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What’s in a Name? Tips About Naming Strategies

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In addition to providing content to drive our clients’ marketing programs, from time to time we also are called on to assist with naming conventions and branding strategies. Usually a client is trying to come up with something clever and memorable for a new webinar series or to make their latest service or product stand out, and we put on our wordsmithing hats and see what brainstorm we can come up with. There a number of rules about branding and product naming strategies that you want to apply.

First, however, understand what we mean by a “brand.” In the context of this blog, we are thinking about product or service “branding” as an extension of an established brand. A brand is not a logo or a product name. Rather, a brand is an attitude (ideally positive) that has been built up over time about a company and its products. A solid brand conveys an image, an identity that is characterized by a feeling or quality. Think of Volvo and the brand is about safety, not just cars. Think about Coca Cola and the brand speaks about refreshment, not just Coke the product.

So when we are tasked with creating a new name we want to make sure it reinforces the core brand. We also want to make sure it is clear, catchy, memorable, and searchable.

For example, iPhone, Droid, and Galaxy are more memorable and more in line with corporate image than, say, a Motorola XT886. The name speaks to cool – it’s easy to recall and easier to tweet, post, blog, and tell your friends. It creates an association that reinforces the mother brand.

Then there’s the practical stuff about product naming…

1. Is it trademarked? It’s amazing how many naming ideas are not original but actually someone else’s intellectual property. Make sure you are on solid legal ground before choosing a name. (There are rules about whether commonly used terms can be trademarked, and when, whether products have to be in competition, etc., so when in doubt, consult an expert.)

2. Simple is better. If you can, find a phrase or term that is descriptive and evocative, but not too complex. Simple one and two-syllable words tend to stand out and are more memorable.

3. Repurpose real words. You can take something that already exists and give it new meaning (Apple, Adobe, Yelp, Yahoo!) or come up with spelling variations (Digg, flickr).

4. Use obscure words or phrases. Break out your high school Latin dictionary or look for descriptive terms from an obscure source. Names like Plaxo have their roots in foreign languages.

5. Think about acronyms. Acronyms can be powerful and memorable, such as IBM and AOL. Bebo, for example, is both an Armenian name and also stands for “Blog Early Blog Often.”

6. Try puns and word play. I like to use puns and memorable phrases in headlines and descriptors, and they can work for product names as well (e.g. Write On Content Professionals).

7. Think about search. You know that it’s going to take a while for the new product to become a household name, even with your target business audience. If you incorporate common search terms in the product name, or in a product tagline or descriptor, chances are it will appear more frequently in online search results.

Don’t go overboard but try to create a name that can grow with your brand. And no matter how you approach naming of your next company or product, it’s best to apply the KISS principle – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

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Written by Tom Woolf

April 10th, 2013 at 6:20 pm