The Naming Conundrum

Naming a company, product or service is a creative challenge few if any firms are equipped to tackle unaided.

After all, even naming a baby can be difficult. And only two people need to agree on that (though a few more may want to at least be comfortable with their choice). New parents, however, are not usually asking if the name they choose is going to make or break their child's chances of cutting through in a crowded market. Tarquin or Terry, Clarrie or Clotilda, the only people who really have to like it are the them (as some Tarquins may ruefully reflect).

Companies however don't do naming for such simple and well-understood reasons. They are launching something new and it needs to perform. They've looked at the market, identified an offer they can deliver effectively and now the thing is ready to go there has to be a name for it. A name, ideally, that appeals to customers, provides visibility and individual recognition, is easy to remember and if possible connects meaningfully with what it stands for. Because otherwise what hope is there for it to succeed?

In theory everybody can do this thing. In theory everyone can remove their own appendix without anaesthetic, guided only by a surgeon at the other end of a telephone line. But in can get messy. Better get in an expert. That means a branding consultancy. A freelance writer could come up with a name you all love but will they consider all the other ramifications, such as how it will sit in the market and how (in the case of a product) it will impact the other product names you sell? Will they be able to guide you through the process of legal checks and registration? Unlikely.

Your brand consultancy combines myriad skills and experience to deliver a service that's quick and economical. The legal side of things will require your lawyers (or probably specialist IP lawyers) and this is the bit that usually takes time, depending on how many markets you aim to use the name in.

Right at the heart of brand consultancy practice, however, is something unusual but usually quite important for this sort of exercise: the ability to introduce change so that it feels endogenous - i.e. 'made here' rather than the opposite. It's a fact that organisations are full of human beings with opinions and that in general those opinions are small 'c' conservative. Change is resisted. New things, unless carefully sold in, are unloved until they no longer feel new (or until they have proved their worth). Obviously no company can allow those challenges to undermine its new brand or product internally so brand consultancies that know their job run their whole practice around building a sense of involvement and excitement for the creation and introduction of something new, whether a name, logo, colours, pictures, app or website.

For them the naming process starts with defining a brief (unless the client has already written one that ticks all the boxes) and then developing a long list for people to winnow down to a handful that go for legal checks. This list can be up to a couple of hundred long and can be organised along various strategic/tactical dimensions. From here a shortlist goes for legal checks and registration (to the extent required) and at the same time the consultancy can develop a creative solution that fits with all the existing branding, which is usually a requirement. This might involve two or three options to begin with, gradually refined and focused down to one through a couple of revision rounds. When several name candidates are in legal searches it depends a lot on how fast the company wants to move whether and how far creative is engaged as obviously a late-emerging legal stumbling block could force a lot to be thrown away. The process is not without risk, in other words; but then nor is having a baby.

  • The Naming Conundrum