How can brands choose the best product names?

* 3 min read

A brand name is the cornerstone of its positioning, the hook on which to hang its unique proposition and the definition of the brand’s distinctive tone of voice.

It performs a range of crucial roles. It identifies, differentiates, communicates, protects and legalises the brand. The name rarely changes and acts as a focus for considerable marketing and capital investment.

Yet name development is never as straightforward as people think. It requires planning, focus and perseverance, and ideally the involvement of an experienced namer to be truly successful.

Brands should be clear about what they’re naming. It should agreed upfront what type of name is needed and its desired role within the existing or new brand architecture. Clarify terminology for all involved, from master brand to endorsement brand, sub-brand to ownable product description.

Ideally, especially at sub-brand level, the name should headline the product’s unique proposition, crystallising it in a word or phrase. Hovis’ ‘Best of Both’ and Cuprinol’s ‘Ducksback’ encapsulate this perfectly, giving a product description within the actual product name.

A limitation many find during the naming process is the lack of a visionary brief. Brands should think big early, ensuring their brief is suitably futureproofed and that the names do not restrict the further expansion of the product range or business. With an eye on a bright future, the Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Company renamed itself 3M Innovation and the Holt Tractor Company became ‘Caterpillar;’ both are now international and increasingly diversified industrial conglomerates.

It’s great developing a name, however brands need to ensure they get input from their legal advisors early on, to agree on initial parameters. An initial visit to the UK Intellectual Property Office’s website is useful to establish which trademark classification will be needed.

Once that is done, a brand name and the words surrounding it should be the perfect starting point from which to create brand new consumer language, allowing that product to own a huge space in its category.

The likes of Coca-Cola, which is known informally as Coke, Stolichnya as Stoli, Chevrolet as Chevy and consumers of the SABMiller premium beer Zolotaya Bochka affectionately shorten the brand name to ZoBo. All are terms that have entered everyday language and allowed brands to be a part of the conversation without the need to consciously infiltrate.

Branding is often a combination of written and visual communication, so it’s important to think of names in the context of imagery, colour and iconography, and the specific role of each element in the visual brand architecture.

Generally names with potential should immediately start to paint a picture, demonstrating their communications opportunities. Good examples of ‘visual names’ include Red Bull, Tropicana, Land Rover, Dove and Green Giant.

‘Less is more’ is generally a sound principle in branding. T.E. Stockwell & J. Cohen combined to create the Tesco name, Bayerische Motoren Werke became BMW and, thankfully, ‘Bib-label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda’ became 7-Up.

Even if a brand is not bound for global domination, its meaning should be verified in other languages. This is something Irish Mist liqueur failed to do, resulting in poor sales in Germany due to ‘mist’ meaning manure in German. General Motors is still embarrassed by its unsurprisingly failed attempt to launch the Opel Nova in Latin America, where the name means ‘not going.’

Effective name generation requires strategic rigour, inspiring creativity and a lot of determination. It is vital that brand strategists, marketers and their agencies maximise the opportunity in naming and ensure that new brand and sub-brand names and ownable product descriptors are as strong as possible.

Brand communication campaigns can come and go, packaging is refreshed and identity is evolved, but names are difficult to change in the consumer mind.