Brand name

Eight steps to creating an effective brand name

Martin Devlin
Sidral Mundet

Creating or generating a good name for your company or organisation is far from easy and there are no simple methods that will guarantee a successful outcome. However, having a framework to follow can help ensure you end up with a name that supports rather than hinders success.

As anyone who has been involved in creating a new name for a company, product or service will attest, it can be as subjective and emotive a process as deciding on the name of your firstborn child. Without a clear direction or process of evaluation, emotions can run high and objective reasoning can very quickly become obscured.

A common approach taken by many new businesses or charities begins with the creation of a list of words or terms that describe who they are or what they do. It can be a very introspectively biased approach, one that misses opportunities for differentiation and engagement with your most important audiences, your customers or supporters.

It can also be limiting in that the range of vocabulary available to describe who you are or what you do in any one sector is likely to already be in use by other competing organisations.

This is often the challenge in the charity sector, for example there are currently around 144 cancer charities registered in the UK[1]

We have put together a framework for getting the naming process moving in the right direction. One that establishes a trail of development that can be documented and the outcomes considered, measured and evaluated along the way.

It includes all the criteria that should be considered when generating a new name and helps to ensure that no single criteria inadvertently becomes the sole focus or benchmark used to evaluate the success or failure of any name under consideration.

Step 1 – Know yourself

  • What is the problem you are solving?
  • What will be different in the world after having solved the problem?
  • Understand and articulate your motivation behind what you are offering and why you are offering it.

Step 2 – Know your competitors
Before any names or words are bandied about, the first step should be to fully research the competitive environment you want to secure a place in. You should begin by gathering a comprehensive list of:

  • All of the names of any organisation offering similar services, operating in the same space or targeting the same audiences.
  • Identify the vocabulary they use to describe themselves or their offer. Examine the tone of voice they adopt through the words they use in strap lines and key messages.
  • Identify the personality they portray through the style of imagery they use to support their identity.
  • Identify the key point or points of difference that your company, service or product has in relation to your closest competitors. If pricing is an aspect of what you offer, look at how price or value is addressed in the style of communication, messages, images etc. to their target audiences.

Once you have a clear picture of the competitive environment and structure of the audiences/buyers, identify the best position for your offer within that environment.

Step 3 –Know your customers, clients or supporters

  • Who are you solving the problem for, who do you want to know about it?
  • What do they want? What do they need? What do they like or dislike?
    – Build a thorough profile for each audience.
  • What do you want the customer or client experience to be?
  • Identify and understand what motivates your audiences. Why should they care about or want what you are offering?
  • What do you think each of your audiences can do for your business or organisation?

Step 4 – Decide purpose of the name
Before creating a list of potential names, think about what aspect or primary purpose you want the name to communicate.

More often than not, businesses and organisations have more than one objective or purpose; are engaged in a range of activities and; have a number of distinctly different audiences. 

Bearing this in mind, if all of the different activities, services or benefits offered were distilled down to one thought or idea, what would that thought or idea be?

Step 5 – Decide on where the focus should be
Decide if the focus of the name should be internal or external facing?  Put simply, will the name you choose:

  • Describe your organisation, product or service offering?
  • Identify the sector, location or nature of the work carried out?
  • Identify who your target audience is? 
  • Identify the problem you are solving?
  • Communicate the customer benefits?
  • Identify a value, belief, emotion or motive?

Charities often do one or all of the first three items in the list  i.e., Prostrate Cancer UK, Teenage Cancer Trust, North of England Children’s Cancer Research (NECCR)

Commercial sector businesses generally tend to veer towards answering the last three points by either focussing on the problem, the outcome/benefit, or a value, emotion or motive they share with their target audience/s. i.e. EasyJet, Groupon, Horizon, First Choice, Quick Fit, Snapchat

Step 6 – Create lists and categorise
Now create a long list of possible names based on the option/s decided on as the focus in step five. Apply some structure to the list building by creating different list types. These could include list of:

–   Names  of people, places or things
–   Descriptive words
–   Words that describe the problem you are solving
–   Words that focus on the end result/s
–   Words that are evocative in that they describe a value, emotion or experience
–   Made up words made from combining whole words or parts a words.
–   Abbreviations and/or acronyms derived from longer potential names

Once you have your lists created, tick or assign a numeric value between 1 – 5 to the words that best match the criteria reached in the decision making process in steps four & five.

Prioritise and shortlist the options, removing all the names that don’t meet any of the criteria that you want the name to achieve.

If you have successfully managed to create a shortlist of possible names, the list should have no more than one or two options for each of the objectives/criteria picked in step 4 of this framework.

Step 7 – Evaluate and test
This step is about standing back and taking a dispassionate view of the names that remain on your list.

The shortlist of names should be reviewed from different standpoints, these include:

A personal level –  If you have managed to remain objective thus far, review them now from a personal level – How do you feel and think about any of the options shortlisted, it is after all your baby and you will have to live with the name!

A company perspective – Ask some of the people who will be working with you or for you what the names means to them. What feelings, thoughts or associations do any of the names trigger in their minds?

A sector perspective – It is also an opportunity to look at the shortlisted names against the competitor organisations to check if any of the selected names follow a ‘me too’ approach or if they are too vague or generic in meaning within your sector? i.e. Do they include words like Pinnacle, Optimum, Paramount, Apex, etc.

A customer /supporter perspective – It is also an opportunity to gain responses from a selection of individuals that are either existing customers or who fit your target customer profile. If you are a charitable organisation it is an opportunity to see how  a selection of your donor’s, clients or volunteers react to any of the suggested names.

All businesses and organisations should consider how easy it is to say any of the possible names in conversation. A good test is to use the name in telephone answering and conversation scenarios?  Is it a tongue twister?

Charities in particular have requirements and situations that differ from other types of organisation. Typically in everyday life, a charity’s name may well be spoken more often than a commercial brand name is. Much of a charity’s primary activities are based around personal contact and interaction and the name is more likely to travel by word-of mouth than via products, marketing or advertising. How it sounds and how easy it is to say in conversation become important considerations.

Looking at the results of your short-listed names you should see a list of names that are either:

  • A compound word made from joining parts of existing words (portmanteau) or invented words using parts of words. 
    i.e. names include FedEx, Oxfam, Xerox, Groupon, Accenture, O2, Facebook, Instagram, Bitcoin
  • A word that clearly identifies the focus and nature of the organisation
    i.e., Alzheimer’s Society, Macmillan Cancer Support, British Lung Foundation.
  • Use of an abbreviation or acronym for when the description of who you are, or what you do becomes too unwieldy to say or to remember easily.
    Abbreviated brand names that take the initial letter of the words in a long name include organisations like NHS (national Health Service), NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children), WHO (World Health Organisation), BT (British Telecom) BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), JCB (Joseph Cyril Bamford Excavators Ltd).
  • Acronym names that take initial letters of a long name to create a new word
    i.e.  AIDS (Acquired immunodeficiency Syndrome), ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), UNICEF (The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund), COVID (Coronavirus Disease)
  • A word that is evocative or that communicates a trait, result, value or experience, not necessarily linked to or associated with the goods or services being provided.
     i.e., Quit, Sense, Virgin, Super 1s, Lotus, Uber, Fiverr, Apple, GoDaddy

Step 8 – Registering the name
This is where the first major external stumbling block in the naming process often reveals itself, one that can easily send you right back to step one of the naming process.

Registration of a chosen name for your new business venture in the realm of digital domains is becoming increasingly more difficult as there are very few restrictions preventing people from registering any name as an internet or digital platform domain name with relatively little effort or cost.

Legal protection of a company name is only provided by registering as a business or charity with the relevant body set up as the main register in your local jurisdiction. In the UK this is Companies House for commercial businesses or the Charity Commission for charitable organisations.

Names can also be registered as a Trademark locally or internationally, however unless the name is unique in some way, registration of a name alone as a trademark is rarely successful.

Typically registration will involve one or more of the following:

  • Trademark search and registration
  • Registration with Companies House (for UK based commercial businesses)
  • Registration with the Charity commission (for UK based charities)
  • Internet domain and digital platform registration.

If you’ve taken the time to follow our framework you should arrive at the perfect name for your new venture.

With the perfect name in hand, you are in a great position to begin building a brand around the name, developing and defining the personality and visual representation of the brand through the use of colour, form, tone of voice, messaging, and imagery.  

[1] Taken from www.charitychoice.co.uk

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