Why is Brand Naming so difficult?

There are a lot of different ways to get to a name for a brand.

But it has to be inclusive; It has to mean something for people. It has to be rooted in their beliefs, values, perceptions, and history.

Naming is difficult because it often involves getting various groups of people to agree on ONE thing. Have you ever tried to do that? Sometimes, when you have different ranks and backgrounds in one room, it’s next to impossible, right? And that ONE thing that all of these different people agree on has to be something that everyone can believe in and eventually own. It’s tough. It’s also a lot of fun.

Emily: Thinks naming is the most fun project we ever do.

Me: Thinks this is going to be the hardest thing ever.

Emily: Good at ideating, making decisions, and activating a group to follow a singular vision.

Me: Good at pulling ideas out of people, creating consensus through discovery, and guiding conversation.

We’re two parts of the naming process. There’s the information gathering and there’s the ideation and decision. They have to happen in this order or the end result will miss the mark. So the quality of the information gathering has to be dead on so the name can be great.

Why is Naming so Hard?

Recently, we’ve been hired to work with several vastly different groups to name a new neighborhood development project in Chicago. This is a case where you can’t pick a name out of the air. This project involves numerous community groups, local officials, development representatives, local residents, future residents, prospective businesses, and more — all advocating for different interests.

That’s a shit load of people you have to get to agree on ONE thing they all have a different stake in. Did I say that this wasn’t easy?

I used to think that this process relied mostly on getting people to think creatively to help ideate solutions for a name. But I realized that this thinking can only make the process even more difficult, especially for a group like this. Many people don’t have any experience in branding, marketing, or even creative ideation. This is a foreign process and sometimes it’s a process they do not trust, especially if it’s run by an outsider.

(above: LimeRed Studio naming session at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy for their IN2 innovation and incubator center)

Creating an Inclusive Naming Process

As a design and brand strategist, the process has to be inclusive, and what better way to do this than through design thinking and storytelling.

So rather than putting people in a competitive process against time, like in a design sprint, our approach goes like this:

  1. Understand the problem
  2. Identify each person’s role in the process
  3. Establish a set of rules or guidelines to create a safe space
  4. Share ideas and stories through a design thinking process

In our naming sessions, we create an environment where everyone can participate at their own level and everyone’s voice is heard. We work to break down rank, preconceptions, and hierarchy. This helps the group broaden their perspective and it helps us create a more effective analysis of ideas.

In our last session with the whole working group, we used a series of story-based methods: metaphor and memory exercises. Through stories, patterns of shared imagery and feelings emerged — the foundation of the name. With a different group of people in the room with less varied perspectives, the patterns would have been very different.

The conditions that have to exist to generate great naming discovery are these:

  1. ALL stakeholders have to be in the room
  2. The process has to be inclusive
  3. The focus has to be on ideas and stories, not the name itself

When this happens, the results are astounding — everyone has a stake, their ideas have been heard, and people put aside rank and egos and work collaboratively.

Lastly, the brand naming process is difficult because it is important, to many people. It not only has to be inclusive, it will take time to nurture and explore. For us, that process is also designed to be meaningful and enjoyable.