Brand Naming Strategy: Capturing Disparate Ideas In A Single Word

When your brand positioning requires a name that expresses two very different ideas in a single word, one proven strategy is to have the look, sound and personality convey idea “A” and the meaning of the name convey idea “Z”.

A real-world execution of this strategy is Trillium, a family of processors we named for Arm. The name needed to convey “high tech” AND “organic”. The name Trillium has a futuristic/sci-fi/high tech look, sound and personality. Trillium could be what powers the ships of Starfleet, the name of a fictional planet or an element on the periodic table.

Trillium covers “organic” with its meaning. It’s a type of flower, a three-petalled white lily. And now it’s a processor. It’s one of a few strategies you should explore in parallel




Macmillan cites Igor’s CEO as coining a buzzword.

“VANILLACIDE: when an original idea or plan is repeatedly changed until it becomes less interesting and unique than it was first intended to be. Vanillacide is most often used in business contexts, where it refers to the scenario of new and creative proposals undergoing a series of changes in order to make them generally acceptable to people, but in the process becoming so ‘watered down’ that they lose their original individuality and appeal.

The term vanillacide was coined  by Steve Manning, Chief Executive Officer at Igor, a branding agency in the US. The expression is a blend of the adjective vanilla in its modern sense of describing something as ordinary and lacking in any special or extra features, and the suffix -cide, which denotes an act of killing.
Unlike vanilla, which can simply be used to show that something is of a standard variety, vanillacide always has disapproving overtones, suggesting that something has become unnecessarily conformist and ‘bog standard’.”

Read the full  dictionary entry.

Choosing a new brand name ? Do an A.S.S. count.


Let’s say you’ve got two metaphorical names under consideration for your new computer company, Apple and Strawberry. Both names meet your brand positioning criteria:

Simple, warm, human, approachable, organic, disruptive.

Half your team champions Apple and the other half love the name Strawberry. It’s pointed out that the names couldn’t be more similar – they are both red fruits. So why not flip a coin and move on?  The Chief Obfuscation Officer calls for a month of testing, reliably in the unreliable form of crowdsourcing or focus groups.

At which point you become the hero by jumping up and shouting, “I demand an A.S.S. test!”

A test that takes minutes to complete.

When leading name contenders are locked in a battle, tallying up the number of associations each have in our collective consciousness – in stories, legends, idioms, songs, culture, history, mythology, etc, tells you how emotionally connected people are to them. The more the better.

And it reveals what each brings to the table for marketing, branding and advertising campaigns.



  • Garden of Eden (apple w/ bite logo)

  • Issac Newton (product name)

  • William Tell

  • Snow White

  • The Tree of Life

  • McIntosh (product names McIntosh, eMac, iMac, Power Mac, MacBook, Mac Mini)

  • One smart apple

  • A bad apple

  • Easy as apple pie

  • An apple a day

  • Apple of my eye

  • Apple polisher

  • Big Apple

  • Apples and oranges

  • How ’bout them apples?

  • Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree

  • Upset the applecart



  • Strawberry Fields

  • Strawberry shortcake

  • Strawberry blonde


Sometimes the positioning of the name your looking for is simply a single big idea – an iconic, definitive name that captures the imagination.

This was the case for a B2B software startup we named, so the first and winning tactic was to find a name that had the most cultural connections that were really big ideas. The clear winner was Seven:



  • Seven wonders of the world.

  • Seven musical notes.

  • Seven seas.

  • Seven days a week.

  • Seven continents.

  • Seven deadly sins.

  • Seven virtues.

  • Seven colors of the rainbow.

  • Seven chakras.

  • Seven years of bad luck.

  • Seven visible planets.

  • Seven heavens.

  • Seven dwarfs.

  • Seven samurai.

  • On the seventh day god rested.

  • Lucky number seven.


Of course there are many more, but you get the idea. Before we presented Seven to our client, we needed to determine if Seven could possibly be trademarked around the world, given the 700,000+ trademarked software names globally. We came up with a strategy, and Seven is trademarked worldwide. The ability to legally finesse a name like Seven is critical, because naming is not simply about finding the best name for the job, it’s about finding the best name for the job that you can legally use.

Apple vs. Strawberry isn’t a fair fight. But it’s not always so lopsided. If the A.S. portion of the test doesn’t produce a winner, move on to Slogans. Put two names side by side and see which inspires the most taglines that play off the name.

Of course none of the taglines anyone can remember actually play off the company name, they’re too expected and make the name one dimensional.  Imagine, “Virgin, A Brand New Experience” or “Apple, Easy as Pie”.  Deadly.

But the exercise does reveal the power, connectivity and relevance of an unexpected name.

In this example, let’s say we’re naming a creative agency and a leading name contender is:



  • Igor. Bringing Your Vision To Life.

  • Igor. Get Over The Hump.

  • Igor. A Few Spare Parts and a Good Storm.

  • Igor. Throw The Switch.

  • Igor. A Moveable Beast.

  • Igor. Own Your Shadow.

  • Igor. No Job Too Horrifying.

  • Igor. The Other White Meat.

  • Igor. Never Say Die.

  • Igor. A Good Brain Is Hard To Find.

  • Igor. Alive!

  • Igor. Better Living Through Science.

  • Igor. Building The Perfect Beast.


BOTTOMLINEThe number of ASSOCIATIONS or SLOGANS that potential metaphorical brand names generate tells you how emotionally connective each name is and how much branding, marketing & advertising ammunition they contain.


More on the existential hell of a naming agency naming itself.