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10 rules from the professionals on naming & branding

The business of naming is one of the most fraught, interesting and challenging aspects of branding. Arriving at the right solution takes time and can test even the most seasoned marketer. Success comes down to the same principles that apply to every branding project – trust and the ability to truly understand your consumer.

Often the right thing to do is the most obvious. For example, when we were asked to review Virgin Blue – which comprised Pacific Blue and Polynesian Blue – it was tempting to play with the brand’s larrikin positioning. Instead, we took the obvious route – uniting all the brands under one brand name, Virgin Australia, which was introduced to the market in May 2011.

For anyone involved in the naming business, it is very easy to over think things and get bogged down by semantics and the entomology of names –Lego (“play well” in Danish), Epson (Son of Electronic Printer), Microsoft (microcomputer software) and to ponder questions such as, “Is Coca Cola more successful than Pepsi because of its literal description?”

Or to be convinced by studies that show names with harder consonants like Kodak elicit higher brand recognition and how names with longer vowel sounds are more memorable (Google, Yahoo and Facebook).

The trend for fruity names in the technology sector (Apple, Blackberry, Orange) has evolved into zappy names like Bing and Ping – pharmaceuticals are a naming world unto their own.

Before long you’re into morphemes (sounds like a drug but is the smallest conceptual meaningful component of a word), obstruents and sonorants.

In our opinion, the best brand names have two essential ingredients – longevity and “stick”.

We also believe the business of naming is more art than science. That said, we believe it follows the same process, ie, understanding the client’s core business and strategy, the target market/consumer, products, benefits, competitors – the whole box and dice.
Naming projects often involve several brainstorming sessions with the creative team. Generally we find that names fall into three broad churches: Literal (Groupon – group coupon), lateral (Not another bloody water) or referential (Duracell).

When brainstorming names, we are always conscious of “left brain, right brain” reactions and only shortlist names that resonate both emotionally and rationally.

We may start with a list of up to 80 names before whittling them down to a shortlist for the client. Sometimes we present with a visual identity but often it is better to focus just on the sound of the name – as opposed to the visual images it brings up.

The creative process also involves due diligence, i.e. investigating the  “own-ability” of new brand names by using IP Australia’s searchable database and international registration sties. We also examine the cultural connotations of a new brand – and fit.

When all the elements come together in perfect alignment you can find true gold – which is exactly how we felt when we came up with the name Masters for Woolworths’ home improvement stores.

When Woolworths first briefed us on the naming and identity project in 2009 they told us they wanted a smart, contemporary and simple feel for the hardware brand. We knew the name had to be timeless and memorable; something that stood for trust, skill and confidence, yet was warm and approachable.

Having immersed ourselves in the home improvement market, nationally and internationally, and talked to everyone from Woolworths marketing team to store operations, property and construction to HR and the buying team, we scheduled the first brainstorming meeting.

Prior to this, we wrote down as many suitable names as possible and designed initial identities to make them come ‘alive’ in the brainstorming session and trigger debate.

There is always an opportunity to develop abstract or character-driven names like Trader Joe’s in these sessions and, for a while during the Masters naming process, one of these types of names was on the table. But we knew it wasn’t right.

The final name came from a simple thought that Hans [Hulsbosch] had during a session – if you want to build or renovate your home or business, who do you trust to do the job? The master builder, the master painter, the master craftsman.

Woolworths immediately recognised the value of the name and how it aligned to its internal communication objectives (staff are masters of customer service).

With everyone on board – and a rough identity developed – the lawyers stepped into pursue their registration options. Fortunately, it was a relatively straightforward process and Masters was introduced to the market in May 2011 (the first store will open around September).

The moral of the story is that naming is a highly-charged, emotionally-challenging journey that requires a high level of trust between creative and client and a commitment to giving the customer something they can understand.

You can’t afford to get sidetracked by trends and fads that may give you for 15 minutes of fame when what you’re looking for is 50 years of fortune.

Here are 10 tips for naming & branding your business:

1. Keep it simple

2. Keep it short

3. Will it stand the test of time?

4. Does it resonate with the target market?

5. Can it be pronounced easily? Can the receptionist say it?

6. Can it be twisted around by a mischievous tabloid journalist (ie, unfortunate nick names)?

7. Consider cultural sensitivities

8. Does it have layers of meaning?

9. Never choose the first name you like (people are likely to pick the familiar over the new)

10. Be prepared for them to hate it at first (it takes time to grow on people).

– Steve Harrington is Design Director at Hulsbosch – Communication By Design; the international award winning branding and design agency.