At some point near the end of a naming project comes the time to actually choose your new name. How do you evaluate the names on your shortlist to make sure you choose the best name? Sometimes it is obvious which name is the best, and once you become aware of that all other names tend to fall away. Still, it’s important to understand the many attributes and qualities that make up a name, so you can make informed, objective decisions when comparing one name to another.
With all of these qualities, there is no inherent “right” answer. The single most important criteria is that the name support the brand positioning . For example, if the positioning demands a name that is warm and human, but a given name under consideration is cold and technical, then that name is failing to support the brand positioning in the “Temperature” quality. These qualities are also relevant to all aspects of a brand, not just the name.
Voice: How does a name sound? Does it roll off the tongue? Is it easy or fun to say? Can it be easily spoken by speakers of many different languages? What does it sound like to others? A name will be spoken many times — in conversation, when answering the phone, in television commercials, YouTube videos, and most importantly, by word-of-mouth. A name that trips people up when spoken, or sounds off-putting when heard, is not going to foster emotional engagement with your audience. This is easy to test on a basic level: have a colleague call you, and answer the phone by speaking the name. How does it feel to do that? How does it feel for your colleague to hear it spoken over the phone?
Visual: Names are not only heard, they are seen, in logos, on websites, and in marketing collateral. Names can appear tiny in fine print, and gigantic on a billboard, blimp, or even written across the sky. Looks are important, so make sure the name looks good and avoids obvious syntactical no-nos. It helps to mock-up different visual treatments of the names you are considering, and be sure to show them to designers and other visual people.
Breadth: How many aspects of the brand positioning does that name map to? If there are five primary positioning points, does a given name map to all five, to just some of them, or to none?
Depth: When a name has many layers of meaning, myth, story, and history, it has great depth. Different people will react to and understand deep names in different ways, and deep names tend to reveal the many facets of their character over time, rather than all at once. Deep names are still just as good the thousandth time you encounter them as they are the first time, they have great legs and never grow old. They accomplish this feat partly because, by their very nature of being deep, avoid the shallow pits of evanescent fads and naming trends (think generic descriptive, “.com,” vowel-dropping, color+noun, etc.).
Temperature: Is a name warm and human, or cold, clinical, technical? Does it bring a smile to your face, a blank look, or a scowl? This is a quality of names that is based both on linguistics and on emotional reaction.
Personality: The unique tone, personality and attitude of a name. Some names are loud and energetic, some are quiet and retiring. Some shout, and others whisper. For some the most important quality is confidence, for others it’s adventure, revolution, or steadfastness. It could be almost anything, but the key is that the personality of a name reflect the personality of your company. It is the soul of your brand, the thing that most makes your brand yours, not another company’s.
Differentiation: It only makes sense that, if you intend to differentiate your brand from your competition, that you begin with a name that stands apart from the crowd. This is a key to creating a memorable name, since you can’t hope for anyone to remember your name if it blends in with all the others in your market sector. When a name stands apart, it gets noticed, talked about, covered in the press, and develops into a distinctive brand with a life of its own.
X-factor: This is the wildcard, and is all about mystery, the unknown, the unexpected and far from obvious. Not every brand has it, but for those that do, it can be very powerful. Vitality, energy, liveliness, buzz, electricity, attitude, presence, engagement, provocation, originality, distinctiveness, memorability — these are all concepts related to the X-factor of a name. It’s that certain something, that very original merging of the unexpected with a clear evocation of the brand positioning. It’s what’s often behind the “Why didn’t I think of that?” feeling. It’s what makes a name an epiphany.
Now you should have a better idea about why certain names work better than others. But name evaluation is also about feeling confident that you chose the best name for your company or product by understanding why certain names work best when all factors of name, positioning, and the competitive namescape are taken into consideration. Clearly, you are not just choosing a name, you are also making a number of important decisions in order to find the pitch-perfect tone for your brand, for your voice in the world.
Most corporations have no problem delegating marketing and advertising issues to the marketing department, but when naming is involved, especially naming the company itself or key products, suddenly everyone wants to have a say in the process, and it can quickly become politically and emotionally charged. Therefore, it is essential that you keep the number of people involved in a naming project to a minimum, that they have real authority, and that they all understand the ideas outlined above about what factors determine the relative strength of a name. When outside actors have final decision-making authority, it is vital that they be briefed in such a way as to understand a name’s intrinsic qualities and how they support the brand positioning. This is what will help you keep the process objective, and avoid the uninformed, subjective “like”/”don’t like” response.