“Branding” is sometimes difficult to describe because it involves so many different, and distinct, processes. Things like graphic design, copywriting, user experience, way-finding in physical space, and many others all work together to serve the brand.
Of all the many aspects of brand work, perhaps none is more complex and frequently misunderstood than naming.
We’ve had the good fortune over the past two years to work on four significant brand projects that involved naming (or renaming) as a primary component. We rebranded CPS Gumpert to Ironmark; we helped a private clinical & research practice in Oklahoma become the Rivus Wellness & Research Institute; we helped a local branch of the Ameriprise financial advisory network launch as Bayspan Wealth Management; and we’re working on a soon-to-be-announced rebrand project for a national player in the supply chain management industry.
Each one of these naming projects was unique, but they all shared certain commonalities. With that in mind, here’s some of what we’ve learned:
1. Naming is hard. Always.
Naming is personal. Naming is subjective. Naming affects everyone. Naming feels huge and permanent and scary. Naming, in other words, is hard. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s best to understand it up front and be ready.
2. There are three main types of names.
Generally speaking, names fall into three broad categories: descriptive, evocative, and abstract. A descriptive name is a straightforward approach, like Bank of America. An evocative name is meant to stir emotions and feelings, like TGI Fridays. An abstract name is an intriguing vessel into which you can flow a brand, like Zyrtec.
Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses. Which one you choose should be a matter of carefully considered strategy.
3. Start with the basics.
Before thinking about the name, it’s critical to think about the brand. You have to understand who you are as a company, what you’re truly all about, and why (both why you do it and why anyone should care). These are the filters we use in coming up with a list of names, and they help tremendously in the decision-making process.
4. Explore everything. Then explore some more.
Names can come from anywhere, everything from your street or city all the way up to finding inspiration in nature and science. In the early stages, it’s best to let the mind run free.
Usually, the best names we come up with, at least initially, aren’t available. See #1. That’s why it’s important to cast a wide net up front.
5. The .com is important, but not as important as it used to be.
One of the most important factors in evaluating the availability and suitability of a name is the availability of potential URLs. It’s still always great to be able to pick up a .com, but it shouldn’t be viewed as a deal-breaker. Audiences are more familiar now with alternate extensions like .co and .io, and there are now more options available than ever (things like .agency and .kitchen, for example). Getting the .com is just one of many considerations now.
6. Never pick just one.
For purposes both legal (trademarking/availability) and operational (all of your interested parties will want to have a say), we always come to the table with at least 2-3 finalists. There’s always the chance that your favorite will have to come off the list at the tenth or eleventh hour, and you don’t want to be caught without a backup.
7. Sleep on it.
The initial reaction is important. It’s also rarely consistent with the reaction(s) that emerge after some time has passed. The naming process is too important to rush, so we always recommend our clients take a few days to a week after our initial presentation of finalists to thoroughly consider their options and reactions.
8. You’ll never please everyone (or, a name can never be all things to all people).
No matter how hard you try to build consensus — and it is important to try — there will always be people, both internally and externally, who disagree with the choice. And that’s OK. The important thing to remember with a name is that its meaning is acquired over time. The name isn’t nearly as important as the work that happens under it. You won’t please everyone with the name, but over time that won’t matter much.
Naming projects come with a lot of challenges, but they’re also a lot of fun. And they can make a huge and positive impact on a business, provided everyone goes into it with the right approach and the right expectations.
Luckily, we’ve learned both over time. Do you have a new initiative to name/brand, or are you thinking of changing an existing name? Get in touch today — we’re happy to help.