The brand name game

It's one of the most momentous decisions a company can make. Get it wrong and you could fail to connect with not just your customers but all of your stakeholders.

Jump to the main content area

Naming is not for the faint-hearted, ensuring it’s mnemonic (e.g. patterns of letters, ideas, or associations), not difficult to spell, not too similar to another peer's name, or even available regarding trademarks, social media handles and URLs. These factors, if not considered, could have a negative effect on your brand and its equity, and ultimately hurt you in the pocket.

Jones and Palmer’s latest work was behind the recent rebrand of discoverIE plc (previously Acal plc). Based on our experiences with other clients and their naming journey, we wanted to share the importance of a name change and some principles to consider.

Whether you are changing your name or deciding a name for a startup, the process is not all that different…

The right name is an identifier, not a descriptor
The right name should always aim to differentiate from the organisation’s competitors. By using a name that identifies rather than describes you, it allows the brand to place meaning into your name and identity, creating a long-term, emotional connection with all of your stakeholders.

An identifier is who you are, your purpose, values and mission.
A descriptor simply states what you do.

A more rational and objective reason to avoid a descriptor, is with the huge boom in startups enabled by technology. This means the majority of descriptor names have either already been trademarked, or would be considered weak, regarding protecting your brand IP should you choose to trademark.

Avoid the generic
Descriptors are generic. These are not engaging, nor will they connect emotionally.

The right name will have layers of meaning and its own story. It should evoke emotion and be easy to pronounce (pronunciation is an even bigger consideration when you are a global organisation). Evocative names such as Google or Apple create a different emotional response and are supported by copy and imagery, to help position the brand.

A demonstration of a descriptor limiting its brand was ‘British Petroleum’ (BP). BP ended up in brand-crisis and required a ‘rethink’ of its brand position. The response, ‘Beyond Petroleum’ (BP), although subtle, identified who BP were at the time, but also where they aspired to be in the future, an important shift in their positioning.

Common mistakes (to avoid) when choosing a name:
The leadership and especially the CEO, Founder or MD (depending on your organisation’s size and structure) must be involved in such decisions. Naming is a long-term strategic decision and including the visionaries and decision-makers of an organisation will ensure the right consideration, commitment and longevity of the name.

The organisation’s brand characteristics have not been identified or codified. These are the foundations and driving force for the majority of brand development projects. Not including or having these verified could potentially lead to a name that doesn’t align initially. You are then left with a struggle to have the right meaning and values attached consistently to the name once it is launched. It is crucial to remember, once the name is launched, it is often the role of others to champion within the organisation or a third-party partner.

Another mistake during the vetting of a naming phase is eliminating options too early, as too much emphasis is placed on a word’s dictionary definition. Contextual screening is a highly critical part of the naming process, but sometimes the dictionary definition can be overruled by a more powerful, positive contextual factor — so don’t be too hasty when it comes to the dictionary! Remember the name is an identifier and is there to assist in the brand’s positioning.

To summarise
So the right name is an identifier; it will represent your present and future positioning. If you are a start-up then consider your objectives and aspirations (abstract names, although in vogue, aren’t always necessarily better).

  • If you are an existing organisation, review your brand life cycle.
  • Is your brand in crisis?
  • Is your brand entering a new positive phase of growth, with more to do?
  • Are new competitors eroding your market share?
  • Are external forces changing your market?
  • Is there an internal crisis?

Once you know where your organisation sits within its brand life cycle you can make more informed decisions on the direction of your name.

Do you have a brand development challenge and aspire to move your business forward? If so, give Will a call on 0121 309 0206.