A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But would its name resonate as much? And what, then, would we call rose-colored glasses or replace with “roses are red”? You see the problem. And while your brand is maybe not as well-known (yet), choosing its name is as nerve-wracking as naming a child. Which is why a company naming strategy is imperative. How do you create one? We’re glad you asked.
Why you should have a company naming strategy
When you’re just starting, choosing a name might be mid-way on your priority list. Somewhere between establishing your business plan, creating your products, and researching your audience. But a company naming strategy is useful for startups and established brands alike. Even if the established company is in the middle of a rebrand.
Although a company naming strategy is different from a brand strategy, they are in the same wheelhouse. Brand strategies “guide every way in which you communicate and interact with your customers” and relate to how you want to be perceived overall. Company naming is, similarly, about perception and communication.
Do you want to be clever with your name? Descriptive? And how unique can you make your name without confusing your audience? The strategy behind naming a company answers these questions and more. Plus, it can help turn you from a forgettable brand to one that stays on your audience’s mind.
There’s a lot of overlap between the benefits of a company naming strategy and your brand strategy. It helps you distinguish your brand from the competition, can inform your overall marketing strategy and target audience, is the kingpin of cohesive messaging, and can provide consistency.
Before you start your naming strategy, you should know the elements of a successful brand name. Considerations include a name that is easy to pronounce, not used by another brand (especially a competitor), easy to recall, short, easy to trademark, and not associated with negative connotations. Lastly, your brand name should be “broad enough to outlive a product category or a business owner.”
To start, let’s list some of the infamous bad brand starts (i.e. what not to do):
- BackRub, now Google
- Brad’s Drink, now Pepsi-Cola
- DrivUrSelf, now Hertz Rent-A-Car
- Pete’s Super Submarines, now SUBWAY
With the right strategy, your name will become the beacon of your brand and how your consumers find you. This also means it is equally important to showcase your brand’s value proposition in the name and have it be unique enough to establish a .com, .org, or. Io URL.
There are also different types of brand names. One of them being Coined, where the word is entirely new and unique like Xerox or Kodak. Another is Associative Descriptive like RoadRunner, where the audience has an idea of what you’re offering from your name. Third are Whimsical brand names like Apple or Blackberry that have the unique job of redefining what might already be an established name (i.e., Apple certainly doesn’t sell fruit). Lastly are Generic Descriptive names that tell your audience exactly what you do and offer, like Hotels.com.
How to do it
Now that you have a basic understanding of the types and elements of brand names, it’s time to establish your company naming strategy. To do this, you should:
Consider your brand goals
The first thing you need to do, whether you are a startup or an established brand, is to consider your brand goals. Do you have a vision for your company that the market is just now starting to adopt or will in the future? Is what you’re offering unique and disruptive? Or are you trying to break the mold in an established category? Your brand goals inform almost every decision in your company. The other important part of considering these goals is relevancy. Because, “if you are chasing a long-term goal or technology, you do not want a name that might ultimately become obsolete.”
Ask yourself strategic questions
Okay, this is an obvious one. But it’s also an easy step to skip. Strategic questioning means that you are thinking about your company naming from all possible angles. It’s also a great way to integrate focused brainstorming where you’re “asking and answering a series of questions in as many ways as you can, and then narrowing down to the best choices.”
Some questions to consider asking:
- What is the purpose of your brand?
- How does your product or service benefit your customer?
- What is unique or different about your company?
- What are some common industry terms that apply?
- Does your brand solve a problem for your customers?
- If you are rebranding, how are your missions or goals changing to warrant a brand name change?
Don’t be trendy
Just like bell-bottomed pants and crimped hair, trends go in and out of fashion. It might be common for companies and competitors to name their brands in a trendy way (i.e., using slang words), but simple language is always best. In addition to not aging well, trendy names can soon become irrelevant or indicate to your audience that your brand was at one point the right option for them but is not any longer.
Choose your company naming method
Part of your company naming strategy is choosing which type of name and method you want to pursue. It’s helpful to begin with which type and go from there. Because a generic descriptive name and a whimsical one are very different.
As for the method, two common ones can help you narrow down your name. One is Name and Word List, which involves making “lists of words or names in certain categories that are relevant to your brand, and spin the results into possible brand names.” For that method, you can focus on whatever is relevant to your brand: heritage, classic themes, root words, historical events, or mythology.
Another method is Puns and Plays on Words. For this one, you could brainstorm with “alliteration, alternate spellings, partial word or letter replacement, letter dropping, [and] rhyming.”
Regardless of the method, the idea here is to get the creativity flowing and use elements of your brand goals, mission, and personal associations to help inform your name.
Don’t be afraid of risk
Last but not least, naming a company often involves risk. You can do countless hours of research, brainstorming, and focus groups and still not know how your name will land in the market. Overall, your naming strategy should drive the conversation and be creative. The end goal is a name that gets “you, your staff and your customers excited and talking about the business.”
Some of the world’s most well-known brands began with different names or ones that were not quite relevant. The names we know today are a result of a company naming strategy based on research and an understanding of both the market and the target audiences.
We mentioned considering brand goals before, and Netflix is the perfect example of this. “When Reed Hastings originally named the company, his vision was to deliver movies streamed over the Internet, not by DVD.” The market at that time was not ready for all Netflix would one day entail, but Hastings named his company based on his goals and visions. Now, Netflix just makes sense.
When Phil Knight first established his famous brand, it was nowhere near what it is today. Nike began as Blue Ribbon Sports and was simply a distributor of the Japanese Onitsuka Tiger shoes. Knight’s early vision of the company expanded beyond this distribution, but the name didn’t reflect that. So, the founders and first employees changed the name to the Greek goddess of victory, Nike. Which, after years of establishing their brand, resonates with their target audience.
Today, Best Buy is an established electronics brand with a recognizable name. However, the company first started with a punny (i.e., trendy) name: The Sound of Music. At the time of opening, the brand mostly sold stereo equipment, so the name worked in a limited sense. But when a tornado destroyed the store’s showroom and stock, the brand itself changed. Founder, Richard Schulze, “moved the damaged items to the parking lot and declared a “tornado sale” where customers could get the best buys.” When sales skyrocketed, the brand name and strategy changed to reflect what consumers wanted.
At Savy, we are a full-service digital marketing agency. This means that we help brands from the ground up, including brand naming and strategy.
Brand naming and identity
We approach brand naming and identity from the standpoint of your brand’s best customer. We work backward to develop a great name that makes sense to your consumers––one that they remember and think of the next time they need you. And we do this by researching, analyzing, and gathering market insights. From there, we’ll distill the data into brand name and brand identity ideas. Together, we’ll look at how pieces of the brand will fit together to support each other and how the brand will communicate in the market. This strategy and research will then inform the design and development of your brand’s logo and overall look and feel.
Brand strategy and positioning
Our brand strategy and positioning can provide the framework for your overall brand strategy. We do this in four parts. The first is Brand Discovery, where we uncover your strengths and weaknesses and fill in the gaps. The second is Brand Positioning, which includes collaborative meetings and an individualized analysis to define your brand’s personality and attributes. The third is Brand Development, that includes everything from your collateral to your signage. Lastly, Brand Creation which, after a proper brand position, you’ll be ready to take on the marketplace.
By any other name
Finding a company naming strategy (not to mention the name itself!) that hits the mark is not an easy task. It requires research, time, brainstorming, and a fair amount of risk. But having a solid strategy behind your brand name means that you are setting your brand up for success. Our team at Savy knows a thing or two about company naming; let’s create yours.