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Brand Strategy Consultant
TORONTO, Ontario Canada
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Three Criteria of a Good Brand Name

Read this if you want to learn what makes a successful brand name. Three articles in one!
Written Jun 18, 2010, read 34596 times since then.


My clients often ask me: "What makes a good brand name?" I judge the desirability of a brand name upon three basic dimensions: memorability, strategic fit and legal protectability.

Let’s start by exploring the first criteria: memorability.

Part 1

Brain is a busy machine, constantly computing information. The easier you make it for people to memorize your name, the more successful you will become. Let’s see what characteristics your brain like:

1) It likes short names. An ideal consumer brand name should have two syllables. (Google, Wal-mart). Any name longer than three syllables is a concern.

2) It likes difference. As long as a name is different in its frame of reference, your brain will go the extra mile to remember it. (Kodak, Exxon)

3) It likes meaning. When it can associate a mental image with your product/service, it will remember it better. (Ford Mustang)

4) It likes emotions. Scientists prove that emotions enhance memory. Therefore, any name that can elicit emotions is easier to memorize. (Pampers)

Actionable tip #1: People name their dogs and babies and they think naming a brand should be easy. Naming is a deceptively difficult task. Hire a brand strategist that has good track record. Look at his/her portfolio before hiring the strategist.

Part 2

A strategically fit name should support the positioning of the brand. Whatever the brand promise is, the name should support and reinforce it. There are many ways of generating a strategically supportive name. Here are three of the most popular ones:

  1. Use meaningful words: If the car you are marketing is tiny,then a name like Mini would be more desirable than Focus (Ford). Mini signals small size whereas Focus signals visual clarity. A non-meaningful word (e.g. Xerox) is more appropriate when you have money and time to spend building your brand. This approach is more rewarding on the long run. 
  2. Use the power of melody: Use repetitive sounds. Our brains enjoy the melody of repeating sounds. Open up your grammar book and remember different ways of creating repetitive sounds. No wonder why Coca Cola is so popular around the world.
  3. Use suffixes and prefixes strategically: There are many ways to create new words in English language. Use of prefixes and suffixes is one of the most popular ways to do it. (Micro means small: Microsoft, Nov means new: Novartis)

Actionable tip #2: There are hundreds of ways to manipulate sound and meaning. It is called phonetic symbolism. In order to find the name that fits strategically with your brand, you should hire a brand strategist with deep understanding of linguistics.

Part 3

Unless you own and trademark your brand name, it is not yours. I advice my clients not to get caught too much on domain availability. There are creative ways to get around domain issues. However, legal availability is a different beast. You should start by hiring a trademark attorney. Talk to your brand strategist. He/she might recommend you one.

Usually, trademark attorneys advise that brand names should be sufficiently distinctive to be protectable under trademark law. For instance, for legal purposes, names such as Exxon and TiVo are more appropriate. These are intrinsically distinctive names.

While distinctiveness is an important criteria, be aware that intrinsically weak names (e.g. Apple), may acquire trademark strength after years of promotion. Those names would receive equally broad legal protection as distinctive names. Would you mess with Microsoft Windows? In this case the distinctiveness is acquired.

What you should know is that whether trademark strength is acquired or intrinsic or a combination of both, stronger names receive broader protection both in terms of similarity between names and similarities of products of industries. Could you sell Kodak soup?

Actionable tip #3: If your brand will be marketed abroad, make sure your attorney has relevant experience. When building in your project plan, always factor in enough time for legal surprises. It is very difficult to secure a brand name.

I hope you enjoyed this little series. Why don’t you tell me which of the three criteria is more important? Memorability, strategic fit or legal protection?

Learn more about the author, GUNTER SOYDANBAY.

Comment on this article

  • Business Education 
Bellevue, Washington 
Kirk Davis
    Posted by Kirk Davis, Bellevue, Washington | Jun 22, 2010

    Gunter, brilliant article! I tell my clients, your product and service should be so good that your mediocre marketing doesn't matter or your marketing should be so good that your mediocre products and services don't matter.

    Your observation about weak names like "Apple" gain strength after years of promotion is very true.

    Good names help a lot. However, we ultimately get judged by what our clients tell their friends about us.

  • Brand Strategy Consultant  
TORONTO, Ontario Canada 
    Posted by GUNTER SOYDANBAY, TORONTO, Ontario Canada | Jun 22, 2010

    Thanks for your kind comments Kirk. I agree with you. To reiterate your point, I think you might like this quote from a 14 year-old:

    “First I bought it because it looked cool. Later I bought it because it tasted good.”

    At the end of the day branding is a never-ending "process" and as you stated it cannot reach its full strength when something is missing.

  • Marketing Consultant 
Noida, Uttar Pradesh India 
Ajay Vats
    Posted by Ajay Vats, Noida, Uttar Pradesh India | Jun 22, 2010

    Thanks for the useful tips. A powerful brand also helps in viral marketing.

  • Brand Strategy Consultant  
TORONTO, Ontario Canada 
    Posted by GUNTER SOYDANBAY, TORONTO, Ontario Canada | Jun 22, 2010

    You are more than welcome Ajay. A name is the face of a brand and it certainly helps with your promotional activities.

  • Certified Life Coach & Executive Coach 
New York, New York 
Alina Bas
    Posted by Alina Bas, New York, New York | Jun 24, 2010

    Fantastic article. Thanks!

  • Internet Marketing Consultant 
Lakeland, Florida 
Jack Duncan
    Posted by Jack Duncan, Lakeland, Florida | Jun 24, 2010

    Excellent! This really is three good articles rolled into one. Naming is so important to branding that I spend a great deal of time with my clients initially investigating their name, its position and emotional reactions in the marketplace. We test and review on a regular basis because it's the foundation of building a successful internet marketing campaign. Marketing brings sales and sales bring profits. Investing in the brand creation process pays off in real money down the line.

    Thanks for the actionable tips!

  • Director 
Totnes, Devon United Kingdom 
Peter Rouse
    Posted by Peter Rouse, Totnes, Devon United Kingdom | Jun 24, 2010

    Nice article - short and to the point. With regard to legal protection, and after many years in IP enforcement internationally (now retired from that world) I would like to add these: 1. Getting a trademark registered is by no means easy and is expensive - Trademark Registers around the world are crowded with unused marks which nonetheless block new applications and it costs to get them off the Register. 2. Trademarks are only a licence to litigate - in some places you can get protection via criminal or administrative law but if you have to rely on civil courts it a very expensive business. 3. Do check Registers in your home country and potential overseas markets using online searching, and search generally via search engines - at least you can find out if a brand you like is already out there in the hands of someone who would not take kindly to you adopting the same or a confusingly similar brand.

  • marketing 
glen ellyn, Illinois 
gino tomaro
    Posted by gino tomaro, glen ellyn, Illinois | Jun 24, 2010

    Great article. Direct and to the point. A good filter to help guide...and I really like the actionable tips for each step. I think they are all equally important, however the strategic fit is the most critical.

  • marketing, communications and sales development 
darien, Connecticut 
wilder baker
    Posted by wilder baker, darien, Connecticut | Jun 24, 2010

    Excellent reminder of the basics! Thanks for posting, Wilder

  • Principal 
São Paulo, SP Brazil 
Garrett OBrien
    Posted by Garrett OBrien, São Paulo, SP Brazil | Jun 24, 2010

    Selling home products, fashion and clothing, we have many challenges in 'standing out' -- turns out our name is recognized in many languages - Santo Moriá... More than 3 sylables but rememberable... all our visuals are set to be eye catching as well as unique...

    As Kirk has noted, it is the impression you leave with them that makes the lasting impression -- example: on the side of EVERY box a local pizzaria is this phrase: 'We are only good as our last pizza'... We have been ordering from them for more than 10 years... We have implemented the same policy with our customer service -- we are only as good as the last attitude our customer recieves from us... We take great strides in making sure the customer has the product they desire and that they are happy with their purchase... If they can not find what they want on our website, we will search for them with a good price... if someone else can offer the same product for less, we let them know that as well... we value our relationships with our customers...

  • Brand Strategy Consultant  
TORONTO, Ontario Canada 
    Posted by GUNTER SOYDANBAY, TORONTO, Ontario Canada | Jun 24, 2010

    So many great comments here. I will star with Garrett's. From what I read, you seemed to figure out what branding is all about. Yes. The name is important and it is almost your point of entry. But branding is a process and you have to be consistent in everything you do to deliver a valuable experience to your customers. Your name and visuals can attract new customers but your behaviors will make them keep coming. I really appreciate your comment. Peter, I cannot agree more with what you wrote. The legal phase of naming is extremely important and ironically it can be the most expensive part. I once worked on an a project for an international franchising brand. And we encountered everything you mentioned. It would be very helpful if you can write an article on this topic. I would love to read more. And for everybody else. Thanks for your kind remarks!

  • Brand Strategist 
Fort Myers, Florida 
Alison Drake
    Posted by Alison Drake, Fort Myers, Florida | Jun 24, 2010

    All of the good advice I would be looking for in various places, yet here it is, compiled into one good article. Thanks for your concise approach and closing it with the trademark issue. Trademark it to own it! You said it.

  • Heath & Wellness Coach 
Auckland, New Zealand New Zealand 
Cheryl Bigus
    Posted by Cheryl Bigus, Auckland, New Zealand New Zealand | Jun 24, 2010

    I really appreciate this. I found tip #3 the most informative for me and where I want to take my brand.

  • Key Account Manager - sales and marketing; International Business Development - Canada and Mexico 
Salem, New Hampshire 
Dan Leavitt
    Posted by Dan Leavitt, Salem, New Hampshire | Jun 28, 2010

    Good article Gunter. My only fault is the bias towards spending to create a brand name. Each of the action tips references hiring. An interesting follow up to this piece would be how to approach your advice an individual or company has limited financial resources. I'm sure you'll agree that a strong brand identity is critical, but cash flow is of the utmost importance.

  • Brand Strategy Consultant  
TORONTO, Ontario Canada 
    Posted by GUNTER SOYDANBAY, TORONTO, Ontario Canada | Jun 28, 2010

    Hi Dan, If you prefer to find a name for your company yourself, I recommend you to read this book. It is written by Interbrand, one of the nest companies in this industry. I still recommend you to hire an attorney as the legal phase of branding is very tricky. Good luck!

  • Key Account Manager - sales and marketing; International Business Development - Canada and Mexico 
Salem, New Hampshire 
Dan Leavitt
    Posted by Dan Leavitt, Salem, New Hampshire | Jun 28, 2010

    My apologies for the confusion. I'm not referring to my company, rather my statement was just a general statement. I agree that having a good attorney is critical.

    There are a good number of startups out there or aspiring business owners that don't have the financial resources to pay professionals to establish a brand. It may be a good opportunity to establish a few inexpensive resources for people looking to get their business off the ground. Items such as the IRS website, attorney general, legalzoom, and other resources (although not ideal) can help bridge the gap for aspiring business owners until they can afford a professional. Just a thought.

  • Principal 
São Paulo, SP Brazil 
Garrett OBrien
    Posted by Garrett OBrien, São Paulo, SP Brazil | Jun 28, 2010

    To add to Dan's points...

    all startups should also a mentor, someone that can provide advice at the operational level... Even SCORE would be good for this... I have 2 businesses and the first was assisted greatly with a mentor.... the principles I learned there helped a lot with my branding for my second business... as I am expanding the second buiness internationally, now a mentor is being sought for someone who has gone this route...

  • Business Coach 
Liberty, Missouri 
Alan Boyer
    Posted by Alan Boyer, Liberty, Missouri | Jul 04, 2010

    One key to branding is to realize what you want to be known for, something very mouth watering.

    Remember Pavlov's dogs? He trained them that when he rang a bell they immediately thought MEAT and their mouths watered.

    That's branding. You want to train your market place to immediately respond with that MOUTH WATERING thought and sensation.

    One of the biggest problems most small businesses have is that they attempt to use a non-mouth-watering logo to be remembered by.