What's in a [brand] name?

Lindi Koprivnikar - Art DirectorWritten by: Lindi KoprivnikarArt Director

We develop names for businesses and products all the time and there are a lot of factors and strategies that come into play. But I can tell you that when it comes to naming, simple is better. Especially if you’re a startup. You want your brand name to be memorable - not unpronounceable. Or even worse, laughable. Sometimes, startup brands choose odd or quirky names in hopes of gaining some interest about their new business quickly. Sometimes it actually works. But much like a one-hit-wonder song, interest wanes quickly and you’re left with a silly name. I mean, when was the last time you did The Macarena?  

A company name should last the test of time. This instills trust and confidence in the heart of your consumer. So what are some basic guidelines for developing a business or product name? I’m glad you asked.

1. Keep it simple and brief: Everyone is on the go. We’ve all got places to be, so you’re only provided a short opportunity to stick in a person’s mind. It should be easy to pronounce (no silent letters, that only works with the delicious Sriracha) and easy to remember.

2. Be consistent: Your company name should be on everything, and in the same typography and colors (this is where we come in, logo design). You are training your customers to recognize your brand every time and everywhere they see it. I don’t own anything from Gucci, nor do I plan to, but I instantly recognize their typeface and mark. It’s the same one they’ve been using since 1960. Even if the brand gets a facelift, the name and overall identity should remain the same. You are not Prince.

3. Be unique, but common: Kind of a no-brainer, right? And don’t get too creative and name your company something like doostang, which obviously makes everyone think of a doo-doo Mustang. Try to avoid the same name as another company - even if you’re in a different industry. You could be asking for legal trouble, or worse, you won’t be able to find a good URL that isn’t already taken.

Solid brand names that use real and short words like “Apple” are sometimes a good route to go, but trademarking a single name like that is nearly impossible. Can you say “big attorney fees’? But hey, they can afford that now. Although Apple started out as Apple Computer and later dropped the word Computer, so people already knew they were a computer company. They did it right. Putting two, typically unassociated words together (Apple and Computer) made it easy to trademark and they name told us what business they were in. They didn’t need mountains of money as a start-up just to explain what they do. Right, doostang?

The point is, having a common item in your name is a strategy. If it’s a familiar, positive item then your business immediately takes on the positive feelings commonly associated with it. It provides a personality to your brand from day one, so a lot of the heavy lifting that is expected of branding is already done for you. It makes you feel something. For Apple users it’s an extreme hatred for the PC and Android users - but still. We all know the Apple brand name, so much so that real nerds out there don’t even think of the actual fruit anymore. Now that’s good branding. Another brand name we really like happens to also be one of our clients. Nature All all purpose cleaner makes us feel good about the product and the play on words tells us it's an all "natural" cleaning product. We also love the product! That helps.

Just remember to think long-term. Several brand names out there are totally made up, but there’s still a reason and history behind it. As long as you’re not offending someone in another language, confusing us with double consonants and vowels, it’s easy to trademark and you don’t need mountains of money to explain to us what kind of business you’re in, then you’re on the right track.