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How to choose your brand name

10 min read
First impressions. Everyone will tell you they count. This is true for your brand too, which is why it’s vital your brand name communicates everything you stand for. So how do you come up with it?

Getting the right name can add real long term value to your brand.

It can:

  • Make your brand more memorable
  • Help consumers understand what you do/provide
  • Symbolise positive sentiment and loyalty to your brand
  • Help differentiate yourself from competitors
  • Help your brand own a space/sector/industry

Begin the process by asking yourself:

What do you stand for?

The most recognisable brands in the world are so, because they are memorable. And whilst it isn’t the only identifying factor (the whole brand experience is the main driver of this), the brand name plays an important part.

Amazon is an example – it’s said the original plan was to name the company “Cadabra,” but shelved when misheard as “Cadaver.”1 Today, the name encompasses the A-Z of the alphabet, giving an advantage in scenarios where companies are listed alphabetically (according to Brad Stone’s book “The Everything Store”). But it also represents the huge volume of products and services available to consumers, communicating the vision of the company.

So you may be thinking, what is our version of that? Your brand name represents what you stand for as a company. It symbolises how you meet the needs of your customers, and the vision that your employees buy into. If you don’t know what these needs are, or how to meet them then you can undertake market research and find out.

As you try to articulate your brand, begin by framing your thoughts into the sections outlined below.

Brand purpose: Why do you exist?

Every business was set up for a reason. To solve a certain problem, service a particular need or meet customer demand. This is your brand purpose. It’s why you get up in the morning, and it’s at the heart of the decisions you make as a business.

Brand vision: What will the future look like?

Not just for you, but your customers too. It’s good to have an end goal, or a future state to work towards. This helps to turn your strategy into reality.

Brand mission: What are you here to do? What do you want to achieve?

Often this articulates your brand purpose, and outlines how you will bring it to life. Whilst a brand purpose can seem quite “big” – for example, Dove’s purpose is Discovering the value of ‘real’ beauty and improving self-esteem worldwide, their mission is more tangible — to ensure that the next generation grows up enjoying a positive relationship with the way they look.

The mission enables your people and customers to work towards this purpose every day.

Brand personality: How is your brand perceived externally?

What images, colours and fonts will you use to represent your brand? What tone of voice (TOV) best defines you? Often these will go a long way to impacting how a customer views your brand.

Brand values: What do you represent?

A company is made up of people. What do you have in common? Your brand values act as a framework that enables you to create a culture where everyone can thrive. They are vital to the employee experience – they help you recruit the right people, stay true to who you are whilst your company grows and they are the principles that govern your behaviour as people in the workplace, and as a business.

Standing out with your brand name

Using the questions above, you will now have an understanding as to what you stand for and what you want to achieve as a business. So the next step is to make people know about it, and this is where your brand identity – and brand name – comes in.

What makes a good brand name?

Whilst not every business will be able to meet every aspect of this criteria, names that are easy to recall, distinctive and emotionally appealing will set your business up for success, and be more memorable. Typically consumer-facing brands will find it easier to appeal to the emotional side of people, whereas businesses are more rational and want to know how the service you provide will impact their business.

In understanding these characteristics, it’s important to note the difference between distinctiveness and differentiation. Whilst both are vital, differentiation is a reason or benefit as to why the customer will buy with you over another. Distinctiveness is where a brand stands out in itself and is easily identifiable. The Nike swoosh or the Apple logo would be two examples of brands that are clearly distinctive and easily recognisable, from their logo through to their products and retail stores — differentiating themselves from their competitors in doing so.

As Best-Selling Author and Behavioural Scientist Richard Shotton explains in his book The Choice Factory, decades of research tells us that we are drawn to objects, people, places that are more distinctive. We are hard-wired to do this – it is a behavioural reflex we have as humans.

A brand name isn’t defined as “good” because you like it, it’s because it communicates a message to your audience. It allows current and potential customers to identify you, understand what you offer and whether it is of relevance to them. This process never stops, because your audience will always want convenient ways to help them with their buying process. But a name can help you differentiate yourself in this process and be a huge asset of the brand’s identity. The best brands in the world have made their names synonymous with the product or service they are selling, and successfully doing so is a great way of maintaining employee retention as people are buying a brand rather than a product.

Seek inspiration

This is where the fun starts, and our BrandXM platform can help – it will help you understand your competitors, and enable you to test your brand strategy, giving you authority in the actions you take.

As you build out your brand identity, it’s a good idea to collaborate with stakeholders, former teammates and potential customers to ensure a diversity of opinions that allows you to take in the bigger picture.

Bring key stakeholders and creatives into a room together and begin by articulating the words that you feel represent your brand (phrases, names, places, adjectives). You may decide to do this in a more structured way and frame your ideas through certain categories.

  • Personal – based on the founder(s). This might be the first name and/or last name. Or it might be based on someone else’s name from which the idea of the company was built.
  • Based on service – a descriptive name that outlines what you do.
  • Acronym – an abbreviation of names or a phrase.
  • Metaphor – a word that symbolises the future state/feeling you are trying to create as a business. For example, Patagonia.
  • Or you could make up a word…for example, Google.

Begin by creating a list of words you like. Not only will this help you to create your brand name, but it will also inform the creation of your logo and other brand assets. This is because you’re articulating the brand’s personality, not just the name.

The T’s and C’s of a brand name

Once you have a list of names you like, you need to make sure you are legally allowed to use it. If you’re in the United States you’ll need to check the United States Patent and Trademark Office. In the United Kingdom you’ll need to check the Intellectual Property Office. This isn’t the end of the process, but by doing it now it involves having to go back to the drawing board later on if your chosen name is already taken.

If you’re beginning this part of the process with a lengthy list, this process will help you to narrow that down.

Validate your thinking

Once you get a list of suitable names and importantly, that are available, then you can begin testing the names. It’s good practice to include independent stakeholders from the beginning, but if you haven’t, make sure you get feedback to sense check your shortlist. You may do this through both qualitative and quantitative data to test your creative development – focus groups, interviews and surveys will help understand what brand name resonates, what doesn’t – and why. There are tools that can help you to unlock insights and prioritise the key drivers that matter to your audience.

Whilst keeping everything in-house can make sense due to the detail in which you know the brand, this can sometimes lead to a lack of context of the bigger picture. Getting a different perspective will avoid you making a mistake you hadn’t thought of.

Once you’ve tested your names, you can see which names resonate with your audience the most. Use this feedback to act on the areas where you can improve. That might be word length/tone, or perhaps how it translates in different cultures. Or it might not strike a chord with the customer, in which case you need to assess why.

When you’re ready, take your new brand name to the world and prepare to give your customers an unforgettable experience.

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