“What’s in a name?” asked Juliet. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
But would it? We’d say no, Juliet, you poor star-cross’d lover, you’ve got your wires crossed too.
Often the first piece of information we learn about a person, place or thing is its name. And as soon as we learn its name the assumptions begin, consciously and subconsciously shaping our perceptions.
Consider Death Valley for a second. Does it sound like a hospitable place? Fittingly, it’s one of the harshest places on earth. But you could guess that just from its name, right?
How about the names Betty and Becky? Who would you say is older?
Or consider the fact that hurricanes given female names have higher fatality rates on average because people take them less seriously. Yes, a name can dramatically affect our perceptions of something, even to the point it becomes a matter of life and death. For people, but also for products.
As an agency with decades of branding experience, we know there are several factors that make up a great brand or product name, and there’s a lot more to it than just finding something that sounds somewhat credible. Let’s take a look at a few of the key things we take into consideration.
Unless your brand or product is unlike anything anyone has ever seen before (an impressive feat) it’s likely to have a bunch of existing competitors. One of the first things we do when beginning a branding project is to immerse ourselves in the category and familiarise ourselves with the main competitors. What qualities do their names evoke? Are these qualities we want to emulate or shy away from in order to stand out? What are their brand stories? Why did they choose their names? Where will our brand or product fit in with regard to quality and price?
Sometimes a client will come to us with a clear idea of the kind of brand they want us to help them create. For example, it may be tough and proud, or it could be savvy and helpful. Other times defining the brand’s personality is a key part of creating the brand identity. Considering the brand’s personality before beginning to explore names helps us to make sure we know what we’re judging potential options against.
Coca-Cola doesn’t just make cola anymore, and Bonsoy doesn’t just make soy milk anymore (they now make almond milk and coconut milk as well). If future expansion had have been taken into account (not always easy without a crystal ball), would Bonsoy and Coca-Cola have been given different names? Probably. Would they have been as successful? Maybe not.
While having a single product to name your brand after can be excellent from a simplicity point of view – and can lead to a highly memorable name – it can be potentially limiting in the future. Another consideration to weigh up.
Everyone wants to be cool, but trying to be ‘too cool’ can be a recipe for disaster. Jumping on trends is risky, because a trend only lasts so long. When naming brands and products, we’re always careful to ensure we’re not being too ‘trendy’, and that our name will have longevity and memorability for many, many years to come.
On the topic of longevity, another element to consider is a feeling of heritage. Do we want our brand to sound like it’s a new kid on the block, or to instantly have a feeling of tried and true, been-there-done-that trustworthiness?
Real world use
“I need a Panadol”. “Have you got a BandAid?” “Just Google it!” When your brand becomes synonymous with the category, and people even refer to your competitors’ products by your brand’s name, that’s the holy grail of naming. When we’re creating brand identities, we always consider how the brand sounds rolling off the tongue in everyday phrasing, and how it can work in various copy applications. Does it sound good when read aloud, but look weird when written down? How about the reverse? Does it invite culture jamming? Is it “letting the brief show” too much, and creating a subtle feeling of cheapness as a result?
There’s a lot to think about, bit since a brand or product’s name is one of the most influential elements in its success, it’s something you need to get right.