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How to develop an effective brand name

Names have power. Through the mythology of many cultures, knowing the true name of someone, or something, gives us power over it – a power to know it.  We take great care in naming our children and often, as business owners or managers we similarly agonise over what to call our organisation or products.

The right name can give any organisation a head start. It will conjour images and shapes in the mind of the reader or the person who hears it spoken.  It will start to build a sense of the personality of the organisation carrying the name.  Our brains are wired to create these associations, as the takete–maluma effect  (first demonstrated in 1929 by psychologist Wolfgang Köhler) shows.   In the research almost everyone associates the word takete with a sharp spikey shape and the word maluma with a curvy shape.  This applies even for people in cultures without a written language.

The takete–maluma effect (first introduced by Köhler, 1929).

Names effect financial performance too.  In 2006 Daniel Oppenheimer and Adam Alter analysed the performance of hundreds of stocks listed on financial markets between 1990 and 2004. They found names that were easier to pronounce did significantly better on release than companies with complex names.  The effect was greatest in the first few days when investors had little other information.  The impact could be seen in stock ticker codes too, with KAR outperforming the less pronounceable RDO, short term.  “An investor who placed a thousand dollars in the ten most fluently named stocks between 1990 and 2004 would have earned a fifteen-per-cent return after just one day of trading, whereas the same thousand dollars invested in the ten least fluently named stocks would have earned a return of only four per cent,” wrote Alter in the New Yorker.

So if the brand name you choose matters so much, how do you get it right?  Like most things marketing, we apply process and creativity.

The process part begins by knowing what you want the name to stand for, what you want it to evoke when it’s first seen or heard.  You need to define the brand personality and values, the tone of the brand and what the underlying idea is you want to your brand to convey, before trying to create a name.  These elements become the spring board for the creative part of the process.

Once a brand is defined, we use a brainstorm approach, working with client team members (the more the merrier) to create the name.  Together we generate hundreds of words, building and mind-mapping associations from the underlying brand idea. We aim to create ripples of words and run the session so the cascade of ripples doesn’t get interrupted by judging or critical comments.  The only reaction allowed is delight and laughter as positive emotions trigger free thinking.  It’s fun.

Creativity also takes time.  After the brainstorm, we collate all the words and share them so they can marinate in overnight brain juice.  Over the next few days and weeks we’ll work with the client team to longlist and then shortlist, generating serious contenders.

We’re assessing for a complex range of factors through this part of the process – is it easy to say? How does it sound?  How does it feel?  What associations does it bring? Does it resonate “in our bones”?

The contenders then need to be checked for availability – are they free to use in that sector from an intellectual property perspective? Are there URLs and social media handles available?  It’s a good idea to do this before locking down one favourite name and finding it isn’t available.  Sometimes it can make sense to also test name ideas in research at this stage. At the least we bring in a few fresh GoodSense minds to stress test the options.

If these last stages in the process don’t produce a final ‘winner’ we’ll make a recommendation.  In the end, like most things marketing strategy, it comes down to making a choice and standing by the decision.

At this stage we also finalise the tagline and any key messages, so they work as a package for the brand. The name and the brand personality and values are then ready to brief to a designer to bring them to life visually.

Names have power and take craft to forge.  If you’re interested in getting help to craft yours see how we worked with this client to develop theirs and get in touch.

We’d love to help.

 Kath Dewar, MD of GoodSense.

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