At the core of any brand or product is its name. Names are the means by which consumers identify and categorize the things they experience in the world, the way they tell their friends about them, the way they find them, and the way they remember them. Names are without a doubt the most enduring element of a brand or packaged product, and can be a key tool to extend the shelf impact of packaged products in competitive spaces.
There are four characteristics that package designers and brand managers should look for in a good product name:
1. Impact-The packaged good has to get noticed to be considered at all.
2. Memorable-Customers need to be able to easily recollect the product. Pronounceability plays a key role in memorability.
3. Association-building-Consumers need to understand what the product offers and why.
4. Defendable-A name should be able to be protected. A company should chose a product name that fends off the "me too's" of the world and clearly stakes out the product's position in the market.
A name, usually, can only achieve a few of these objectives at a time. So, it's very important that package designers and brand managers ask and understand exactly what a name needs to do and select the type of name that best suits its unique goals. At Forward Branding, we group names in to three distinct categories, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages:
1. Descriptive names speak directly to the heart of the offering, telling consumers exactly what you're selling them, e.g., Bank of America Cash Rewards. These names often aren't flashy or exciting, but their overt nature makes little marketing investment required to educate your audience. The downside? Descriptive names are rarely memorable, and are also difficult to own and protect-figuratively or literally.
2. Associative names allude to the emotional payoff of a product's offering, but don't come right out and say it. Think Kellogg's SmartStart.
These names often work well when you're trying to identify value and build positive associations. They also are usually more ownable and protectable than purely descriptive names. They are not, however, a "quick-get" for consumers and can require a lot of resources to make them effective.
3. Inventive names neither allude to nor come straight out with what the offering is, but instead are intriguing, impactful and easy to say. These names and their trademarks also tend to be easier to protect. An example is the Apple iPod. The downside? In some cases, these names might be difficult for consumers to initially remember, plus your company may need big marketing dollars to explain what it's actually selling.
Oftentimes, I see groups getting hung up as they search for a name that says it all. My opinion is that no name can.
Modifiers and descriptors can help add meaning to a name, e.g., Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card, Kellogg's SmartStart Cereals and Apple iPod Mobile Digital Device. Nomenclature systems also can help lend understanding and build associations across various segments or lines of business. Apples does this well with its Apple iPod touch, Apple iPod nano, Apple iPod shuffle, Apple iPod classic, and now Apple iPhones and iPads.
Finally, don't forget about leveraging icons, tag lines and other branding elements. These handy devices are great ways for a company to say more about a product's nature and the benefits it carries.
Get smart on process
Naming isn't easy. In fact, it's one of the hardest things that our agency does. My experience shows that one quick name brainstorming session never delivers the best answer. It's really not until a third or fourth round of rigorous naming that the real gems reveal themselves. With over a decade of naming experience, though, our agency's got some things figured out.
1. Diversity is important. To elevate the robustness of a naming study, Forward Branding assembles teams with people of varying backgrounds, personalities, strengths, mindsets, and vocabularies.
2. Brainstorm strategically. We place name candidates into ‘buckets' with strategic directions that keep studies organized and digestible. I find that there's nothing worse than an overwhelming pile of words with no clear structure. It makes review next to impossible. Worse yet are the endless strings of clever puns and wordplays that in no way help a company meet its product branding and marketing goals.
3. Evaluate objectively and independently. To avoid groupthink and gain consensus among groups, our agency always encourages that names be considered and scored one at a time and individually. (We use a simple Excel score card with our clients.) Tension or politics can be sidestepped or diffused when "winning" results are automatically compiled and presented further discussion. Often the deciding factors are the results of a trademark search, which can be brutal-depending on the saturation of your product's market and how stringent your lawyers are.
Above all, the most important directive for a naming campaign is: Don't rush. Remember: a name is the most used and enduring element of a brand or product. It needs to be right. And it needs to be prominently displayed.
This article was written by Heather McCarthy, a senior account executive at strategic design firm Forward Branding. There, McCarthy works to better leverage the principles of branding and strategy to define project objectives, guide creative directions, and deliver smarter solutions to clients. She can be contacted directly at 585-872-9222 or