The Power of the Word – Part 2

The importance of a good name, and how to create it

Naming a brand or a company is no less important than naming a child, and the risks of getting it wrong are just as great – because once it’s established it’s very hard to change it later. In the world of branding a name isn’t just a label – it’s a powerful tool that shapes perception, evokes emotion, and defines a brand’s place in the market. So it’s important to get it right. In this post we will explain what naming is, why it matters, and how to create one.

Back in the day, ‘ransom notes’ were considered the ultimate in anonymity. If you wanted to threaten somebody, just get your scissors out, cut some letters out of magazines, and stick them all down with some tape or glue on a piece of paper, and send it off. Job done, right? Wrong! As I discovered once when I tried to prank my design school teacher, there is nothing more ‘personal’ and less anonymous than a ransom note. As the police who rumbled me revealed, there’s so much more of our DNA in a ransom note than any other form of communication we could ever use.

And that’s the point of a brand name – as it’s the first point of contact anyone has with your brand, it not only needs to create the right first impression and excite interest, it also needs to unmistakably express your brand DNA. Your thumbprint as a brand should be all over it, just as mine was all over my ransom note.

So what’s in a brand name? A lot, actually. In this, the second of our two thought pieces on “The Power of the Word”, we’re not only going to dive deeper into the significance of brand names, we will also explain the process involved in creating one. So if you don’t yet have one, or you’re thinking that the current name isn’t working, we will show you how to do it.

So many names are bland and mechanical — which makes them either hard to recall, or simply invisible — therefore your brand name needs to build both recognition and recall. Short, snappy names with one or two syllables, like Dove, Gap, and Sony seem to be more distinctive and memorable. Notice how they are all “real” words. However, names like Google and FedEx also create their own space — and have become part of our everyday vocabulary. 

As I said above, your brand name needs to reflect your Brand DNA®. Which means it needs to align with your purpose, positioning, personality, and promise. If you were the iconic brand ‘Visa” — it is easy to see how your name and promise of “Everywhere you want to be” — fit so neatly together. Another example is “Netflix” — it says movies online, right? 

Names should tell your brand story

But above all, your name needs to reflect your brand story. Because the emotional power of your brand story should never be underestimated, and tapping into that in your brand name is very important. One example would be Apple, with their original logo featuring Sir Isaac Newton sitting under a tree, waiting for ‘the apple’ to drop, thereby discovering gravity. Apple have long since left the Newton connection behind, but the name has been linked by customers to all sorts of other stories, and while none of them are actually true, all of them have added to its legendary status – such as the assumed connection with Adam and Eve (hence the bite out of the apple). There are many other instances of this brand story connection, one outstanding example being extreme sports brand The North Face, whose founder Doug Tompkins said, “The north face of a mountain is generally the coldest, iciest, and most formidable route to climb. Our founders thought this name reflected our mission and dedication to the extreme.”

The North Face is an outstanding example of a brand name that captures the essence of the brand, and the brand story

The point to make here is that the best brand names evoke the stories that built the brand in the first place. Indeed in the past that’s how brand names came about. Names of businesses were either based on the founder’s family names, or described the trade or service offered. For example, names like Butcher, Baker, Brewer, Dyer, Taylor, Carter, Shoemaker, Weaver, Smith, Porter, Potter, Goldsmith, Cook, Forester, Carpenter, Mason, Miller, and Fisher.

Today there are still many brands that are named after their founders’s family names or trades. But while the world has changed and naming nowadays needs to consider many other factors, the one factor that stands out above all others — is the need for the brand name to tell the brand story. 

Another key factor is that the name is reflected in, and supported by, all the other components of a brand’s verbal identity that we covered in part 1 of this article, in other words, its nomenclature, brand story, messaging, tone of voice, and vocabulary. A powerful name is the most important component of verbal identity, but even well chosen names are meaningless unless it is consistently reflected in the way a company walks and talks the brand. In other words, how it is expressed in all of its verbal communications.

Together, these elements represent the verbal expression of a brand, and naming is the anchor around which all the other elements are built.

What is the name change process?

Naming, as a creative activity, is a difficult thing to get right. Putting aside the immensity of the marketplace and the sheer number of new brands created every day, it is very challenging to come up with a name that will be the perfect fit for the brand, appeal to the right target audience, stand out against the competition, and be a name that hasn’t already been taken by somebody else. Just consider for a moment the fact that each of us is exposed to an average of 5,000 brand messages a day, and that there are already almost a billion websites out there, each containing at least one and possibly many brand names.

So if you want to name a new brand or a new company, it needs to be built on solid foundations, and professionally crafted to produce the right result. Over the years we have developed a tried and trusted process that delivers consistently good names. It has six steps, as follows:

Step 1: Create the right foundation – build your Brand DNA®
Before you can even begin to think of the right name for you brand or your business, you need to have a clear understanding of what your brand’s purpose is, who are you trying to serve, what your personality and values are, and what’s your brand story. We call this process figuring our your Brand DNA®. You also need to define how you want your brand to be perceived in the market. Are you positioning yourself as a luxury brand, a budget-friendly option, or a cutting-edge innovator? Your brand positioning will influence the tone and style of the name you choose. This foundational knowledge will guide the naming process and ensure it aligns with the essence of your brand, and support your business objectives.

Step 2: Research, research, research
You also need to know who you are up against. So research the competitive environment — both domestic and foreign competitors. Who are the biggest brands, and what types of names are out there? Identify your competitors, study their brand names, and see how they use them. What can you learn from these examples? Where are the gaps that you can take advantage of? 

Step 3: Brainstorming all possibilities 
Bring together a diverse group of stakeholders for brainstorming sessions. Encourage open, creative thinking and generate a wide range of ideas. Don’t dismiss any suggestions initially; sometimes the most unconventional ideas can lead to the perfect name. Employ word association techniques to explore different themes, concepts, and emotions related to your brand. Look for inspiration in literature, nature, art, and even foreign languages. The goal is to find words that resonate with your brand’s mission and values. Make sure that you use your brand attributes (from your Brand DNA®) as a guide for your options – in fact your attributes is the perfect starting point for associative naming. For example, if you’re a dynamic, agile, or fast company, the name should reflect this lively character. If you’re simple, easy, or direct, maybe the formula needs to associate with short, sharp, and easy-to-pronounce words. Whatever the case, keep your mind open and consider all possibilities at this stage. 

Step 4: Make a shortlist, with URL and cultural checks
Take the long list and make it shorter (much shorter), like 5 -10 name possibilities, by asking the following key questions. First of all, is the name option easy to spell, easy to say, and easy to remember? How does it sound? Say it out loud — as if answering the phone for a customer. How would it work in social media? How would it appear on your business card? Is it a name that matches your positioning? Will it set you apart from your competitors? Could you be confused with anyone else? Will it work across all your markets? Does the name capture what your product delivers, without stating it outright? With all the above questions, you need to see the name through the eyes of your customers, not yours. And they maybe a very diverse bunch. Something that works for millennials may not work for baby boomers.

You also need to look at the cultural appropriateness of your shortlist. A name in one language could mean something vulgar in another. There’s nothing worse than coming up with a great name in English and finding out that it means something offensive in Spanish. Google Translate is a great way to do a “quick and dirty” cultural check in most major languages — however, if it concerns a major market, it might be better to ask a native. This step is crucial to avoid potential brand crises later on.  

Finally, is the name available and legally registrable? Legal conflicts can be costly and damaging to your brand, so thorough vetting is essential. 

With the 5 to 10 that you like, consider a rationale for each and check on — see what URLs are available. Maybe you should consider buying the less expensive options. If it’s a country extension, you may be required to register the company first — so, in that instance, skip that step.

Step 5: Finalise the name, and register it
The next step is to present the shortlisted names to all the key stakeholders, and gather their feedback. Consider conducting a final round of evaluation, possibly with input from your target audience. Based on this feedback, make an informed decision on the final name. Once the name is chosen, you should proceed immediately with the legal registration. To protect your brand’s identity and ensure exclusive rights to the name, you need to register the name and secure any trademarks. Without registering the name, you run the risk of litigation or someone else registering your name and using that to stop you from trading.

Step 6: Developing your brand story and messaging
The final stage in the naming process is to craft a compelling brand story that incorporates and explains why the new name came to be. The name is the starting point of a conversation about your brand — it’s also the rationale that supports why you selected this name in the first place. It connects to you brand both rationally and emotionally — and as a result will resonate with employees, partners, shareholders, regulators, and your customers. So ask yourself the question ‘How can I use my brand name to tell my story?’. Your brand story is a narrative that can inspire your key audience and differentiate you from competitors. But it needs to be absolutely true to your strengths and capabilities, and something your customers can relate to. It’s like your brand promise – as we always say to our clients, your brand promise has to be both compelling to your target customers, and true to what you can actually deliver – day in, day out. The same goes for your brand story.

Beyond the brand story, your messaging should also be the natural extension of your brand name, because it expands the opportunity to tell your story across all platforms and channels — with clarity, consistency, and cohesiveness. Get it right, and the impact will be higher recall, fuller understanding, and greater brand recognition. Consistent messaging reinforces brand identity and helps build a cohesive and recognisable brand presence.

Extending your naming to your ‘nomenclature’

As we briefly pointed out in part 1 your nomenclature or ‘naming conventions’, refer to a system or set of rules that governs how a company names its brand portfolio, or services, or subsidiaries, in a way that is logical and supports its business growth. This system is essential for ensuring clear communication and avoiding confusion, as it provides a standardised way to refer to your offerings. 

Used effectively, it can remind customers that you offer a suite of products or services. For example, in hospitality, the naming system gives the guest an idea of the quality of the experience they are likely to have, like Holiday Inn Hotels have firstly, “Holiday Inn”, but also “Holiday Inn Express”, “Holiday Inn Club Vacations”, and “Holiday Inn Express & Suites” — all part of the same family, but the nomenclature suggests variations on the theme. 

Nomenclature doesn’t always have to follow the brand name — like Apple has been using the distinctive lowercase “i” to distinguish its product and serial releases (like iPhone 15 Pro or iPhone 15 Pro Max). Another example is the nomenclature used by BMW. The BMW 3 Series differs from the BMW 5 Series in cost and features. The principle here is about connecting, clarity, and cohesion — which leads to a product or service profile that is better understood in the crowded marketplace. 

Harnessing the “Power of the Word”

In summary, though it may seem a tricky thing to get right, naming is a fundamental aspect of building a strong brand identity, which you cannot afford to ignore. A well-crafted name captures attention, enhances recognition, evokes the right emotional connections, and secures legal protection. Following the direction set by your Brand DNA®, and with a compelling brand story behind it, supported by consistent messaging, your brand name will become an incredibly powerful asset in building a strong and memorable brand identity.

Build your brand identity with us: We know how to create a compelling brand identity and design the iterations of it in a consistent way, at every customer touchpoint. With our unrivalled expertise in brand strategy, naming and identity design, and having worked with brand owners across Singapore, SE Asia and the world, we are able to craft inspiring brands and a holistic brand experience, in any market. If anything we have written above in the blogpost strikes a chord, and you need our assistance, do get in touch with us here.