Stories are how we connect with each other, and how people become emotionally engaged with brands. Successful brands tell the most and the most compelling stories. Since your name is the face of your brand, names that tell stories are much more powerful than names that don't. Part of that story value comes from what is inherent in a name before you adopt it, and part of that value comes after, with the stories you create and invest in your brand.
Storytelling never ends — it's how you turn a name that might belong to any company or product into a brand that can only belong to you.
The word "consumer," meant to describe your audience or the people who buy your products, is demeaning and should be banished. In the old days it made sense: you put out a product, advertised it, and then the "consumers" would come along, shell out their money, and consume your product. Today, the pool of people who mindlessly "consume" brands is ever shrinking. With so much competition, people expect a deeper emotional connection and dialog with brands. Ignore this at your peril.
It's not enough to just "produce" products for "consumers" to consume. You need to foster engagement with your audience. Live in the big world and be a part of it, treat individuals with consideration, and be open, transparent and helpful. That includes creating brand names that respect your audience's intelligence, are entertaining, memorable, and add value to the culture. Never forget that it's individual people, not demographics, who buy your products. People like you.
Don't be discouraged by the difficulty of securing a domain name, and don't let domains dictate your choice of names. It's far better to have a great brand name with a compound word modified domain than a weak name with an exact-match domain. Thanks to Google and social media, your brand can be easily discovered regardless of its Web address. The brand should always have priority over the domain name; the only exception being Internet pure-play companies, where the brand and the domain are one.
See also: When Should Domain Names Match Company Names?
When a successful brand has years of positive history and stories behind it, that is known as brand equity, which is something to be treasured and nurtured. But if a brand has been struggling, has grown tired, or has been damaged, its brand equity might better be described as baggage. If you have a successful brand in spite of a poor name, a new, powerful name can only help, and your customers will gladly follow your lead. But if your brand has fallen on hard times, then you have no real brand equity to worry about – you've got nothing to lose, and you're free to reinvent the brand.
One issue to resolve when looking at a product naming strategy is when and to what extent does it make sense to engage in ingredient branding – naming individual technology components, such as GM's "OnStar" navigation system, or PCs with "Intel Inside." This is a tricky and nuanced area of branding to get right, and to avoid brand dilution it is important to strike a balance and only name ingredients when it makes sense to turn them into powerful sub-brands. Don't go on a naming spree just for the hell of it.
The lesson of snowflakes is to never confuse structural uniqueness – the "genetic code" of an individual name, its unique sequence of letters – with semantic uniqueness, its "uniqueness of meaning." Any name has meaning on some level – witness the linguist's parade of sibilants, plosives and fricatives that often accompanies a new name unveiling. The trick is to create names that are meaningful, not just names that have meaning.
Invented names made from morphemic mashups are often praised for being "completely unique, unlike anything else that is out there." While this might be technically true, such names are only unique in the same way that every snowflake is unique; in a blizzard, however, the uniqueness of an individual snowflake disappears. The same thing happens when "unique" mashup names join the real world brand blizzard – they vanish from sight, indistinguishable from one another.
Many a troubled naming project began with a brainstorming session, but it's possible to do brainstorming right and add value to your naming process. Use this opportunity to get outside of yourself and hear divergent opinions; avoid being restricted by internal naming filters, preconceptions, or office politics; consider suggestions as concepts as much as potential names; and don't get emotionally invested in any given name before it has been properly trademark screened. A well-run brainstorming session can give everyone on your team the discourse and information needed to propagate, nurture and support strong names.
When evaluating the names on your shortlist, perform this little thought experiment: imagine that your fiercest competitor has just re-branded, and their new name is one of the names you are considering (try it with each name). Which of the names would drive you most crazy with envy when, as you visualize it to the fullest, the smug CEO of Arch Rival, Inc., unveils their amazing new name to the world, the press writes stories about it, the blogosphere lights up, and the social media channels buzz like caffeinated honeybees? Conjure up as much painful detail as you can – really wallow in it.
This exercise will very quickly point the way to the best name on your list. And if none of the names would bother you if launched by a competitor, then go back to the drawing board until you have a name that does. It is often easier to imagine a competitor choosing a particular name than your own company choosing it, because the arch-rival name adoption fantasy is divorced from your own internal debates and politics.
Beware "experts" who cloak their methodology in the jargony garb of fancy proprietary "black box" naming "solutions." Naming is hard work, and to do it right requires focus, passion and persistence, but rocket surgery it is not. If a consultant has a rigorous process for creating names, they shouldn't be afraid to share that with the whole world. You're better off hiring a couple bright high school students than an MBA wielding a Magic 8-Ball.
When creating a brand name or any collateral messaging, avoid vacant, overused words like "solutions." A quick web search will confirm that you can find a solution for nearly every problem, except perhaps for the problem of having too many "solutions." Other empty vessels include "network," "business," "business solutions," "leading provider" ("leading" anything, for that matter), or the ultimate, "a leading provider of business solutions." Search that last phrase in Google, in quotes, and weep (1.39 million tears).
If your name is different for the sake of being different or extreme in any way just for the sake of being extreme, then it is doomed. The most powerful names are those that best support the brand positioning, no matter what, and depending on the circumstances, a name might be "extreme" or it might not. If your name is trying too hard to be different just in order to stand out, it won't — it will blend in with all the other names that are also trying too hard, and failing, to stand out. Vive la différence.
Keep your names, messaging and language real. Don't talk down to people. Don't insult the intelligence of your customers by condescending to them. Be real, genuine, honest, transparent, helpful, understanding, and authentic — you can't fake it, and you can't advertise it. You must demonstrate these qualities, and since a name is the most prominent part of a company's brand image, you have to begin by not accepting empty, phony language into your company or product names.
Old cliches never die, but they can often be turned inside-out. So while it's true that a picture might be worth a thousand words, a great name is a word or two that can paint a thousand pictures in the minds of your audience. If you want proof of this, hand a few leading names over to your graphics team to play around with. If they come back to you with, "We had so many ideas for what we could do with this one," it's likely a strong name.
The key to getting noticed in the turbulent sea of cultural messages is not to speed up, but to slow down. If your name can disrupt someone's ordinary routine, they will stop and pay attention. Perhaps only for a few seconds, but sometimes that's all it takes to create an initial engagement with a brand. In a world where everything is fast, it's only natural that slowing down perception can be a major point of differentiation.
We live in a culture with so many signals coming at us so quickly, that most messages, including brand names, just get buried in the avalanche of tweets, calls to action, toll-free numbers, friend requests, dinner conversations, infomercials, podcasts, IMs, talking heads, talking points, advertorials and webinars. Everyone is in a hurry all the time, with advertisers and content providers often accelerating their signals to stay "up to speed" and lodge their nuggets of information into our minds before competing messages can take root. In this cultural feeding frenzy, individual messages can easily be lost. Notice an opportunity here?
Consulting a thesaurus is the first stop on the naming train for most people, who think that finding the right synonym will lead to the perfect name. It won't, because it's already been done to death. Go deep instead – immerse yourself in art, read poetry and literature, study science. If you want an uncommon name, surround yourself with uncommon sources. Each competitor of yours that chooses a boringly "appropriate" name from a thesaurus is doing you a great favor.
It's a very simple calculus: if your competitors are all doing the same thing, then you will stand out if you do something different. And the first and most visible point of differentiation is with your name. That's why every naming project should begin with a thorough understanding of the competitive landscape. Look for all the obvious and subtle ways in which your competitors do and say the same thing, and then find a new, uncharted place to plant your flag.
The greatest brands are emotionally engaging, thought-provoking, absolutely original and tend to upend industries. They are not me-too wannabes, struggling to get a word in edgewise. Rather, they own the conversation in their market. This kind of dominance is what product developers aspire to, but sadly the naming of a revolutionary product or company often gets short shrift. Don't let that happen to you. A name can and should dominate an industry as much as a company or product. Aim high.