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When trying to whittle down a long list of name candidates, here are some recommended Do’s and Don’ts:

DO:

  • Remember the golden rule of naming: memorability. If you think of branding as a war, there are lots of battles to be fought but there are only a few key ones that you have to win to ultimately win the war. The KEY BATTLE YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST WIN is memorability. If you can get inside your target’s head quickly, if you can establish a high level of awareness in your name almost immediately, you can spend whatever limited budget you have to build the brand, to build preference, and you will ultimately win the war. But if your name is hard to remember you will inevitably burn through your entire brand building budget just trying to establish awareness, with nothing or very little left to build preference, and you will ultimately lose the war.
  • Drop each name into different venues. How will the name work at that next community presentation or trade show? How does it sound? How will the name look in print, in that news release or your next direct mail solicitation? Is it easy to spell? How will it look on your web site? Is it short enough so that it is not likely to be misspelled when someone is googling you or typing in your URL?
  • Consider what attributes someone might associate with the name before they know anything about what it is? Does it convey the right degree of gravitas or seriousness? Is it warm, comfortable and inviting or perhaps too harsh or intimidating?
  • Look for a name that can function as a verb and noun, as well as an adjective, as this helps engrain the name in common everyday usage (e.g., “Go google this organization” or “Go fedex that package.”)
  • Evaluate how well the name fits the product concept or your company’s positioning? With the right context wrapped around it, does it support your story and your brand? Does it make sense?
  • Ponder if you like the name for the right reasons, the potential it has to grow into a strong, differentiating brand and not for the wrong reasons, like it just feels good or it just sounds right for the category

DO NOT:

  • Fall in love with just one name, as it inevitably will be the one that has the big legal issue or that tests poorly with one of your key constituencies.
  • Focus on the past (what the name reminds you of). Instead, think about the future (what you can turn the name into).
  • Worry too much about possible negative associations with the name. Almost every name has possible baggage that few of us ever even think of. For example, have you ever thought about what profane word is embedded inside of the Shell Oil brand name? Or what about the last two letters of IBM? Certainly, these letters have an off-color meaning for some parents of infants. But few customers ever think about names this way because they always see the name in some context. And it’s this context that helps the name sing. Unfortunately, this context is almost always missing when first evaluating new name ideas, so wrap it around your new ideas right now.
  • Gravitate towards familiar, safe sounding names. Why not? Because this type of name is more like what is already out there versus something that truly differentiates and is distinctive and attention-grabbing.
  • Pick names that are more descriptive of a specific benefit or positioning element than something that connects with a deep, compelling emotion or fundamental human motivator. Emotional names are easier to remember for more people than the literal, logical names. They also tend to have a longer life, because they aren’t tied to a specific benefit or positioning element that might fade in importance over time.
  • Go with the safe name versus something a little edgier, even though that edgier name may grab the target’s attention instantly. You may not be comfortable risking ridicule from colleagues or your boss for a name that may seem silly or edgy or just weird. Courage is a virtue and something to be exercised, with prudence, in selecting a new name. Just imagine the courage it took to launch a name like Apple for a computer, Starbucks for a coffee, Nike for a shoe, Diehard for a battery or Google for a search engine. In selling new name ideas to our clients, we have to remind them and ourselves that risky names are usually better than safe names, distinctive names are usually better than familiar names, and controversy is usually better than status quo when it comes to selecting that new brand name.

Good luck in selecting your short list of finalists and remember, a name typically becomes “a great name” only after it has been out there for a while with the right care and feeding. The best names offer the potential to become great, some with much less effort than others.

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