A handy guide for evaluating naming agencies, with everything you need to know to help you choose the perfect agency.
Stephen King wrote, “The scariest moment in writing is just before you start.” For many companies, the prospect of hiring a naming agency is filled with nearly as much uncertainty as the process of naming itself. We want you to feel confident with your selection of a naming agency, so we’ve put together this handy guide. Here are a few things to consider:
Check out the agency’s portfolio of company and product names. Have they created names that resonate with you and that you find inspiring? Are these names that you would be proud to have for your own company or product? And has the naming agency demonstrated the ability to create a range of name types? Have they created names across a range of industries, and for companies all over the world?
Does the agency have a battle-tested process for creating great names? Is the agency’s process transparent and easy to understand, or is it missing in action or hidden behind a proprietary TM-branded “black box” methodology? Is it intuitive to regular humans? Or is it riddled with alienating biz-speak and obfuscating consultant diagrams?
Does the agency have a clear and compelling philosophy of naming? Is their philosophy and process unique, or does it sound like most every other naming agency? Do you get the sense that they live and breathe naming? Does it seem like they enjoy their job?
Do you get the sense that working with this agency will be an enjoyable experience? Do they have an interactive process that encourages and demands your involvement and input? Are they good listeners? Do they have a sense of humor? Can you get company principals on the phone to discuss your project, and are they helpful, or are you routed to “account rep” intermediaries? When you talk to them, can you sense their passion for naming and their excitement for your project? Or do they seem like they’re just phoning it in? Do they give you a sense that, crazy as it may seem if you’ve gone a few rounds with the trademark office, that naming can actually be fun?
The Agency’s Own Name
A naming agency’s own name is the ultimate test. It’s very much like the scene in Being John Malkovich where Malkovich goes inside his own head. This might as well be documentary footage of a naming agency naming itself:
Is the naming agency’s own name any good? Does it tell a story? Does it rise above the goods and services being offered? Has the agency invested it with meaning and built a strong brand identity for themselves? And as with any brand name, does it pass the T-shirt test of looking great, all by itself, on a T-shirt, hat, or signage?
Is the agency a thought leader, or a follower? Are they talking about the same things in the same way as all other naming companies, or do they offer a fresh perspective? Do they have strong opinions that they are not afraid to share? Do they engage in conversations, or is it mostly just one-way marketing chatter that’s all about them and how awesome they are?
Time to Get Engaged
What is the essence, the core value, of your brand? What is the core value of any company you hire, for naming, graphic identity, or advertising? Because it’s no longer enough for brands just to shout messages for B2C or even B2B “consumers” to digest — brands, companies, and of course naming agencies must be engaged with their audience, society in general, and the world we all live in.
Below is a great clip of Steve Jobs answering the question of what is the core of Apple’s brand. He was introducing the “Think Different” marketing campaign in a talk he gave to Apple employees in the late 1990s. The quality of this video is poor, but the message is spot-on: these are the kinds of things you should be thinking about on your journey toward a company or product name, whether you are a large company or startup looking to hire a naming agency, or a small company or individual doing naming yourself. This is the essence of what Simon Sinek captures brilliantly in his Start With Why Ted talk and book.
Steve Jobs on Apple’s Core Value (puns always intended!)
Here is a transcript of the most salient parts of Jobs’ talk:
This is a very complicated world, it’s a very noisy world, and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us — no company is. And so we have to be really clear on what we want ’em to know about us.
Even a great brand needs investment, and caring, if its going to retain its relevance and vitality.
Our customers want to know who is Apple, and what is it that we stand for? Where do we fit in this world? And what we’re about isn’t making boxes for people to get their job done — although we do that well, we do that better than almost anybody in some cases. But Apple’s about something more than that. Apple at the core, its core value, is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better. That’s what we believe. … And we believe that in this world, people can change it for the better. And that those people that are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones that actually do.
Cut Through the Noise
It’s a very noisy world, and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us — no company is. This is why your company or product brand name is so vitally important. No amount of expensive marketing or advertising will can win over potential customers if they don’t notice you to begin with. And by definition nobody will remember you if your name is forgettable. The goal should always be to stand out in this noisy world.
When the time comes to choose a naming agency to help craft the single most important piece of branding you will ever do as a company, make sure that the agency understands the importance of cutting through the noise, and has a process in place and a track record of doing just that. Otherwise they might just build you a glossy new pedestal to display your vision in a museum of dead brands that are all indistinguishable from one another.