Our Brand Naming Process

     

The Outline



These steps provide a solid framework, but on their own they're simply a foundation.

Extraordinary names come from a process that's insightful and exceptionally executed.



The Exceptionally Insightful Execution


Want To Create A Powerful Brand Name? Beware The Literalist.

      Naming Agencies
   

This is the most overlooked, counterintuitive truth in naming – the difference between the way an internal naming committee will evaluate a potential brand name and the way a target audience will receive it.

All the best names are provocations: Slack, Virgin, lululemon, Target, Yahoo, Caterpillar, Hotwire, Bluetooth, Google, Oracle. To qualify as a provocation, a name must contain what most people would call "negative messages" for the goods and services the name is to represent. Fortunately, consumers process these negative messages positively. As long as the name maps to one of the positioning points of the brand, consumers never take its meaning literally, and the negative aspects of the name just give it greater depth.

A viral name must contain negative qualities.

Nothing is more powerful than taking a word with a strong, specific connotation, grabbing a slice of it, mapping that slice to a portion of your positioning, and therefore redefining it. This naming strategy is without question the most powerful one of all.

Potential names must be judged on how well they map to positioning, memorability, stopping power, emotional impact, connections to the collective consciousness, distinction from competitors - the sum of which answers the most important naming question, "Is this name interesting?".

Instead, on a naming committee, the literalist will negatively critique names based on dictionary definitions or a singular association, reliably in the form of an objection. Their claim will be that a word's negative meaning or association means that the value of the word as a name will also be negative. The evidence they cite in their efforts to kill a name is irrefutable fact, yet irrelevant and counterproductive.

Here are the types of objections a literalist will use to kill great name, attacking the very essence of what makes these names powerful - the tension created by positive and negative forces:


Slack

 

lululemon

 

Virgin Air

 

Hotwire

 

Yahoo!

 

Oracle

 

Caterpillar

 

Banana Republic

 

Target


This is a family show, so you'll have to create your own misguided, literalist list of reasons that In-N-Out, Dick's, BJ's, Cornhole and LoveSac should fail as brand names.

No sane person cares about any of these literal negatives, because people process these 'negative' connotations either positively or not at all. As long as the name maps to one of the positioning points of the brand, consumers never take its meaning literally, and the negative aspects of the name just make it more memorable and engaging.

These literal, negative objections are not reasons to abandon a name, rather they have demonstrably positive effects on a target audience. They're what make a name engaging, differentiating & unforgettable. Consumers don't process names literally, they process them emotionally. Getting your committee to acknowledge this difference and to interact as the public does with names, rather than the way the dictionary does, is essential.

If you encounter a literalist, keep your distance, maintain eye contact, and take the threat seriously. Do not run in any direction. Don't bend over, crouch down or go fetal. Wave your arms in an alpha manner. Throw any toxic item you can find - Keurig pods, inspirational posters, focus group data, etc. If attacked, fight back. If this doesn't work, your last chance for survival is to enlighten the literalist:

 

Slack

 

Hotwire

 

Virgin

 

Oracle

 

The common wisdom that naming in large groups will discourage a literalist attack is nothing more than urban legend. In fact, the larger the committee, the more likely an attack will be.

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


Naming Agencies

ASSOCIATIONS + SLOGANS SCORE

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 in 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, etc, tells you how emotionally connected people are to them. And reveals what each brings to the table for marketing, branding and advertising campaigns.

 

Apple

 

Strawberry

 

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:

   

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.

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.

Let's say you're naming a creative agency and a leading name contender is:

 

Igor

 

BOTTOM LINE: The 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.

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A brand name has work to do. Create a job description for it.

    Naming Agencies    

Finding the perfect name should be approached like you're hiring a CMO. So it's natural to put together a list of asks for your name that includes things like credibility, trust, reliability, honesty, transparency, quality, yada yada yada.

But a name is a specialist, and these types of foundational brand positioning qualities are common to every business in existence. They need to be established by the other touch points of your brand. "Not my job", should be the response of any name candidate asked to perform these duties. In fact, using such qualities when grading name candidates will result in the best qualified names not even receiving an offer:

 

Google

Credibility, Trust, Reliability, Honesty, Transparency, Quality

 

Slack

Credibility, Trust, Reliability, Honesty, Transparency, Quality

 

Impossible

Credibility, Trust, Reliability, Honesty, Transparency, Quality

 

Away

Credibility, Trust, Reliability, Honesty, Transparency, Quality

 

Goop

Credibility, Trust, Reliability, Honesty, Transparency, Quality

   

None of the over-performing names above can pass the Credibility, Trust, Reliability, Honesty, Transparency, Quality test. Which is great, because your audience doesn't look to your name for these sorts of reassurances. More importantly, it leaves the name free to have the kinds of qualities it needs to be exceptionally good at its job :

Unexpected, Human, Engaging, Thought Provoking, Memorable, Disruptive, etc.

 

Here's what a job description for a name should look like:

 

Responsibilities:

 

Qualifications:

 

Depending on the positioning of the product or company the name will represent, you'll further screen name candidates for specifics, such as:

 

But what if you find the perfect candidate, except they have a criminal past? As long as they can carry out the Responsibilities and have the Qualifications, it'll be fine: Hotwire, Accomplice, Wheelman, and walking the talk, Igor.

Bad breath and a ghoulish smile? Don't count them out: Bluetooth.

A complete lack of experience? Sign them up: Virgin.



      

Additional Brand Naming Insight:

Igor Brand Naming Guide

Performing a Competitive Name Analysis is Essential

     




  Brand Positioning