Each week frustrated business owners call me, exhausted from their latest company naming marathon. They’ve spent dozens (if not hundreds), of hours in valuable staff time churning out endless lists of ideas, suggestions, brainstorms, etc.
A hodgepodge of names with no rhyme or reason to them, little or no group consensus, a lack of matching domain names, potential trademark issues, and a looming deadline or one sort or another. The group has grown increasingly wary of the whole ordeal and everyone just wants to “move on.”
At the root of this problem lies a lack of established “brand filters.” By brand filters I mean the screening criteria that nearly everyone in the company inherently knows, but that remains unarticulated. Think of it as the mental tumbler that any new idea or project must go through before someone at the company says “Yes, that’s a fit for us!” An example might prove helpful.
Imagine you were on the board of directors for Rolex and one of your top sales people came to you with a proposal to sell millions of inexpensive Rolex watches this holiday season at Wal-Mart — what would you say? What if another salesperson came to you with the idea of co-branding a Rolex interior in a new line of Lexus automobiles? Which proposal would make more sense? Why?
On one hand you could argue that Rolex is a watch company and that selling millions more watches is the way to go, even if it means selling them cheaply. A more astute observer would see that Rolex really isn’t a watch company, it’s a prestige company. The watch is just the method or means of selling the prestige. If properly understood, this subtle shift has tremendous ramifications. Instead of looking to extend your brand along product lines, you would look to extend it along attribute lines.
Instead of looking to extend your brand along product lines, you would look to extend it along attribute lines.
So in this case, the first “brand filter” for Rolex would be prestige. Any new idea, product, service, venture, brand extension, etc. would need to incorporate an element of upscale sophistication before it would be even considered. If Rolex were then to conduct a naming assignment, one of the top criteria would be the need to convey elegance, prestige and luxury vs. needing to convey the idea of a “watch.”
As obvious as this may seem, most naming assignments don’t utilize branding filters to evaluate names. Without them, the names tend to gravitate towards literal descriptions and the judging of the potential new names defaults to random associations — biased personal judgments that have nothing to do with the company or its future direction. Without proper brand filters, the criteria can become quite arbitrary, such as “It’s got to be one word” or “It’s got to be high in the alphabet” or “It’s got to have a hard consonant sound.” These are all technical, linguistically constructed issues that should come secondary to the primary purpose of having a name that reflects who you are, based on your most compelling attributes.
One of the top branding filters for our naming firm was conveying a sense of brilliance, insight, and clarity. With that in mind, we developed the name Tungsten, a metal Thomas Edison used to illuminate light bulbs. From a linguistics standpoint, the name was a bit problematic. It’s not the easiest to spell. The exact matching domain name was not available either. But the overriding consideration was given to the fact that the name captured the essence of creating brilliance. In other words, it told a story.
In establishing your brand filters, what chief characteristics do you wish to convey in your name? Is it strength? Ease? Reliability? Status? Which ones are most important? Write a list and prioritize them. Typically the overarching attributes will be on top and the more pragmatic criteria will be lower (i.e. length of the name, exact matching domain, etc). Here’s a typical example for an internet start up company:
Sample Branding/Naming Filters
- Conveys a sense of innovation and ingenuity
- Has an “interruptive” quality that makes the consumer want to know more
- Segues easily to a background story/elevator speech about the company
- Is easy to say and spell
- Has a closely matching .com domain name
Once you have your set of brand filters, it’s much easier to ask your core group of decision makers to compare the naming candidates against the list of criteria rather than against their personal biases. The question simply becomes, “How do these potential names compare against our branding filters?” vs. “What do you think about these names?” Stay flexible with the process. If a name fits the filters but everyone hates it, then perhaps your filters need adjusting or re-prioritization. Perhaps having an easy to say name is more important than you initially thought. But by having these filters, it creates context in which to better evaluate your naming decisions.
By creating brand filters in advance of a product or company naming assignment, you can alleviate a lot of missteps and come to consensus naturally and intuitively. The naming process becomes a true process and your naming sessions become more productive. Instead of names that describe the products you sell, you’ll create names that convey the essence of who you are, what you do and why you do it. And that makes for great branding.
About the author: With over twenty five years of company naming and branding expertise, Tungsten founder Phil Davis is a marketing and advertising veteran, having personally named over 250 companies, products and services worldwide. As a sought after branding expert, Phil has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Inc.com, Businessweek, Entrepreneur, and Newsday.
BY Phil Davis
Brand Naming Expert
With over twenty-five years of company naming and branding expertise, Tungsten founder Phil Davis is a marketing and advertising veteran, having personally named over 250 companies, products and services worldwide. As a sought-after naming expert, Phil has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Inc.com, Businessweek, Entrepreneur, and Newsday.