WHAT'S IN A NAME
Uderstanding the Qualities of Successful Brand Names
Martin Cerame Colón, Creative Director, AVCD
Jan. 18, 2021
As a professional commercial graphic designer who has worked on label, product and brand design for decades, I have found that what usually makes a brand development project challenging is not the concept for the product or service, but rather its name. So, I decided to start off this blog series with the subject of choosing the right name, for your company, your product or service.
Ready... Set... Stop!
Before you take right off with your killer business idea, take a moment for to think over your concept objectively. Take a deep breath and detach yourself from the excitement and eagerness about your project and take a hard look at every aspect of your business from the eyes of an outsider; as if you were a customer. It is not easy, but you have to be cold and calculating if you want to launch a brand that will have the best chances to succeed in today’s market.
Well… there’s no secret formula or magic trick to come up with a winning name, as you will see that what works for one particular brand might not necessarily work for another. But there are exercises that you can do to come up with smart ideas that will work for your business and make it easier for people to recognize and remember your brand. Keep in mind that when a person is going to purchase a product or a service for the first time, that person will be more likely to choose a brand that he or she is familiar with; that the person has seen or heard before. In the absence of a familiar brand, that same person will choose a brand name that instills confidence in the product or service; that sounds —or looks— professional, thus reliable.
Remember… we’re talking about a startup scenario; when you still don’t have a lot of positive Amazon reviews or a massive social media following under your belt, or hundreds of thousands of dollars for marketing and advertising to… hire Danica Patrick to tell people that GoDaddy is not an all-male day care center, but a web hosting business.
Now… the first thing that you have to understand is that what you like doesn’t really matter. If you’re thinking about naming your real estate agency Northern Flicker Realty because your hobby is birdwatching and that’s your favorite species, don’t. Don’t choose a name based on something you like to do, or a subject you’re passionate about. Unless it relates to your business, of course. But… again… whatever your personal taste is, your clients won’t really care. They won’t give a shit about your favorite color, or your favorite sports team, or your pet’s name, or the first letter of your daughters’ names… Your customers don’t need to know any of that.
What they need to know is what your business has to offer them that other businesses won’t. Remember… the purpose of your brand name is not to please yourself; it’s to capture the interest of your potential customers in your business.
So… now that we got self-gratification out of the way, let’s get busy and start defining the process that will help you choose the right name for your brand. Let’s begin by making sure it has the right qualities.
All good brand names are memorable; they’re easy to remember. Or… in simple words, they are catchy. Now… what makes a name catchy can be any of numerous things. Take Krispy Kreme, or Coca-Cola for, example. In both cases, the repetition of similar-sounding syllables gives each name a cacophonic quality that makes them “stick”; to your tongue, to your memory, or both!
Another example of a very catchy brand name is Bad Bunny. Here you have a short name with (1) a bit of cacophony —“B-B” —, (2) a reference to a very well-known name —Bugs Bunny— (3) and a paradoxically fun idea: a cute, harmless creature that has a rather unexpected quality; it’s bad. Add to that the fact that it is the name of a trap singer, whom you’d expect to be named something like DJ Masterbeatz or something that conveys toughness or musical stature… and you have an intriguing concept: a trap singer named Bad Bunny. That’s a memorable name, because it sparks curiosity.
So… you can achieve memorability by the way a name sounds, or by what it represents or implies. For example, you can use terms that relate to your line of business, or to qualities of your product or service, like… say you install car audio and alarm systems. The word “sound” would be a good choice for part of your brand name as it relates to your field of work and can also describe the quality of your work. “It’s a sound job”; it’s well done.
If your business provides services to a particular region and you want your customers to know that, then it would be a good idea to add a reference to your location in your brand name. Take a name like East Coast Customs. It’s simple, and it provides essential information. It tells people the region where the business is located and that it does customization. Of what? Well… in this case, the logo can tell the rest of the story through visual imagery. [SHOW LOGO WITH MOTORCYCLE]
The bottom line here is that descriptive names, because of their explicit correlation to a business, are easier for people to remember, by association. Take Dunkin’ Donuts, for example. Short name; tells a complete story. And you have two words, consisting of two syllables each, that begin with a “D”. Dunkin’ Donuts. Like Coca-Cola and Kripsy Kreme, Dunkin’ Donuts also has a phonetic quality that makes the name easy to remember and even fun to pronounce. And the fact that “Dunkin’” is spelled with an apostrophe at the end, instead of the grammatically proper “g”, gives the name a certain informality, a feeling of ease, chill… even fun! Which leads us to the next quality in a brand name: tone.
Tone refers to the abstract image of a business in terms of how we feel about it when we hear its name. Dunkin’ Donuts, as we just said, has an informal tone. Godiva Chocolatier on the other hand, has an elegant, formal tone. The use of the word chocolatier not only tells us that the brand is related to chocolates, but also that it deals with confectionery, which is a more elegant form of chocolate-making. The choice of the name Godiva, a historical figure, adds a sense of antiquity, legacy, longevity in the brand, a certain call to reverence, so… the tone of Godiva Chocolatier is quite different from the tone of Dunkin’ Donuts. Yet, in each case, the tone suits the brand, so when you are choosing a name for your business, make sure that its tone matches your desired brand image.
Let’s go back to the car audio and alarm systems example. If the concept for that business were a very high-tech operation focused on a great customer experience —like a computer store franchise— then you would choose a name that had a bit of seriousness in its tone and a technological flair. Something like Acoustic Solutions or… Automotive Acoustics or… maybe combine audio with automotive and add the word digital to make Digital AudioMotive… or something like that. But if you chose not to make an effort in giving your brand name some thought you could end up with something like… Tommy’s Car Speaker Shop. Not exactly a terrible name, but… it is all going to depend on what your business concept is and what your target market is. For example, if you want to attract local townspeople who are looking for a low-cost job, well… then Tommy’s Car Speaker Shop will do. It sounds… familiar. But if you want to land a contract upgrading the sound and alarm systems of a large company’s vehicle fleet… well… then you might want to rethink that name. Keep in mind how certain words can impose a limited view of your business. It is not the same to think of a shop as it is to think of a service center… One sounds small and limited, and the other sounds open and expandable.
Of course, you can have a franchise-like business and name it a shop if it goes with the concept. A name like The Bagel Shop, for example, works just as well for a single store as it does for a multiple location business, because… when one thinks of a coffee shop or a pastry store, small means cozy… means handmade… means homemade warmth… close and personal attention… exactly what one —as a customer— would want from such a place. But… something like Bagels R’ Us sounds mass produced… cold… uninviting... not exactly a great concept, even if it’s the same type of business. You see the effect a poorly selected brand name can have on a business?
Now… in addition to being memorable and having a proper tone, your brand name should be unique. It should differentiate your business from the competition. So… as much as you want your brand name to communicate what your business is about, and be representative of your concept, you also want to avoid common names. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with them, but… common names can turn into a nightmare when registering your trademark or acquiring a domain for your brand’s website. The more common the name, the greater the chances that it’s already been thought of and used.
Let’s say you have a cool innovative product and you decide to name it The Better Mousetrap. Well… guess what? It’s already taken. It’s a website for inventors. Say you have a coffee company and you came up with Red Bean Coffee. Already exists. Well… how about Black Bean Coffee. Taken as well; it’s a coffee bar in Australia. Green Bean Coffee! Also taken. This is why you have to make an effort to come up with a good brand name; and this is why it’s so darn difficult! The easiest names to think of… have already been thought of. So… ready to start working… —really working— on your brand name? Let’s take a quick break and we’ll dive right into seven exercises that you can do to come up with a great brand name for your business.
If you have any questions or comments, leave them below and… feel free to share this video or subscribe to the channel, and… I’ll see you on the next video.