How to create a great brand name in 2019?
There are an estimated 200 million companies in the world today. That’s 200 million brands. Some brands as big as Apple and Disney. Others as small as a one person business.
With so many brands in the world today, it’s getting harder and harder to create a unique name. Just how do you create a great brand name? How can you play and win the name game?
1. Select the type of name you want
There are 7 different categories of names, and pretty much every brand in the world falls in one of these 7 categories.
Eponymous names like Disney and Burberry, work by embodying the vision and beliefs of their founders. These names are ok if you’re feeling lazy or just have a big ego. Adidas is more unique. It’s derived from Adolf Dassler, the companies founder. Tesla wasn’t created by Nikola Tesla (he died in 1943), but the name is an homage to Tesla’s electrical engineering achievements.
Descriptive names like British Airways and Homebase work by telling you exactly what the company does, but these names can be a mouthful and are much harder to own or protect.
Acronyms like AA and BP are just shorthand versions of descriptive names. Some acronyms are more strategic. Kentucky Fried Chicken switched to KFC because fried chicken didn’t sound too healthy. The Hong Kong and Shanghai bank changed to HSBC to help the bank expand globally.
Real words like UBER and Slack are ripped straight out of a dictionary and suggest attributes or benefits. UBER literally means an outstanding or supreme example, so works well for a company with big, broad and bold ambitions beyond ride hailing.
Real words might seem like good ideas, but in a world of 200 million companies, it’s getting harder to find a name. It's actually quite hard to find any words left in the dictionary.
Composite names like Facebook and Rayban are created by glueing two words together. Some of these names have a one-two-punch that can be really memorable.
Since it's so hard to find real words, companies like Kleenex and Pinterest have invented names by changing, adding or removing letters for impact. Invented names can be highly unique, but if you're not careful, they can also start to sound like pharmaceutical drugs. Or worse, the name of a new sofa from Ikea.
Associative names work by reflecting imagery and meaning back to the brand. The Amazon in South America is the world’s largest river, therefore the earth’s biggest selection of books, clothes, content and so on. Red Bull associates to drink with bull like qualities such as power and confidence.
Some brands are derived from non-english languages, like Samsung which means three stars in Korean. A Hulu is a bowl used to store precious things.
Finally the seventh type is abstract names. Names like Rolex or Kodak. These names have no intrinsic meaning, but instead rely on the power of phonetics to create really powerful brand names.
2. Decide what you want your name to say
So once you’ve decided on what type of name you want, you need to decide what you want the name to say.
It’s tempting to create names that talk about who created them, or what you do, or where you operate. But the best brand names DON’T describe. They stand for a big idea. Ones that translate into emotional appeal. Nike is about winning. GoPro is about heroism. Apple is about simplicity and usability. Google comes from the maths term - a 1 with 100 zeros after it. So that really big number helps support the companies really big original vision to organise the world’s information.
3. Check the names is available
The third step is to check the name isn’t already taken. You also need to check whether your name means anything negative in other languages or countries. The last thing you want is an embarrassing naming fail like Ford when they were marketing the Pinto in Brazil. This is because the term in Brazilian Portuguese means ‘tiny male genitals’.
So as you think about your new brand, think carefully and ask yourself, what’s your big idea?
- Michael Porter
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