The most successful brands are the very definition of the phrase “more than the sum of its parts.” The amount of finesse and complexity that goes into crafting a world-class Brand is something that requires decades of experience and a diverse team of talent. However, the intense intricacies and demanding depths of Brand building begin by navigating the labyrinth of Brand naming.
A Brand name is the introduction of the Company, product, or service into the world; it is the component of the Brand that consumers will interact with first and communicate to others. A Brand name is something that a Company can take ownership of to set them apart from competitors, making the Brand name a critical component and a vital part of a Brand’s success.
One of the first steps in the naming process is establishing the naming style or styles to explore. There are several naming styles, and they are not a one-size-fits all, a style that fits one Brand might not appropriately fit another Brand. Naming styles exist on a continuum with Descriptive Brand Names on one end of the spectrum, Empty Vessel Brand Names on the other, and Suggestive Brand Names in the middle. It is important, when developing the creative direction, to know the strengths and weaknesses of the various styles:
Descriptive Brand Names (i.e., Toys R Us, Bath and Body Works, General Motors) directly describe the Company, product, or service, usually detailing the history and/or characteristics behind them. These names clearly communicate the Brand story allowing audiences to grasp the concept of the Company with little to no room for interpretation. The drawback of a Descriptive Brand Name is the limitation it could have on future growth and expansion into other offerings (i.e., Toys R Us couldn’t move into the home appliances industry).
Suggestive Brand Names (i.e., Facebook, Greyhound, Pampers) suggest, rather than assert, what the Company, product, or service offers. They allude to the offering by taking a creative approach, which could mean referring to certain features or characteristics of the offering through devices such as metaphor or leveraging the emotional connection consumers have with the Company, product, or service. Suggestive Brand Names tend to be memorable and relatable to consumers, however they are more difficult to create and market than Descriptive Brand Names.
Empty Vessel Brand Names (i.e., Google, Verizon, Starbucks) are unrelated to the Company, product, or service. These names tend to stand out amongst competing Descriptive Brand Names, but are harder to market because consumers may have difficulty connecting the dots. However, simply because the Brand does not have any relevancy to the offering does not mean the meaning behind it cannot be taught and disseminated to consumers. Throughout the growth of a Company, product, or service with an Empty Vessel Brand Name, the name takes on its own meaning through the larger Brand story and the customer’s interactions with it.
No one of the three styles of names is inherently better than the other, rather they all work in different ways to begin establishing the overall Brand personality. Which style of name is ultimately right for any individual product or service takes a tremendous amount of planning and learning to determine.
In addition to these naming styles, there are also different types of names. These name types also fall on a continuum, with Current Usage on one end, Neologism on the other, and Hybrid Neologism falling in the middle. While discussing the naming style, it is important to review the various types of names, because names that fit in any of the styles will also have these added dimensions:
Current Usage Brand Names (i.e., Sprint, Tide, Red Bull) describe the nature of the Brand using common language, repurposing a word or words that already exist in the dictionary. A Brand utilizing current usage words will inherently have the attributes of that word, which, when done strategically can help connect with the desired audience, requiring fewer marketing efforts. These brands however are difficult to legally own and protect.
Hybrid Neologism Brand Names (i.e., YouTube, PlayStation, Band-Aid) utilize words that are current and/or suggestive, but that are original in combination. The creative combination of recognizable words and word parts creates a new meaning; unique to the offering, while still leveraging concepts familiar to consumers.
Neologism Brand Names (i.e., Kleenex, Kodak, Aspirin) are non-existent, or made-up words. The word was invented specifically for that Brand, and has no meaning without the Brand. Neologisms are typically the most legally viable names, but require a strong marketing plan to gain awareness.
Naming is, and will always remain the front line of any Brand building campaign. Every piece of marketing or advertising that is built around a Brand begins with and rests on the strength of the name, and it is guaranteeing the strength of that name that will define a Brand’s success. It is a strategic piece in the puzzle that allows your brands to efficiently collaborate with each other, creatively captivate target audiences, and effectively communicate the right message.