How not to name your brand.

Steve Jobs named Apple Apple because he was on a fruitarian diet. He came back from a retreat and thought it sounded “fun, spirited and not intimidating.” No one else on his then-small team could come up with something better, so they went with it.

It’s counterintuitive to name a sophisticated tech company something so natural and simple. Which is precisely why it’s brilliant. Apple isn’t named for what it is, it’s named for the feeling its founders wanted you to have when you interact with its products: this is easy, I can do it. In one word, Apple changed the whole story around our impression of computers.

But let’s say Apple never existed, or failed to get off the ground. If you hired me to name your chemotherapy company and I presented one option, “Orange” because it’s happy and makes you think of vibrant health and abundant sunshine, would you think that was brilliant? Probably not.

Most business owners and stakeholders don’t understand the process of naming a brand. These are a few of the things they commonly do to scuttle the process.

PUT THE CART BEFORE THE HORSE

I once had a new client ask me to name her brand. She wanted to create a lifestyle brand that could take on many forms. It might be a fashion line, a beauty brand, a children’s clothing collection, a line of vitamin supplements, organic cleaning products. Whatever she felt like. She didn’t want to be limited.

Let’s just say this project did not go well. I realized later that she thought hiring me to name her brand would inspire her to figure out what the brand was. But that’s totally ass backwards.

A name is not a starting point. It’s a midpoint. It comes before launch, obviously, but only after some serious brand development. And you can do that work without having settled on a name. You can go all the way through your brand story development, brand platform, investor pitches and even much of your design process without having chosen a name. Get yourself a DBA or LLC and name it something boring and descriptive. That can be your working name until you come up with “the one.” Settle on a name as late as you possibly can. The reason why Jobs knew Apple was the right name was because he already had a crystal clear vision of what his brand would stand for. You need that too. Make your idea brilliant enough that its name won’t matter. And then name it something brilliant anyway.

EXPECT IT TO BE EASY AND/OR INEXPENSIVE

I always wonder why, if a client thinks naming should be a nominal expense, they reach out to us in the first place. Most of the time, the reason why we’re having a conversation about a naming project fee is because they tried to name their brand on their own and realized naming is difficult. I mean, it is.

Brilliant names seem so obvious after they’re successful, like they must have just appeared naturally, magically, with no real thought. But they’re not obvious at all. A brand name is a riddle, and solving it takes a lot of time, effort and skill. How can we build a story around it? How will it look in a logo? Then there’s the vetting. Is it legally viable? Is the URL available? Will it sound weird in other cultures? Is it already being used in the same industry? A lot of founders think they’re good at naming brands, until they come up with ten great names and realize they’re all taken. At that point, it’s time to veer out of cliché territory and into original thought, a.k.a. creativity. This takes time, which takes money.

THINK YOU’LL “KNOW IT WHEN YOU SEE IT”

You won’t. I promise. Clients tell me all the time that they can’t really explain what they want in a name, or what they want it to represent. They just want it to be cool and clever and wildly successful. And they think that they will recognize that kind of brilliance when they see it, because they obviously have amazing taste. They’re wrong. If they had such well-defined taste, wouldn’t they be able to articulate the creative and business objectives of the project? Even if they did have great intuition about consumer-facing creative, thinking a name will feel exactly right when it arrives is a misunderstanding of how the naming process works.

ASK TO SEE A TON OF OPTIONS

Your naming agency will come up with a lot of ideas. That’s part of the process, and the reason why it takes time and money. Part of their job is to consider each option carefully, and choose the best one(s) to present to you. You do not want to see all of them, trust me. It’ll just confuse you and make you lose confidence in the process. There’s nothing good in the discard pile.

RUSH AND THEN WONDER WHY YOU STUMBLED

This goes for just about anything you do with respect to brand development. And life. Think about it: if you want the brand to last for a generation or more, why would you try to name it in one week? And yet, clients ask for these ridiculously tight timelines because they haven’t planned ahead. If you don’t do it right the first time, you’ll just end up having to do it again, and changing names down the road could be costly. Amortize the time and money you spend on this over the lifespan you envision for the brand, and it won’t seem like much at all.

Would you like to collaborate on an iconic name for your brand? WE’RE HERE FOR IT

Written by

The brand voice agency.

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