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What's in a name? The art of creating a brand that lasts.

The art of creating a brand name

Choosing the right name for a business, product line, or service is a critical aspect of creating a successful brand identity. An effective name not only improves searchability but also reflects the essence of the brand, resonates with the target audience, and stands the test of time.

The Power of Naming: Then and Now

In the past, naming strategies were uncomplicated and focused on practicality. Businesses often take the founder's name or a descriptive term related to their offerings. Or—even simpler—companies would choose a name high in the alphabet, optimizing for the Yellow Pages. (By the way, if you remember the Yellow Pages, you NEED to keep reading.)

In the digital era, naming is more complex. The rise of the internet and search engines has made searchability a crucial factor. Businesses must now consider domain availability and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) when choosing a name. Additionally, the emphasis on brand identity, cultural relevance, and the need for a distinct online presence has transformed naming into both an art and a science.

Crafting a Lasting Brand Identity

A name is the first touchpoint between a brand and its audience. It should be memorable, easily recognizable, and reflective of the brand's personality and values. Modern naming strategies often involve blending words to form unique and distinctive names like Netflix, which led to the streaming entertainment revolution. Another common strategy is to coin a new word or expression altogether. Think Google, whose brand name has become a verb itself and is synonymous with "search the internet." A well-crafted name (backed by a brilliant product and a robust marketing strategy) will set a brand apart from its competitors and leave a lasting impression on consumers.

The Longevity Dilemma

While a trendy name may capture attention initially, it may not stand the test of time. Striking the right balance between current relevance and future longevity is crucial. Brands like Coca-Cola and Ford have demonstrated the power of timeless names, which have retained their appeal for over a century. Modern naming strategies aim to find names that are not only trendy but also have the potential for enduring relevance, ensuring that the brand can grow and evolve without being tied to a fleeting trend or limited market.

Many commercial printers, for example, are rapidly expanding into design, marketing, and technology. Applying ink to paper remains a core competency, yet over time, it may turn out not to be the main area of expertise or even primary revenue stream for the company. When naming or renaming a company, it's important to consider future goals and the potential to diversify.

A recent global rebrand has led brand experts to ask, "What's in a name?" Elon Musk had his reasons for renaming Twitter after his company X, but Twitter (now X) had worldwide brand recognition and it may have made more sense not to rename the app. For example, when Mark Zuckerberg renamed Facebook's parent company Meta (for similar reasons as X), he kept the name of the company's flagship social platform to continue capitalizing on its brand recognition.

Billionaires aside, the naming process is not one to take lightly and must be looked at from all sides.

Cultural Relevance and Local Appeal

In a globalized world, cultural relevance is vital in naming strategies. Businesses need to ensure that their names do not have unintended negative connotations or offend different cultural sensibilities. Additionally, as businesses expand into new markets, a name that resonates locally can be a significant advantage. Many companies adopt different names or adapt their names to suit various markets, striking a balance between consistency and cultural sensitivity.

Read this hilarious account of 13 international marketing fails. If you expand, don't let this be your brand!

Nuances in Naming: Consider the big picture of your potential offerings.

The naming approach may vary depending on the scope and purpose of the entity being named. And keep in mind, you may want to expand or acquire a business or a product in the future. Don't box yourself in.

Store names should align with the shop's offerings and target audience. They can be descriptive, evoking a clear sense of the store's product range, such as Natural Grocers or Car Toys. Or they can be suggestive, leaving room for imagination, like with Best Buy and Target.

Business names need to encompass the broader identity and mission of the company. They should reflect the core values and aspirations of the brand. Consider Amazon, which conveys the depth and breadth of the entity.

Product line names need to adhere to the brand's overall identity. The name should complement the existing brand while highlighting the unique features of the product line. Famous examples include Apple's iPhone or Nike's Air Jordan. Less famous but more ubiquitous are grocery store house brands, which uphold the larger entity but differentiate enough to be considered unique and preferable to name brands.

Temporary promotions or limited-time offerings need catchy names and unique marketing strategies to give them wings and create a sense of urgency. Brand collaborations are famous for this, with some lasting the test of time, and others a flash in the marketing pan. Consider delicious brand mash-ups like the ever-evolving (yet nearly 40-year-old) Dairy Queen Blizzard and its partners Oreo, Skittles, Reese's, and Skor. Or, last year's short-lived but popular, Big Cheez-it Tostada from Taco Bell. Sometimes, simply signaling another brand's involvement in a product is name-enough.

Naming strategies in the modern business landscape have evolved significantly, reflecting the changing dynamics of marketing, consumer behavior, and technology. Today, businesses need to consider factors like searchability, brand identity, longevity, cultural relevance, and local appeal when choosing a name. The nuances between naming a store, a business, a product line, or a temporary promotion demand a careful understanding of the entity's purpose and target audience. Working with marketing professionals to adopt thoughtful and strategic naming practices can ensure that a brand resonates with its audience, stands the test of time, and increases the chances of financial success.

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