The game of the name: 3 tips for successfully naming your brand

People have been naming products and services for centuries. Originally, brand names were simple, often sticking with the owner’s last name or a simple description of the offer. But with the exponential increase in businesses over the years, things have changed. Gone are the days of family-named businesses, along with dozens of other naming trends that came and went in the last 50 years alone.

And it’s not just the trends in naming that have changed; necessity has as well. Now more than ever, brands are forced to be creative when coming up with names, not only to stand out, but sometimes just to survive. So keep the following in mind when you start the naming process of your next project.

Leverage the letters

There are hundreds of millions of companies across the world, and even more products. When choosing a name, it can seem impossible to find a name that isn’t trademarked. On top of that, today’s brands need web space, and most of the obvious URLs are taken.

To work around that issue, many new brands are altering the spelling of existing words. Tumblr and Flickr, for example, have dropped E’s and created memorable brands. Chick-fil-A spells fillet out phonetically. Even Google is a misspelled version of the number googol.

But brands need to be careful when intentionally misspelling names. The strategy works better with an online business, or any brand name that will be typed more than spoken. Misspelling only causes confusion for brands who rely on word-of-mouth advertising, since customers aren’t able to easily look them up. And whether it’s a matter of an awkward letter combination or too many variations from the original word, there are some misspellings that just don’t work. When Netflix tried to launch Qwikster in 2011, it seemed to be spelled every way other than intended.

Go for global

With internet access and the ease of worldwide shipping, companies are now able to reach markets all across the world. And while billions of potential new customers are a good thing, they also force brands to consider cultural differences in their branding — especially the name.

Today’s brands need to be proactive when naming. Everyone’s heard stories about English-language brands entering foreign markets with a regionally-offensive product name. And that goes both ways. When an Iranian company used the Farsi word for snow to name their detergent, the product had no problem selling in the Middle East. But when Barf Detergent hit English shelves, however, it was a different story.

In an ideal world, brands would be able to hire someone to read a name and simply identify every problem in every culture and language. Until that’s a possibility, consider choosing a name that can be easily modified. Mr. Clean, for example, goes by Maestro Limpio in Mexico, Mastro Lindo in Italy, and Meister Proper in Germany. A name that can easily translate internationally will mean the same thing to everyone who sees it, maintaining a consistent image without alienating potential markets.

Anticipate adoption

When your nose is stuffed, you use a Kleenex. If you have a question, you Google it. On a hot summer day, you eat a popsicle.

It’s rare, but names sometimes become recognizable enough to replace the generic word used to describe an entire category. It typically only happens with products or services that either pioneered or dominated their field, and there’s no way to guarantee it will happen to even the most prominent brands in the world. Still, under the right circumstances, and with the right name, it could happen to yours.

To be adopted as generic, a name has to be short. There’s a good reason I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! never replaced margarine. Genericized names need to be just as easy to say, if not easier. They also can’t be forced: When the grocery store Kroger ran advertisements suggesting people “go Krogering”, it was too clunky to ever catch on.

Of course, there are downsides to being genericized. Words like escalator and zipper were owned by companies once upon a time, but were denied trademarks after they became too common. On the other hand, it’s been helped brands like Vaseline make a permanent name for themselves.

Even with advice, coming up with a strong brand name is difficult. If you’d rather leave it to someone else, we’d be happy to help!

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