The 9 keys to naming success.

September 9, 2004

The single most important marketing decision a company can make it what to name a brand. A brand’s power lies in its ability to grab a position in the mind of the consumer. With a poor brand name you make the job of getting into the mind that much harder. With a great brand name you can help your brand down the road to success.

It’s not that a brand with a poor name won’t ever succeed. Many do. If you price something cheap enough, it will move in spite of a dreadful name. Hyundai, for example, sold 400,221 vehicles in the U.S. last year. But did you ever hear someone say, “Eat your heart out, I just got myself a 2004 Hyundai?” Is Hyundai a powerful brand? I think not.

Some powerful brand names include: Lexus, Red Bull, Google and Starbucks. The 9 keys that follow will help you pick the best name possible for your brand. Don’t expect a name to meet all the nine requirements but if it covers more than a few you’ll know you have a winner.

Key #1: Short.

In general, the shorter the better. The longer and more complicated a name the more difficult it is to remember. The Internet has made this an even more important issue, since a website is the first place many people go to find out more about a brand. With a website address the less typing the less likely there is for error.

Some examples of short names: Tide, Apple, Crest, Nike, Gap, TiVo, Rolex.

Some examples of names that are too long: Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Deloitte & Touche, Bausch & Lomb, TIAA-CREF.

Key #2: Simple.

Simple is not the same as short. Simplicity has to do with the alphabetical construction of a brand name. A simple word uses only a few letter of the alphabet and arranges them in a combination that repeat itself.

Schwab is a short name (six letters), but it is not a simple name because it uses six letters of the alphabet. This is one of the reasons it is not particularity easy to spell. Mississippi is a long name (11 letters), but it is also a simple name because it only uses four letters of the alphabet. Which is why most people can spell Mississippi.

Some simple brand names: Coca-Cola, Nissan, Google, Hennessy.

Key #3: Suggestive of the category.

A generic name is not as powerful as a proper name. But a name that is suggestive of the category can help consumers identity what your brand stand for. One way to achieve this is by shortening the generic for the category. You create a proper name that is short and easy to remember. Soy milk became the brand name Silk. Vanilla cookies became the brand name Nilla.

Another way is by using a word out of context that suggests the category.

Some suggestive names: Blockbuster Video, Curves, Roller Blade, SnackWell’s, Palm, PlayStation.

Key #4: Unique.

A totally unique name can only be created from scratch, but it can be an effective way to create one. The best unique names also follow some of the other rules, like being short, simple, and speakable.

Some great and unique brand names: Lexus, Xerox, Kodak, Kleenex, Sony, Kinko’s.

Key #5: Alliterative.

Why do you think children move their lips when they read? They are converting the visual symbols represented by the letters and words into sounds that can be processed by their brains. The mind works with the sound of words, not with their shapes. Which is why the sound of a brand name is much more important than how it looks. And why funny capitalizations and punctuations do not make good brand names.

Since the mind works with the sound of words, it is very helpful to rhyme something to help people remember it. (Loose lips sink ships, If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit.)

Some alliterative names: Gold’s Gym, Dunkin’ Donuts, Jelly Belly, Weight Watchers, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Volvo, BlackBerry, Grey Goose.

Key #6: Speakable.

Word of mouth is the most effective medium for building a brand. Having friends, family, neighbors, or co-workers tell you about a new brand is much more powerful than any advertisement you might be exposed to. But how do you get the first mouth moving? You first have to give the mouth something to work with. Hopefully a brand name that is easy to say and remember. Then you use PR to get the first mouth moving. A name that is difficult to pronunce is a recipe for disaster.

Some speakable brand names: Target, Subway, Polo, iPod, Wonderbra.

Some unspeakable brand names: Chipolte, Isaac Mizrahi, Hoechst, Dasani, HSBC.

Key #7: Spellable.
An easy-to-say name usually translates into an easy to spell name. But not always. Using a combination of letters & numbers, upper & lowercase or the addition of symbols can make a name difficult to spell. And in the age of the internet, if your customers don’t spell your name perfectly, they will be unable to reach your website. The postal service is rather forgiving when delivering mail with a misspelling in the name. But the internet is a different story.

Some easy to spell names: Target, Amazon, Old Navy.

Some difficult to spell names: Daewoo, Hyundai, Abercrombie & Fitch.

Key #8: Shocking.

The best brand names usually have an element of shock or surprise. A shocking name gets attention and is more memorable. Of course, you have to be careful that your name doesn’t go overboard and is so shocking that it offends people. In this connection, the clothing company FCUK (French Connection United Kingdom) comes to mind.

Some great shocking names: DieHard, Yahoo, Monster, Woot, Virgin, Yellow Tail, Red Bull, Starbucks.

Key #9: Personalized.

Personalizing your brand name enhances the publicity potential of your brand. A famous founder/CEO/spokesperson is extremely beneficial. Remember it is PR that builds brands. And with a personalized brand name the PR links directly to the brand.

Some great personalized brand names: Dell, Orville Redenbacher, Newman’s Own, Atkins, Papa John’s Pizza,, Disney.