to wallpaper a small bathroom without a plan or enough space.

So where do you start? There are six main steps that we recommend to guide your brand naming process.

Step #1: Strategic Criteria

Of all the steps, this first one is probably the most critical because if you start out in the wrong direction you will never get there! To decide what type of brand name you need, start by looking at what your big product idea is all about. Is it a consumer consumable? A technical product? A general information service for a niche market? Once you determine what the product is going to do for its customers, write out what the strategy will be in formulating its name. Here’s the Strategic Criteria that we used when choosing MarketCues as our corporate name.

We wanted a corporate name that would set our corporate and brand strategy practice apart from ad agencies, design firms, public relations firms, video companies, and web firms. We wanted to tell the marketplace that we specialize in corporate and related strategy development. These strategic criteria led us to put together the words the ‘Market’ and its ‘Cues.’ Together they formed the description we were looking for. The steps we used following this name construction served as the qualification that let us know we were on the right path.

Step #2: Naming Alternatives

This is often the fun part: coming up with a large number of names that may or may not be used, but allow you to express all of the thoughts you’ve had about naming your product. Because there are millions of commercially used names, and since they are legally protected; you need a long list to choose from that meets your specific strategic criteria.

> The more unique your product and/or service is the easier it is to name.

To help guide you throughout this process ask yourself “does this brand name fulfill the Strategic Criteria that we have agreed upon?” This will prevent you from using your pet’s name, your child’s name, or a name that may be creative but holds no meaning to the target audience or your product.

Step #3: Image Associations

Although tempting, it is never advisable to use “borrowed interest” when naming your brand. Associations with famous people or leading brand names are usually not advisable. Neither is trying to allude to another brand name or alter a name to disguise it from the original. For one you may end up in court trying to defend a weakly veiled name and for another, borrowing does not let your brand fulfill its true mission. Instead, try grouping the candidate names according to what makes them unique and determine what type of imagery seems appropriate to begin building awareness of the brand.

Examples can include putting two words together for the first time, using a certain theme to express leadership or creating a fun name to say or spell. Or, consider Starbucks Coffee’s “Frappuccino.” The company created the name and only they can offer it, other than those they license, such as a grocery store. Wouldn’t you like to have a brand name that is so unique only your company could provide it and millions of consumers wanted it?

Step #4: Availability Check

This next step may seem obvious but it is often overlooked. Why register your name? The biggest reason is to protect what may become a very successful enterprise from worry that its ownership will end up as some other company’s property because they registered the name before you did! Unfortunately, this happens more than you may think and the legal process of litigation is never enjoyable, and is always expensive.

Step #5: Sanity Check

After you decide upon your “short list” of potential names, put them through a filter to search for potential embarrassments. One controversial name is Apple’s new iPhone. The trademark is actually owned by Cisco and a company called Nuvio owns the URL, and who knows who they are? If you have a fantastic brand, then let the entire world see it – if you have 100% ownership of that brand, prove it with a unique name. Rolex and PlayStation are 100% owned, and regardless of where you go their brand name identity remains intact.

Step #6: Review Board

The last step, The Review Board, can take many forms. You can conduct ‘Qualitative Research’ using a series of small groups controlled by a researcher, where the name and image impressions are sought and discussed. This evaluation will guarantee an objective means of review. Another tool is an online survey to a list of potential customer candidates. Using the Internet as the communication tool has made this form of research affordable for small companies. Or there are informal presentations to close associates or those you respect. This is one strategy that can be precarious. Will a close family member be able to tell you what is or is not a strong band name? Probably not. It is usually advisable to have a target group of representative customers tell you what they do and don’t like.

The naming of a company or a brand can be incredibly complex, but following these six simple steps can greatly simplify the process. Whether you are looking for a name that is challenging, logical, inspiring or industry-specific, the naming process can prove enormously rewarding if done correctly.