What's In A Brand Name?

It’s hard to overstate the significance of choosing a good name for a new business. Not only does a brand name provide the most obvious representation of a fledgling enterprise, it’s also loaded with perceptions and inferences. A bold, confident name will speak volumes about the company behind the title, while a memorable brand can provide incalculable free advertising through consumer recall and word-of-mouth publicity.
Of course, a successful brand name needs to be more than just memorable. No doubt the founder of a Massachusetts timber company felt the name Big Beaver Stump Grinding would stick in his customers’ minds (though hopefully nowhere else). The same can be said for the Fuchs Lubricants Company, Analtech, and many other firms whose brand names have become notorious rather than famous.
The internet age has compounded this with the added burden of picking a title that can be appropriately conveyed in a web address. Therapist Finder probably seemed an acceptable name for a database of psychiatrists until the web domain www.therapistfinder.com was registered, while Italy’s Power Gen may regret purchasing the powergenitalia.com domain. These web addresses would cause even more embarrassment if they were emblazoned across the back doors of a van, with one door open and the other closed. Always consider how a potential company or brand name will appear to new audiences, from letterheads to logos.
Eliminating entendre value is clearly at the top of any budding entrepreneur’s checklist when choosing a new brand name. Negative associations should also be avoided – Amazon was going to be called Cadabra (an abbreviation of abracadabra) until its phonetic similarly to cadaver was identified. Fifth Third Bank seems to have an identity crisis, calling a bed and breakfast Barf rather undermines the second part of its offering, and the Sweaty Betty fitness chain may have achieved greater success were its name more upbeat about the benefits of exercise.
As well as avoiding the pitfalls outlined above, a strong and effective brand name should meet most (if not all) of the following objectives:

  • Relevance to a specific industry, or acknowledgement of the product/service on offer.
  • A sense of location – local, regional or national, depending on the target market.
  • Positive connotations, which may include expertise, value or reliability.
  • Simple phonetics – a name that doesn’t require repeating, spelling or explaining.
  • An available domain name, ideally with the .com suffix still unclaimed.
  • The absence of similarly-named competitors.
  • Brevity – names with fewer characters or syllables have proved to be more memorable.

If all else fails, established brand names can be changed, though this incurs costs and can be risky. Yell’s rebranding as hibu represents a rare example of a well-known firm adopting a vastly inferior (and less pronounceable) title, while Consignia was the Post Office’s infamous attempt to redefine itself as ‘more than a post office’. If customers are familiar with an existing name, this brand recollection can endure for years after rebranding – as evidenced by Starburst/Opal Fruits or Snickers/Marathon. Since the ensuing loss of product recall can be far more damaging than any benefits the rebranding aims to deliver, it’s much easier to just choose an appropriate brand name in the first place…