Naming your business or product is an important step in the startup journey but it can be very difficult. And even if you do think of a few options, it can seem like every name and domain is taken. Before you go deep-diving into an online name generator, take the time to understand the different psychological methods that can be applied to brand naming. A brand name is more than just a string of letters.
For the purpose of explaining these methods, I have borrowed some of the world’s leading brands to explain how and why they are effective.
The purpose of aspiration naming is to highlight a consumer desire. This is to get the customer to subconsciously think beyond the product and associate the brand with big, memorable moments – such as a revolution or a childhood fairytale.
A great example of aspirational naming is Starbucks. It is a nod to romantic notions of the original discoverers of coffee beans, not to mention it makes you feel like you are spending big bucks. Volkswagen’s name gives a nod to positive people’s revolutions, meaning “people’s car” in German. Nivea means ‘snow white’ in Latin. Whilst their meanings are subtle to the everyday consumer, their success as brands shows the value in aspiring to the bigger idea.
This method is effective if you have a large budget to implement – aspirational brands on a shoestring budget often stick out like a sore thumb, and not in a good way. In order to be truly aspirational, your brand approach needs to go beyond just the name. For example, many Starbucks’ cafes have specifically designed round tables to make people feel less alone, giving an aspirational sense that we can all have coffee together and fix the world’s problems. That needs a big budget. Your brand name needs to represent your brand; else, it will feel tacky.
The oldest trick in the book is to name your brand practically to provide a sense of security and authority by being literal and cutting out the fluff. Successful examples of this approach include the infamous Durex brand. The name literally combines ‘durable, reliable and excellence’ to make its name. Another famous example is Facebook, an index of people’s faces. In today’s data-scraping climate it creates quite a scary brand connotation – a literal book of faces. But it’s impossible to foresee the technological changes that might hinder your brand name in the future.
Facebook offers a great example of when a nod to practicality is a bad idea. If you have got plans to grow the breadth and depth of your business into new models, products or services then it’s best to avoid a super-practical brand name. Because one day you will change and it will either no longer make sense, or worse, it will highlight inconsistencies in your offering.
The Comic Touch
In the crowded world of today which suffers from a feeling of doomsday and exhausted climate, making people laugh and having your brand remembered amongst the noise is an effective method of brand naming. It allows your brand personality to take centre-stage and shows you have a sense of humour as a company. But take it with a pinch of salt. Sometimes humour isn’t the right choice – a pun about cancer might not be the best option for an oncology research centre.
A great example of humour branding is good old Yahoo, which actually stands for Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle. By positioning themselves as friendly and sarcastic, consumers view a brand like Yahoo as bursting with personality. The term ‘Yahoo’ is also associated with excitement and uninhibited joy, like riding a horse or a rollercoaster. Another example of this is one of my own brands, Hassl, a tool designed to increase workplace productivity. It’s ironic and contradictory. The name makes it memorable, relatable and regularly cracks a smile with first-time users.
This method is only a good idea if your business as a whole has a strong personality. Don’t be someone you are not. No one ever remembers the lone joke that dull Donna from accounts said at the office party.
The brands mentioned in this overview have in common are very distinguished brand elements that go beyond just the name, including memorable brand elements such as colour palettes, fonts, logos, iconography and imagery.
If you are stuck trying to find a name, take a step back and take the following two steps:
- Step 1: Write down what your business would be like as a personality. Imagine your brand as a person. How would it speak? What would it always bring up at a social event? What are its key phrases? By understanding what your business brand sounds like, you will be sure to get some naming ideas come to mind.
- Step 2: Visualise the fun stuff. What colours represent your business or product? Look through different font options on Typekit and images on Unsplash. By trying to get a sense of the whole picture of your brand, you will more likely be able to brainstorm appropriate names that fit the bill.
Finally, a word of wisdom: After figuring out a brand name you love, whatever you do, Google it. Chuck it in a domain search. Check its trademark in your geographical area. If you plan on being a global company, see if it translates into other languages. When Ford released the Pinot model, they didn’t realise that Pinto translated to ‘tiny male genitals’ in Brazilian Portuguese. Choosing a name with strong competition online can be a strategic nightmare. First, take the time to select a purposeful brand name and then make sure it’s feasible to grow online and offline.
Illustrations by Ouch!
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