How to Name a Company / Product: The Crash Course

An important first step when naming a business, product or service is to figure out just what it is that your new name should be doing for you. The most common decision is that a name should explain to the world what business you are in or what your product does. Intuition dictates that this will save you the time and money of explaining it, which actually turns out not to be true. Why not?

The notion of describing your business in the name assumes that the name will exist at some point without contextual support, which, when you think about it, is impossible. The name will appear on a website, a store front, in a news article or press release, on a business card, on the product itself, in advertisements, or, at its most naked, in a conversation.

There is simply no imaginable circumstance in which a name will have to explain itself. This is fortunate, because having a descriptive name is actually a counterproductive marketing move which requires an enormous amount of effort to overcome. A descriptive naming strategy overlooks the fact that the whole point of marketing is to separate yourself from the pack. It actually works against you, causing you to fade into the background, indistinguishable from the bulk of your competitors.

The following is a list of companies in the naming and branding arena. While each of their names describes what they do, you can clearly see the heavy marketing price they pay for such a shortcut:

Brand-DNA (.com)
Brand-DNA (.net)
DNA Brand Mechanics
Brand 2.0
Brand Doctors
Brand Equity
Brand Evolve
Brand Fidelity
Brand Institute
Brand Mechanics
BrandForward
Brandico
Brandjuice Consulting
BrandLadder
BrandLink
BrandLogic
BrandMaverick
BrandPeople
Brandscope
Brandslinger
BrandSolutions
Brandtrust
Name Development
Name Sharks
Namebase
Nameit
Namexpress
Namelab
Namington
Naming Systems
Namerazor
NameSale
Namestormers
Nametag
Nametrade
NameQuest
Namix
Naming Workshop
Nomen
Namepharm
Nomenon
Medibrand
Absolute Brand
Interbrand
Building Brands
Real Branding
Core Brand
Futurebrand
The Branding Iron
Spherical Branding
I.D.ENTITYIdentity 3.0
Idiom
Brighter Naming
Corporate Icon
Metaphor
Megalonamia
Wise Name
Creating New Names
The Name Works
ABC Namebank
The Naming Company
Ivarson Brand VisionStrategic Name Development
The Brand ConsultancyLexicon Branding
Independent BrandingTradingBrands
The Better Branding CompanyNot Just Any Branding

There are three pieces of advice that will serve you well in avoiding a similar dilemma:

  1. Names don’t exist in a vacuum: There are competitors–the idea is to distinguish yourself. Business is a competitive sport.
  2. Names don’t exist in a vacuum: The notion of describing your business in the name assumes that the name will exist at some point without contextual support. This is never true for any business or product.
  3. Names don’t exist in a vacuum: When judged without the context of a clear positioning platform and an intimate understanding of how names work and what they can do, the best solutions are either never considered or quickly dismissed.

For example, any one of the following intuitive concerns could have been enough to keep these powerful names from ever seeing the light of day:

Virgin Airlines

  • Says “we’re new at this”
  • Public wants airlines to be experienced, safe and professional
  • Investors won’t take us seriously
  • Religious people will be offended

Caterpillar

  • Tiny, creepy-crawly bug
  • Not macho enough – easy to squash
  • Why not “bull” or “workhorse”?
  • Destroys trees, crops, responsible for famine

Banana Republic

  • Derogatory cultural slur
  • You’ll be picketed by people from small, hot countries

Yahoo!

  • Yahoo!! It’s Mountain Dew!
  • Yoohoo! It’s a chocolate drink in a can!
  • Nobody will take stock quotes and world news seriously from a bunch of “Yahoos”

Oracle

  • Unscientific
  • Unreliable
  • Only foretold death and destruction
  • Only fools put their faith in an Oracle
  • Sounds like “orifice”–people will make fun of us

The Gap

  • Means something is missing
  • The Generation Gap is a bad thing – we want to sell clothes to all generations
  • In need of repair
  • Incomplete
  • Negative

Stingray

  • A slow, ugly, and dangerous fish–slow, ugly and dangerous are the last qualities we want to associate with our fast, powerful, sexy sports car
  • The “bottom feeding fish” part isn’t helping either

Fannie Mae / Freddie Mac

  • I don’t want hillbilly residents of Dogpatch handling my finances.
  • They don’t sound serious, and this is about a very serious matter.

As you can well imagine, this kind of negative deconstruction is at the root of why a committee can’t agree on a non-descriptive name that has any meaning. It’s also what gave birth to the second major school of bad naming: the “unique empty vessel” that “can become whatever you want.” Here are some of the victims:

Acquient, Agilent, Alliant, Aquent, Aspirient, Aviant, Axent, Axient, Bizient, Candescent, Cendant, Cerent, Chordiant, Clarent, Comergent, Conexant, Consilient, Cotelligent, Equant, Ixtant, Livent, Luminant, Mergent, Mirant, Navigant, Naviant, Noviant, Novient, Omnient, Ravisent, Sapient, Scient, Sequant, Spirent, Taligent, Teligent, Thrivent, Versant, Versent, Viant, Vitalent and Vivient.

As with the descriptive list, these names are not part of an elegant solution, they are the seeds of a branding nightmare. This type of name is arrived at because of the lust for a domain name, consensus building and as a shortcut to trademark approval. At some point in the process marketing left the room, and nobody seemed to notice. And while they may technically be unique, it’s at the level of a snow flake in a snow bank.

The third type of name is the evocative name. These include the aforementioned Apple, Stingray, Oracle, Virgin, Yahoo etc. While everyone respects evocative naming when done well, most corporations don’t go down this road because it’s the toughest to understand and execute.

On a very fundamental level, here are the basic ingredients of the best evocative names:

Differentiate

A competitive analysis is an essential first step. How are your competitors positioning themselves? What types of names are common among them? Are they all projecting a similar attitude? Do their similarities offer you a huge opportunity to stand out from the crowd?

Apple needed to distance itself from the cold, unapproachable, complicated imagery created by the other computer companies at the time who had names like IBM, NEC, DEC, ADPAC, Cincom, Dylakor, Input, Integral Systems, Sperry Rand, SAP, PSDI, Syncsort, and Tesseract.

They needed to reverse the entrenched view of computers in order to get people to use them at home. They were looking for a name that was not like a traditional computer company, and supported a Positioning Strategy that was to be perceived as simple, warm, human, approachable and different.

Positioning

The next step is to carefully define your positioning. The idea is to position yourself in a way that rings true in a fresh way–that cuts through all of the noise out there. The goal is to have your audience personalize the experience of your brand, to make an emotional connection with it, and ultimately to take you in. To redefine and own the territory.

One of most important things that the best of the best brands accomplish is to be thought of as greater than the goods and services offered, to create an aspiration. Nike’s “Just Do It’ helps them rise above selling sneakers. Apple’s “Think Different” is bigger than computers. Fannie Mae’s “We’re in the American Dream Business” elevates them from mere mortgage brokers.

On a product level, Velveeta, Slinky, Mustang, Snapple, etc., are tapping into something outside of the narrow definition of what it is they do, and are allowing the consumer to make the connection, to personalize the experience. This type of active engagement created by playing off of images that everyone is already carrying around in their heads is an essential ingredient in creating a great name.

From there, a name should contain as many of the following qualities as possible. The more of them that are present, the more powerful the name:

SELF-PROPELLING

  • A name that people will talk about.
  • A name that works its way through the world on its own.
  • A name that’s a story in itself, whether it’s at the local bar, on the job, or on CNBC.

EMOTIONAL CONNECTION

  • What does the name suggest?
  • Does it make you feel good?
  • Does it make you smile?
  • Does it lock into your brain?
  • Does it make you want to know more?

POETRY

  • How does the name physically look and sound?
  • How does it roll off the tongue?
  • How much internal electricity does it have?
  • How does it sound the millionth time?
  • Will people remember it?

PERSONALITY

  • Does the name have attitude?
  • Does it exude qualities like confidence, mystery, presence, warmth, and a sense of humor?
  • Is it provocative, engaging?
  • Is it a tough act to follow?

DEEP WELL

  • Is the name a constant source of inspiration for advertising and marketing?
  • Does it have “legs”?
  • Does it work on a lot of different levels?

The key is to step outside the box that the industry – any industry – has drawn for itself, and to do it in a fresh way that hits home with the audience. To accomplish this, it is necessary to think about names in this fashion:

Virgin

  • Positioning: different, confident, exciting, alive human, provocative, fun. The innovative name forces people to create a separate box in their head to put it in.
  • Qualities: Self-propelling, Connects Emotionally, Personality, Deep Well.

Oracle

  • Positioning: different, confident, superhuman, evocative, powerful, forward thinking.
  • Qualities: Self-propelling, Connects Emotionally, Personality, Deep Well.

Go back and see how the other names deconstructed above stand up when held to these high standards. These are the qualities that separate a potent, evocative name from a useless one that is built without a considered positioning platform, such as BlueMartini or FatBrain. Random names like these disallow audience engagement, because there are no pathways between the image and the product–there is no connection to be made.

How To Create Compound Names Like Instagram, Snapchat & Airport

Instagram and Snapchat are identical constructions. Each simply substitutes new words from an accepted utility name: Instant Message. Insta & Snap are synonyms for Instant, and Gram & Chat are substitutes for Message.

Since Instant Message is already a universally adopted name, you know that Instagram and Snapchat will be accepted as well. If what you’re naming doesn’t map to a two-word generic, break it down into one first.

You can do this by re-purposing an unrelated, well-known compound word, as in Apple’s Wi-Fi base station being called “Airport” – a port accessed through the air. It’s easy to remember and readily embraced because everyone knows the word Airport already.

Proposing a name like Airport to a committee will be met with immediate pushback such as, “Everyone hates the experience of an airport” or, “Last time I was there they cancelled my flight, I had to sleep on the floor and I missed my child’s birthday” or “The first thing I think of is stress, long lines and bad service”- as if any of this will make the name less successful, which of course it doesn’t.

As soon as the name Airport is applied to a Wi-Fi device the primary definition disappears, your audience puts the clever double meaning together in their heads in an “aha!” moment, and smile at the humanity you’ve brought to the game. They will think well of you and warmly embrace the name and its new meaning. And never forget it. You are immediately best of breed in their minds, having uttered only a single word.

Because this simple concept is inherently difficult for corporations, names like Airport are rare indeed – but they do happen.

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Naming Your Startup? Don’t Stress About the Domain Name

We could not agree more. Excellent article.

Via Inc:

Many entrepreneurs when they’re deciding what to name their new business, put a lot of weight on what domain name they can acquire. But their isn’t unanimous agreement in the startup community about the importance of the right web address. Check out this tweet from serial entrepreneur and investor Chris Dixon:

Chris Dixon@cdixon
Names are underrated, but domains names are (increasingly) overrated. Square, Dropbox, Box.net all started with temp domains.

The tweet was highlighted in a post offering advice on naming your startup on the Buffer Blog recently. In it, founder Joel Gascoigne agrees with Dixon and suggests you “take a look at all these successful startups which either had a temporary domain name, or which still have a different domain name to their name,” before offering this list:

Square was squareup.com

DropBox was getdropbox.com

Facebook was thefacebook.com

Instagram was instagr.am

Twitter was twttr.com

Foursquare was playfoursquare.com

Basecamp is basecamphq.com

Pocket is getpocket.com

Bitly was/is bit.ly

Delicious was del.icio.us

Freckle is letsfreckle.com

His conclusion: “Pick a great name, then add something to get a domain name. It really doesn’t matter all that much.”

Do you agree?

Yes, yes we do.

Full Article

Our Latest Naming Work: Sliver Vodka

An extraordinarily interesting and challenging naming assignment: Find a name that works for “All natural fruit infused” AND it had to be “a sexy / edgy name”.

“Sliver” is spot on the confluence of these seemingly disparate ideas.

And of course the name had to be a word that “had never been used for a food or beverage anywhere in the world”. Simple.

Sliver Vodka

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Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 11.43.18 AM

Lost at sea

sea-molds-vintage-june-1950 The most common mistake in naming is choosing a name that gets lost in the sea of competitive sound alikes. We’ve cobbled together a list of clothing brand names that contain the word “Bay”, with a few “Harbor” names thrown in for spice.

“Harbor Bay” wins the coveted Gold Ridicule for including both words.

Aqua Bay
Back Bay
Baja Bay
Banana Bay
Bantry Bay
Bay City
Bay Reef
Bay Trading
Beach Bay
Bermuda Bay
Bikini Bay
Billion Bay
Bimini Bay
Blackwater Bay
Blubay
Brittany Bay
Buckley Bay
Buffalo Bay
Burk’s Bay
Capstan Bay
Chileno Bay
Coral Bay
Eastbay
Eccobay
Emerald Bay
English Bay
Falcon Bay
Ginger Bay
Hampton Bay
Harbor Bay
Highland Bay
Inner Harbor
Jamaica Bay
Kahuna Bay
Kips Bay
Kylani Bay
Latigo Bay
Lawton Harbor
Lunada Bay
Madison Bay
Mango Bay
Marino Bay
Mission Bay
Misty Harbor
Monterey Bay
Moonlight Bay
Orca Bay
Paradise Bay
Parrot Bay
Peppermint Bay
Peregrine Bay
Sag Harbor
Solar Bay
South Bay
St. John’s Bay
Sterling Bay
SunBay
Thornton Bay
Thunder Bay
Union Bay
Victoria Bay
Willow Bay
Yucatan Bay

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What makes “Hotwire” & “Pandora” Powerful Names?

To understand why they work so well, you have to get literal for a moment:

Hotwire = “to steal a car”

Pandora = “unleashed plagues, diseases & all the evils of mankind”

These types of meanings will get a name dismissed ASAP by a naming committee – a committee that would have been wrong to dismiss these names, obviously.

Consumers don’t attribute these literal, negative qualities to the companies who use Hotwire & Pandora as their company names (you don’t, do you?). But naming committees erroneously believe they will.

In each case the name is a metaphor for something about the company. Hotwiring a car is a “hack”, Hotwire positions the site as a travel hack – a way around high prices. Pandora Radio is a marketplace, positioned metaphorically as a “box full of intrigue”.

When juxtaposed in line with the company’s positioning, the names simply become interesting – they have personality. They demonstrate confidence and uniqueness. Metaphorically re-purposing the negative is what makes them so positive.

The names are provocative, differentiating and memorable.

From a business perspective, these names are a pure positive, derived from a literal negative. It’s called “The Principle of Negativity”.

Don’t fear the Negative – well executed, it’s a Positive.

Tesla – Anatomy of a Great Company Name

Tesla is a fantastic name for revolutionary electric car company, but not a name that could navigate a typical corporate naming process and survive.

The death of a thousand cuts would include:

  • We can’t acquire Tesla.com, we’d have to use Teslamotors.com, a non-starter. Electrificity.com is available. Let’s go with “Electrificity” instead – we can get the domain.
  • Nicola Tesla’s inventions were all in AC, not the DC battery power the cars use. Edison was the man when it came to DC. Tesla advocated the opposite
  • Most people don’t know who Tesla was
  • “Tesla” was a big selling ’80s hair band

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 8.28.43 AM
Most Teslas are sold online, and though they were unable to secure Tesla.com, they knew the common wisdom that going with Teslamotors.com would hurt sales was and is nonsense.

Tesla knew it was a great name even though Mr. Tesla’s work was with AC electricity, not the DC electricity the car runs on, which was the domain of Edison. They knew Tesla is a much sexier word attached to a sexier, more mysterious personality. The name Edison is just boring all around. So no one cares about the glaring discrepancy – they just associate the name with electricity.

For Tesla, going with the domain Teslamotors.com and using the name Tesla was a better move than changing the name to Electrificity or some such because they could get the Electrificity.com.

Tesla is memorable, has a great look, sound, meaning, mystery and sexiness to it. Do you walk away from that over domain availability? (Hint: “What would Elon Musk do?”)

We are all for a matching domain name, but it must be a powerful one.