Choosing a brand name: 7 steps to bringing objectivity to the subjective process

Naming a product, service or company can be a tricky process. We all traffic in words – writing emails, presentations – even naming our children. But finding a strategically appropriate and ownable brand name is a whole new world.

Having had the great pleasure of going through over 50 naming projects, I have a few suggestions to make the process smoother.

1. Bring as much objectivity to the conversation as humanly possible. The last thing you want to have is a squabble among team members about which name they prefer based on elements that are out of anyone’s control – they have an aversion to “Chad” because they knew a “Chad” in second grade that bullied them. Set up evaluative criteria at the start of the project. Elements to consider when created your evaluative criteria:

  • How will the name be most encountered?  Aurally? Visually?  The naming exploration should take into consideration whether or not the name will be heard or seen more often.  The criteria to evaluate a name on this point would then be “Is the name candidate easy to spell/say?” depending on how it will be encountered.
  • On a scale of functional/descriptive/real to evocative/arbitrary, where do you want to be?
  • How will customers find your brand?  Store shelf? Online? In print? Radio?
  • Does the name candidate express the brand’s essence? See more about this below.

2. To create objectivity, make sure that the brand is well defined before jumping into name generation. Is there a clear, concise and differentiated big idea or brand essence? That big idea should be expressed in 2-3 words. Once it’s defined, take the time to write a compelling brand story.

3. Understand the competitive landscape. What naming conventions are used in your space? Coined words? Real words? Mash-ups? Descriptive? Evocative? Arbitrary? Misspellings?

4. Understand your target customer. (Stop, re-read this; walk in their shoes and be empathic).

5. Define your budget and legal sensitivity.

  • What is the budget for domain purchase?
  • Is it imperative to have a  Or are you open to other options?
  • What categories of goods & services do you want covered in your trademark search?

6. Remember that a name is the start of a brand story. It doesn’t have to tell the whole story. There should be many brand expressions that will reinforce and fill out the brand story – logo, marketing materials, tagline, website, social media, advertising, etc..

7. Generate lots of names. A typical naming generation project for us results in 500-1000 names. Not all of those are going to be ownable or appropriate. So give yourself lots of options.

If you have questions about our naming process or want to learn more, read more here.
Or feel free to drop us a line.

Thanks for reading!


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