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What's in a name?

It has been said that the best brand names don't need advertising - they are advertising. Your brand name is the vital link between what you are and how you might play out in your marketplace. Here, we present a brief flex guide to the art and science of choosing brand names.


“A good name is better than precious ointment” – Ecclesiastes 7.1

The right name is a brand's most important asset. A successful name will reflect your desired ambition; will find a unique, memorable and positive place in the minds of your customers; and will enable the rest of your brand identity to work really hard for you. Equally, a poorly conceived or inappropriate name will have no strategic longevity and may even be construed negatively by customers.

Your brand name is your one chance to encapsulate, in just a word or two, everything that’s positive and exciting about your business or product.

Naming is an art

There’s tremendous creative juice required for the development of great brand names. For starters, there are different types of name to consider, each type offering distinct pros and cons, according to your situation.

Made-up names – often based around Greek or Latin roots (Consignia, Accenture), or ones that just sound good (Google) – could require a lot more marketing investment to tell a memorable story and explain who and what you are. More descriptive or functional names (Matthew & Son – Solicitors, GoCompare) will do what they say on the tin. Evocative names (Orange, Apple, Virgin) compensate for their lack of directness by being memorable and salient; while imaginative names (Flex, Windows, Everything Everywhere) are intuitively understandable but may spawn copycat names from competitors.

Next, how must the name operate within your business plan? For example, if it’s a product, what’s the ‘fit’ with other existing or future products? Is it an ‘umbrella’ name that will represent a range of businesses or products? What will ‘belong’ and what might feel out of place?

And lastly, there’s the desirability in every potential name. Desirable means a name is suitably different from others in the market; is rich in ‘campaignability’; looks good when written and sounds good when spoken; a name that is deep and warm – in short, a name that has ‘the X-factor’ !

Naming is a science

Finding the right brand name is not all beanbags and bright wallpaper. Although we provide both at flex (metaphorically speaking), we also follow a process – this is the science.

The objective is to secure the best name possible: a name that’s relevant, appropriate, desirable and available; a name that won’t land you in court for trademark infringement or end up on YouTube because of an amusing oversight or double entendre. If your name is to be marketed abroad, you want to ensure that nothing is lost in translation. Even giants like Coca-Cola discovered too late that the literal Chinese translation of their iconic brand was ‘Bite the wax tadpole’.

So, here are a few simple steps you can take along the way:

1. External analysis – Quantify the style and strength of competitors’ names; understand any market dynamics driving expectation; look for gaps and differentiation.

2. Internal analysis – Define your brand positioning – brand attributes, company vision and values are key inputs.

3. Name development – Consider all the factors: competitive analysis; brand position, name objectives; name 'types' (invented/made-up, functional, evocative, imaginative), URL strategy. Brainstorm a longlist. Your inspiration can come from anywhere – history, customers, dictionary, thesaurus, internal management and staff, beanbags or wallpaper.

4. Registered name, registered trademark and domain checking – Undertake initial simple desk research (Companies House, Intellectual Property Office, Google, Whois) to eliminate obvious non-contenders and refine the longlist.

5. Testing – There are many ways to test the response against the objectives for your name, from simple personal taste to market research, depending on time and budget. For example, you could use internal and external focus groups with mock-up materials that use the names. Prune the longlist to a shortlist and re-test to find the preferred option(s).

6. Legals – Undertake a more formal registration and trademark check, using a qualified trademark attorney. If marketing abroad, include cultural checks to ensure there is viable name translation.

7. Brand development – Always remember that a great name choice anchors the rest of your brand components, including voice (key words, core messages, taglines, slogans, tone) and visuals (look and feel, logo, icons and images) which will support and reflect the name.

Effective naming of your business, your products, product lines or services, is one of the most important things to get right in marketing. It’s not an easy job, and in practice is a rigorous creative and empirical process that can devour time and sap energy. But the right result is priceless – “better than precious ointment”.

Michelangelo-style touching fingers

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