Constructing a new brand is an exciting step for any enthusiastic entrepreneur or creative collectives. We regularly stress that a brand is so much more than an aesthetically pleasing logo or contemporary typeface. When creating a brand, your marketing strategy should be placed at the core of all foundational assets.
In other words, great brands are built upon great ideas. The ideas form the identity, with longterm intellectual thinking used to shape initial decision making. Before a pen touches the canvas, multiple considerations need to take place.
Imagine you have, what you believe to be, the next million dollar product idea. Having dreamt up what you want to do, you need to justify why it is needed—or will be wanted. Next, you start to build the 'how'.
A fashionista might want to create an affordable and ethical gym clothing brand. They may feel that the existing market is largely too expensive, or doesn't use ethically sourced supply chains or perhaps vegan friendly materials. To create their products they may call upon local suppliers, and promote through key networks that support their values.
With the idea in place, it's forgivable for many entrepreneurs in such position to immediately focus on giving their brand concept a name, and drawing up some fun logomarks to represent their new business.
However, great identities are formed with deeper thought. Your branding will be your first, main, and lasting impression upon the world—so it's worth every extra moment's thought.
Today we're hyper-focusing on one particular brand aspect that can't be ignored: The name.
Word-of-mouth has long been argued to be the most successful and powerful style of advertising/marketing. When your own visuals and communications aren't there to represent you, your brand name can do some of the heavy lifting in terms of positive impressions or subtle influencing... i.e. evoking emotions and ideas through your chosen name alone.
To start, we'll present seven types of brand names and why they might or might not be effective. Then, we'll more generally discuss some naming best practises before closing with some of our favourite examples of carefully curated brand names.
(e.g. Disney, Adidas, Tesla)
Many brands are simply named after their founders, or a particular inspiring individual.
Eponymous names are particularly common in professional services, whereby a sterling reputation of the CEO/Founder can largely benefit the brand. Architecture and Law firms are typical examples of this.
Some argue that this naming convention is ego-driven or lacklustre. However, 'Tesla' is a clever homage to Nicolas Tesla's innovative work with electricity. Whilst Tesla has zero involvement in the company formed long after his death, the ode to his work blends an eponymous name with an associative brand name.
(e.g. American Airlines, The Home Depot)
The simplest way to name a brand, is to explain its purpose within the name itself.
There's little doubt that American Airlines is an Airline company from America.
Whilst this route may lack imagination, there's an inherent advantage in that SEO gets hyper-charged. Potential customers often search what kind of business they're looking for, and search engines will be inclined to show your website if your brand name matches such search.
3. Acronymic / Initialism
(e.g. NASA, GE, BP, KFC, HSBC)
Many companies may use acronyms/initials to condense their brand name from a lengthy title. Often, acronymic names simply make a descriptive name more catchy or unique.
However, it should be note that initialism can indeed be strategic. As an example, KFC chose to shorten their name as 'Fried Chicken' doesn't promote a healthy image. By using initials, consumers are slightly distanced from the subconscious pairing of fried food and poor health.
Acronyms often appear serious, functional and professional yet their tend to lack meaning and emotion.
(e.g. Uber, Slack, Facebook, Pinterest)
Suggestive names simply attempt to give suggestions about the brand.
This can be split into three further sub categories. Real, Composite, and Invented.
Real refers to words lifted straight from the dictionary, for example 'uber' denoting an 'outstanding example', or 'Flora' referring to flora and fauna.
Composite names combine two or more elements to give further suggestion to the brand purpose. When Facebook first started, it was a website for rating faces (/images) or fellow classmates, so the combination of face-book made sense as a collection of people. Pinterest combines Pins and Interest to highlight that people can make saved (pinned) collections of things they are interested in.
Finally, 'invented' names create new words that stem from recognisable ideas. 'Kleenex' may not be a word, but the sound 'clean' quickly paints a picture to potential customers.
By combining suggestive elements, many brands cleverly use puns and innovation to build a memorable and unique brand. Often simply changing spellings to a more...unconventional method can suffice (think of Krispy Kreme, Bloo, Dunkin' donuts, or even Netflix).
Whilst intentional mispellings like 'flix' instead of 'flicks' might raise an eyebrow or two from search engines at the beginning, your SEO will be much easier in the long term.
5. Associative / Evocative
(e.g. SiriusXM, Red Bull, Amazon)
Whilst descriptive names aim to concisely describe a brand product or service, associative (or evocative) names occupy the opposite end of the creative spectrum.
By using suggestions, metaphors, and associations, these names try to paint a picture or clever comparison in the mind of potential consumers. Such names can be particularly powerful at emphasising purpose or key differentiators behind a brand.
For example, 'Amazon' is a huge e-commerce retailer that offers the worlds largest collection of items for sale. The Amazon in South America is the largest rainforest, and it's vast size reflects the huge growth and aims of the Amazon brand.
(e.g. Samsung, Lego, Hulu)
By and large, most companies have English names for global opportunities. However, we'd never suggest that all brands should be named in English.
Many companies have great names in other languages such as Lego—an abbreviation of the two Danish words “leg godt”, meaning “play well”.
One important point raised here, is that many words in your local language may have other meanings in different languages... so always check translations before you commit to your brand! There's a possibility you could awkwardly pick something extremely offensive or embarrassing to other cultures.
Mitsubishi didn't do much research when they created a car named 'Pajero'... Spaniards quickly laughed off this oversight.
(e.g. Rolex, Kodak)
Some brands choose to simply stray for the conventional and create their own word. Rolex and Kodak don't mean anything, but they sound good.
This route may ignore lots of potential assisting benefits a name can provide a growing brand, but the two aforementioned examples have turned their abstract/nonsense words into powerful brands that conjure up their ethos and products.
Marketing budget not an issue? Abstract names can be supported easily with strong advertising campaigns to establish your market positioning.
Capture your essence.
Your essence should be confirmed before your brand name.
This is because you need to have defined who you are, and what you want to achieve, before you build an identity to represent those elements.
We recommend design sprints to fuel the ideation process for design pyramids. Once the pyramid is built, the MÄDS100+ concept is also useful for brainstorming potential brand names.
If your brand name can reflect the essence of the brand, your communications will be easier. Period.
Is your brand centered around a CSR initiative? Factor it in if possible.
Does your brand offer a unique feature that competitors do not, or can not? Shout about it from the rooftops—find a way to shoehorn it into the brand name if feasible.
For instance, the Chase Liquid card has a fantastic name. The word ‘liquid’ may have nothing to do with money or credit cards, but it automatically conveys ideas of free-flowing freedom and simplicity – which is exactly what you want from a payment option. By choosing the word ‘liquid’ to describe its new service, Chase ensured that everyone who saw the card would understand just how easy it is to use.
Impossible Foods found great success with their 'Impossible Burger' claiming to have achieved the seemingly impossible feat of making meat from plants—an environmentally friendly diet alternative. The name alone evokes a sense of grand achievement and reflects their mission to provide sustainable, vegetarian friendly food.
Not all ideas are unique, and often there are some painfully obvious opportunities that the masses will automatically flock to.
If you're thinking of starting a coding company, and the pun of using 'byte' in place of an actual 'bite' is appealing to you... don't think you're original. Whilst it's fun and by all means not a bad idea, it positions you as very similar to a barrage of competitors—meaning customers may miss your USPs.
TechByte, iByte, Byter, MegaBite... you get the idea.
Be aware of your competition, and focus on your own differentiating values and reason for existence.
No matter how clever or ideal your desired brand name is, if someone else has legally trademarked it then you're back to the drawing board.
There can be exceptions to warrant using similar brand names to trademarked brands, but you may need to consult a lawyer to ensure you're not going to get yourself in trouble down the line.
Once you've chosen a name you love, you should check search engines to understand the rival results that your SEO team will battle against.
Unique spellings can help you rise to the top quickly, but only if your brand awareness campaigns are good enough to get your brand noticed. Descriptive names are useful for making your brand discoverable, but it'll also attract much more competition.
All great businesses should have a website, but with hundreds of millions of businesses out there it can be competitive to reserve the best URLs— especially for short and simple brand names.
Long gone is the age of needing the '.com'. Many trending extensions exist to give further online identity to your brand... we recently changed from workwithmad.com to mad.design! So, don't be disheartened if your ideal brand name doesn't exist as an available .com extension—explore the possibilities!
Examples of great names:
Look, it's easy to celebrate the already successful... perhaps their success blinds us into assuming everything they did is and was genius. However, a 'Google' is a numerical term of 10100... 1 with 100 zeros after it. This huge number matches the data driven company aims, handling big data effectively.
Their parent company 'Alphabet' has also been referenced as a clever name... partly as it's an alpha-bet to back their shares in the stock market! Jokes aside, their impressive portfolio of companies underneath match the array of letters in the alphabet. Also noteworthy is that alphabet.com was owned by another business, so Alphabet cleverly reserved abc.xyz in response.
GoPro is a nice example of brand that evokes emotion through it's name. The products inspire creativity, professional quality, and upgrading to better technology.
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