Brand Naming Strategy – How to Choose the Right Name for Your Product or Business

This article was originally posted at BrandStruck.

Anyone who has ever had to come up with a name for a new product or company knows how draining the process is, and how the initial excitement is quickly replaced with a feeling of despair caused by the fact that all the good names are already taken.

There are many articles covering the topic of naming strategies. Most of them focus on the list of requirements that a new name should fulfill – it should be unique, in line with the brand strategy and easy to remember. All of this is true – the name, after all, is the most important communications tool, and there are many brands which have proved that a good new name can work wonders. Pepsi was originally called Brad’s Drink, Dunkin’ used to be Open Kettle and Snickers was called Marathon in the UK. However, not many publications mention what certain naming decisions might mean for the business in the future and what in fact causes the most problems later on.

Today’s post is about three important aspects of the naming decision-making process, which should be analysed and agreed on before going ahead with any new name. Taking these factors into account at an early stage can save time and money for companies in the future.

1. Brand architecture decision

The very first question you should ask yourself is whether your offering truly needs a new name. If you want to set up a new company, then of course you need to call it something, but if you are, for example, launching a new product, check first whether you can utilize any existing names the company already owns, particularly if they have already achieved some level of brand recognition.

Building a new brand from scratch is for many people a preferred option, because it makes them feel creative and innovative, but in most cases, it should be the last resort as it takes years and is very expensive. Instead, you can launch one of the following options (obviously only if you already have a strong brand in your portfolio):
– a product variant, using a branded house framework, (HSBC Premier Bank Account is an example of such a brand architecture choice)
– a sub-brand, (e.g., Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey)
– an endorsed brand, (e.g., Tru by Hilton). 

All these examples benefit from a stronger umbrella brand.

A brand architecture type called house of brands, requiring new offerings to have separate names and identities, can be effectively managed only by companies with huge marketing budgets, (e.g., UnileverProcter & Gamble or to some extent L’Oréal and Nestlé). If you are a small business, in 90% of cases it’s a bad idea, resulting in spending inefficiencies.

To learn more about the differences between the four brand architecture types, read our two posts: part 1 and part 2.

Lastly, when thinking about the naming convention and the brand architecture for your newest addition to the portfolio, think five to 10 years ahead. Think what the next products/offerings in the pipeline will be, where they will sit architecturally, how they will coexist with the product you’re launching now, etc.

2. Abstract or descriptive

It is always tempting to want a new name to describe the category it will be operating in, at least to some extent. This is understandable, as the name can then play a double role – identifying the brand but also describing the category to which it belongs. It saves time and money, as less effort is required to explain to potential buyers what you are selling, and it should also work to the advantage of your SEO.

However, problems will appear when, after a few years, you decide that you don’t want to be in this category anymore and need to extend the scope of the brand. A few famous brands have experienced this challenge. MTV (Music Television) is nowadays much more about youth shows than it is about the music. Dollar Shave Club is entering new segments within the personal care and beauty category (hair styling, oral care, cologne and even “butt wipes”), which have nothing to do with shaving. Dunkin’ Donuts changed its name to Dunkin’ to more effectively reposition itself from a doughnut brand to a beverage-first company.

The alternative solution to a name that is “category descriptive” is to choose an abstract name which doesn’t mean anything particular or has nothing to do with the category it represents, (e.g., AppleNetflixStarbucksAmazonMicrosoft and many others). The potential benefits are significant, particularly when you have a budget to support the launch of the new product or business. However, much more effort and more resources will be required to build brand awareness and to explain to people what the brand does.

3. Two more steps

When you have a list of potential names which are “on brief” and you have managed to confirm that they are not taken by anyone else and you can indeed legally use them, you might feel tempted to select the final name and ignore the next two steps. Surprisingly, many companies do this, failing to recognize the importance of two additional checks.

The first check you need to run is actually pretty straightforward, is free and doesn’t take much time – it’s the analysis of your potential digital presence. First of all, investigate whether the URL – your new name plus the extension you want to use, i.e., .com, .co, .edu, etc. (preferably all of them) – is available. If the URL is taken, either choose a different name or buy the domain while the cost is still reasonable (it won’t be reasonable when your brand gets bigger). Secondly, make sure that the social media handles are not taken. Thirdly, check what comes up when you google your new name – is it going to be an easy job to build a meaningful presence in the search results?

The second process is much more complicated. If you have global ambitions and would like your new brand to be well known all over the world, you’d better check that your newly chosen name doesn’t mean anything offensive in other languages. It’s a daunting process but shouldn’t be ignored. You will thank yourself later. You don’t necessarily need to undertake expensive research on the connotations the new name evokes in every single language; a common-sense check should do.

One example of a brand that hasn’t done this research in all the countries it operates in, is Osram, a lighting producer. Just ask any of your Polish friends what it means in their native language (Google Translate will be of no use in this case).

What is interesting though, is that despite this unfortunate name, the company has managed to build a strong, premium brand in Poland.

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