Naming; the serious business of branding.

A rose by any other name is not a rose

by Samir Kumar


Naming brands is a serious business. It is the first expression of public branding. The brand’s name is what the world connects to and uses to describe the brand. And if done right, naming becomes the most crucial aspect of the brand’s positioning, its tonality and personality. Naming is also a strategic communication tool that builds associations with the consumers and over a period of time turns into a valuable equity. In the aggressively competitive world of today, where no opportunity of communicating the proposition and building a relationship can be missed, naming is definitely an area that demands critical and significant attention. While brand naming is a vast subject that involves various creative approaches, etymology, cultural studies, legal aspects, etc, in this article we are focusing on some of the more fundamental aspects around the act of naming; a simple eight step approach to naming that owners of business and brand managers should look at.

1. Giving it time

Naming is a complex process, but is often not considered till the last moment. Any serious brand manager approaches a product or company launch with a systematic and clearly defined path—from concept development through to implementation. But naming process is rarely given its due consideration. Most companies have a launch date planned before they begin talking to professionals for the branding exercise, and naming becomes a part of what is called ‘the laundry list’ of deliverables. This rarely leaves enough time for getting into a systematic approach to naming. A typical naming sheet has numerous columns for creating and evaluating names and involves aspects like relevance, differentiation, tonality, audience mindset…the list is quite exhaustive. In the absence of time even professionals at some point tend to overlook the entire process and partially rely on instincts and gut-feel. Now that’s not quite right for such a critical and perhaps the most important aspect of building meaningful consumer relations; especially, if you are a new brand entering into a cluttered category. The need, therefore, is to begin the process right at the beginning

2. Understanding the strategic perspective

Before the creative process can kick-start, the strategic aspects of naming needs to be defined. After all, a name is worthwhile only if it clearly defines the personality and the positioning of the brand.

To get a name that truly fulfills the positioning of the brand, we must begin with defining the strategic role of the name. How does it connect with your audience, does it create resonance, how about differentiation potential, the sound of it, does it have the ability to transcend geographies, what about the brand does it communicate, does it define a personality of the brand, what are the existing market dynamics and does the name explore opportunities for future trends, how about the design potential of the name, can the name lead to verbal branding and lingo-usage by the audience; there are several strategic questions about the brand that the naming process can and should address. It is only when the strategic role of the naming is defined that the creative process can be systematic and objective. Also, having a defined strategic objective aids in finalising process of the name. Through experience, we have known that more than any other process of brand creation, the naming tends to be the most subjective. The pit-fall of subjectivity needs to be avoided as it leads to many stumbling blocks in choosing the right name for your brand that most suits the strategic and business objectives. You don’t want a scenario where in the absence of the right evaluation framework, a less appropriate name gets selected despite having a couple of strategically and creatively names already in the consideration set.

3. Defining the creative direction

Most brand managers value the potential of the right creative brief for any marketing or communication-led exercise. However, the aspect of creative briefing for naming is quite unsystematic; the ground rules are not clear. Here, it often becomes the responsibility of the branding agency and professionals to create an appropriate brief for the naming process to begin in the right direction. While the brand strategy will mostly have all the directional elements for the naming process, a brief for naming specifically highlights aspects of the brand strategy and attributes to consider; it is important to establish clear parameters for the approach and construct. What’s the competitive scenario like; does a category code evolve on studying the players in the Market; personality, tonality, word types, constructs, areas to avoid; the brief creation forces us to think about specific questions that matter to the creative team while coming up the consideration set for the brand naming. If the creative team begins with an agreed-upon brief, the chances are significantly higher for getting the kind of names that have a better fitment with the culture of your organisation, the end-consumers and reflecting brand personality more in-sync with the brand objectives.

4. Going beyond the descriptive

This is one of the trickiest aspects about naming – which approach to take? A name that’s easy to remember, or a name that’s hard to forget?? A descriptive name signals the right message and becomes a clear indicator for the category/service/sector that the brand operates in. The belief is also, that this approach should reduce the burden on marketing expenditure on just explaining the name in building correlations. But this approach does not necessarily build differentiation. IKEA, for example states nothing about the category; NIKE is somewhat there as a god; the APPLE is as far away from the Adam’s days as it gets; and then off-course there are examples of business that changed their course with the times and the only thing that remained constant were their names; think of International Business Machines. Yet another category of existing corporate powerhouse names would be Ford, Honda, Cadbury, Gillette, Godrej, Tata…the list of corporates and brands that simply emerged from family names is quite exhaustive. They are found in practically every region and category. So, is there a clear-cut approach to understanding what works for a name; the answer like most other aspects concerning branding, lies in diligence and prudent thinking!

We cannot compare the business growth possibilities in the same terms as brands and business could afford to do, even a decade ago. Facebook and Google have been around for quite some time now, but they can be considered as current examples. Both these names have used different approaches to be communicating their positioning. Facebook, even though it does not spell out clearly the social interaction aspect of it, but it still connects to the aspect of being a representation for the individual; Google on the other hand, provides with a feel, a tonality aspect of what is aims at doing. Some of the other such examples could be the stumbleupon, Linkedin, Twitter, etc, where the aspect of naming creates a personality differentiator or a function signifier – both these approaches seem to be working; and here we have taken examples of somewhat similar functions targeting a somewhat similar set of audience; they are operating in similar categories. The need therefore is not be stuck-up with any predefined approach and to look at all emerging possibilities; but as mentioned in the step one, we need to begin with enough time to be able to arrive at solutions from across approaches and then use our strategic lens to zero-in on the final set of probable names.

5. Thinking Trademark

In the branding business, it’s a common scenario – it takes days of intense work and brain-storming sessions to arrive at the right name and then you discover that it has already been taken. There are over 15 million active trademarks globally. And it gets even more complex when it comes to registering your URL. There are over 108 million URLs registered globally; the entire Oxford dictionary is taken, in fact all the words in all the major languages are taken!! So, it’s extremely important to have the trademark pre-screening in place along with the creative nomenclature process. This aids eliminating names well in advance and saves a lot of crucial ideation time coming up with names that you may not eventually be able to take up. Also, coined names can be a great way to be one up in the game; few examples at Brand Harvest have been the naming of Skytes – a travel company, VE – technology company, Lifescapes – construction, TripEarn – rewards, etc. These names serve their purpose in carrying a value proposition besides the sound and personality connect.

6. Linguistic possibilities

Think of Chevy Nova in Latin America or Microsoft Vista in Latvia!! They are linguistic disasters. (Personally, I was myself a bit petrified about Laura in India – but that’s besides the point!).  When your brand is positioned to transcend borders, you have got to be planning against linguistic disasters as your brand enters new cultures, because that is what the people in that culture are going to be calling you; it’s better to ensure that your brand name does not cause unforeseen discomfort of usage in a given culture. In today’s Global economy, it’s extremely important to consider the linguistic cultural aspects even if the immediate plan is not to expand across the globe; that ways, your brand is prepared for any future expansion and you don’t need to get into any mad scramble suddenly on realising that the name isn’t appropriate at the time of entering into a new geography. A language and cultural idiom suitability test is a must today for a meaningful brand naming process.

7. Being Objective

In the above points, we have discussed of ways that will ensure that the name creation process is robust with a clear strategic role of the name defined along with the creative brief highlighting attributes, tonality, personality, etc. However, once the consideration set of the probable names are created, it is pertinent to be objective-driven in finalising upon a single name. Our personal biases, likings, names of existing brands/corporates we follow, cultural background, etc tend to play a role in liking a particular name over the others. To avoid any subjectivity at this stage, it is important to leverage the guidance of research. This way, subjectivity can be ruled out and the decision guidance can come from the eventual target audience who would be the users of the brand in the future. While research may not be the final word for choosing the name, it provides valuable and quantifiable guidance and aids in building consensus amongst the key stakeholders.

8. Leveraging naming as verbal branding

The case for strategic role of the name is quite established, considering the premise that the brand’s name is what people will first associate with and that it is an opportunity to position and form associations with. Now, should the naming process have ended at arriving at the brand name itself? We all know that the logo created around the name is in most cases (assuming that the professional creating the brand identity system are not just logo designers!!) liberated and extended to become a complete design system that permeates every brand interaction, internal and external. The colours and graphic aspects are used in environmental, print, stationery, advertising, stalls, brochures, literatures, interior design and any other opportunity for the brand to occupy; this is the aspect of building design consistency. This works on the belief that constant interaction at various cross-purposes allows for the consumers to relate to the brand and understand the brand’s various dimensions. The same logic is also applied to the verbal tonality aspect where, in some cases, even the adjectives and verbs to be associated with the brand communication is selected as a guiding (though not restrictive) universe. But when it comes to naming, the aspect of extension is not that well understood; unfortunately, even amongst the various practitioners of branding discipline. I’ll try and illustrate this point through a naming exercise done recently at Brand Harvest.

I have illustrated the name Ibid in a different context. Probably, that’s because this is extremely recent, but also to illustrate the point that various aspects have to be necessarily looked into any given branding exercise. The example is of ‘VE’ – this was a rebranding exercise for a travel company that’s going global. Now, while the new name itself allows to contemporaries the brand, allows for the new positioning of ‘simplifying travel’, and creates a rich design dimension; what it also achieves is the verbal branding aspect in a richer, more interactive sense. Try saying, “VE help you”. Or any other English Language sentence that begins with “We”. You’ll realise that the naming process here allows creating a usable, infinite universe of possibilities; and once defined, the brand is liberated and democratic that can be used in practically every interaction of/by the organisation. That’s the verbal potential of the brand; that is not merely restricted to the designed aspects of brand’s aspects. Now, let’s look at yet another level of verbal branding using the same example; imagine words like ‘Love; live; give; serve…’, all the words that end in ‘VE’; the brand can be present in every message and own word associations more powerfully than otherwise possible.

It is only by leveraging every potential aspect of positioning, differentiation, strategic context, target audiences, association, cultural contexts, tonality, extensions, interaction, usability, symbolism, origins (etymology), sound & voice, idiom, layering…(almost breathless there with the possibilities!) that any branding exercise can be worthwhile. While, naming is not the only aspect of the branding process, it definitely is one of the most critical. It is an extremely powerful tool, that deserves its due diligence and, I believe, it has the ability to address some of the most significant challenges that a brand faces, especially in its inception, formative or re-invention phases.

Samir Kumar is Creative Head of Brand Harvest Consultancy Pvt. Ltd Mumbai India


2 thoughts on “Naming; the serious business of branding.

  1. hi!,I love your writing very a lot! proportion we keep up
    a correspondence more about your article on AOL? I require a specialist on this house to unravel my problem.

    May be that’s you! Having a look ahead to peer you.

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