Naming your company is probably one of the biggest branding challenges you’ll face. How do you come up with a name that reflects who you are, what you do and what you stand for? A name that becomes an icon of your category, while also leaving room for growth and expansion?
Your name plays an important role in your brand positioning. It ties into your direction as a company, and also into how you present yourself and story to the world. Are you whimsical, technical or straight-forward? Artisanal, service-based or no-frills?
Great names are an extension of your company identity, but they also help drive it. Your name is indelibly tied in with every product, service or piece of marketing collateral to come out of your company – so make it a good one!
Here’s what to consider when devising a brand name designed to catapult you to the top of your category.
Names are the agent evocateur of branding
Take a moment to look around you at some of the brands you can see on your desk or wherever you happen to be. Which brands are narrow and descriptive? Which brands are higher-level and work on more of a metaphoric level? Ask yourself how you react to these brands, and what you expect them to deliver. How is Patagonia different from REI? Or Amazon from Book Depository?
Chances are the ones with evocative names, well, evoke. They’re better placed for powerful brand positioning and for growth and expansion down the line.
One of these things is not like the others
You want your brand to stand out, so you want your brand name to stand out. Right? To a point. Remember, your brand is a promise, and consumers have certain expectations surrounding brands in a given category.
Take the energy drinks category. Major players there have names like Monster, Red Bull and Rock Star. All evoke toughness, animalism , nd up-all-night adventures— but they’re still differentiated enough to stand apart from each other. You want your name to stand out, yet be familiar enough that users know what they’re getting.
You can stand under my umbrella brand
Calling yourself Maryanne’s Tax Filing Service is great if you’re a one-person small biz with a passion for tax filing. But if your plan is to grow your business, expect to change or expand what you do along the way.
Ideally your brand name gives you enough room to grow and pivot. You can always divvy your brand up into niches or categories under its umbrella name – it’s much easier to do this than to try to convince people that Frank’s Milk now also sells orange juice.
If you can’t pronounce it you shouldn’t be eating it
Your brand name may look good on paper, but it also needs to roll off the tongue. Add a weird spelling, a silent letter or a quirky play on words and you’ll have to explain it to people every time. Try to make your name readable at a glance, and something that consumers are comfortable saying.
There are exceptions. In the luxury or artisanal spaces, foreign-sounding names have cachet. Hence why Häagen Dazs is a best-seller despite a name that’s actually entirely made up!
Even so, if you’ve got global aspirations, consider the resonance of the name beyond your home territory. Does it have consonant clusters that are hard for non-English speakers to pronounce? Does it evoke negative associations, or worse, is it downright offensive to another culture?
A name gets bonus points if it can be easily turned into branding elements. Symmetry, interesting letter shapes, evocative sounds and ease of combination with other words can all help give your brand name extra power.
Don’t buy into the dot.com boom
Everyone wants a name that can easily be turned into a .com, right? Failing that, .io, .co or .ly will suffice.
This line of thinking is how we ended up with thousands of businesses ending in “io” or adverbial endings. Sure, you have the domain name, but you also have an awkward brand name that you’re stuck with for years to come. Including when we outgrow top-level domain names and there’s no need for a .com any more. Tell us, have you ever visited the website for that app you use every day?
Don’t skewer the spelling and legibility of your brand name just to win a .com. There are plenty of ways to make yourself discoverable on Google without sacrificing such an important part of your brand identity. Add your category, product or simply “we are” to your domain name, and you’re probably good to go!
Did you bake it from scratch?
Working with existing words, prefixes/suffixes or historical figures is popular for a reason. Words are more than their dictionary meaning. They also have connotations — they evoke certain feelings that expand their “main” definition. Think about some of the popular SUV models. Wrangler, Outback, Forester and Explorer all suggest getting out there into nature — and maybe even taming it.
But that doesn’t mean that you’re limited to the formal English vocabulary. Our words divide into chunks of meaning called “morphemes”. They further divide into phonemes — sounds — that also carry meaning of their own. Even if you make up your own name, you can capitalize on common perceptions about which sounds or word “chunks” evoke what feeling or meaning.
Anything you come up with will have some built-in meaning — and you’ll have a unique opportunity to build your own connotations and expectations around your name. Think Adidas, Aldi, Lego and Xerox. All made-up names, but all with their own brand empires.
Just follow their lead and keep your name legible and pronounceable! But again, don’t be afraid to bake it from scratch.
Without context there’s no meaning to any of it.
ING Canada recently rebranded to Tangerine after being bought out by Scotiabank. What do tangerines have to do with banking? Not much. But the new name reflects the company’s historically orange brand colors — anyone who’s ever banked with ING will see the connection immediately.
And that’s the point. Unless you’re hiring a skywriter to spell your brand name out in the clouds, your brand name will almost always have some context surrounding it. It might be written on your building. It might be on your product label. It might be in a conversation about your market category or an article about the best brands of the year. No one ever confuses Caterpillar Inc. with the crawling insect.
Assuming your brand name has followed the principles above and is readable, pronounceable and fits within your wider industry context, consumers will get it. Trust them!