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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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?