How to come up with a killer brand name
Chanel, Nike, Supreme, Chevrolet, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Tesla, Coca-Cola, Apple, Microsoft, General Electric, Disney, Google, Pepsi, FedEx, 3M, Honda, Hewlett Packard, Colgate, Rolex, Kodak, Lacoste, Verizon, Virgin, National Geographic and Target…
Brand names have always been incredibly fascinating to me because of their tremendous diversity. Above are some of the world’s most recognizable brand names… yet they have about as much in common as a zebra and a shark.
Some are long, some are short. Some are named after fruit, some are named after people. Some are words that have been around forever, some were created from scratch.
The brand name is the primary identifier of every single business known to man (and woman) yet the process of naming brands is something that has remained fairly ambiguous.
Did the founders of these massive companies sit around a table and smoke a bunch of weed to come up with their billion-dollar brand name(s) or were they given some rare alien technology kept secret to the rest of the entrepreneurial world?
I’m being facetious, obviously, but where it concerns branding and coming up with brand names, one thing has remained fairly consistent — there doesn’t seem to be one sure path.
While I wouldn’t call myself an expert on coming up with brand names… I am a copywriter which I believe gives me a valuable glimpse into how words and names power entire brands.
In this blog post, I hope to create a brand naming guide of sorts, where I will be highlighting a few brands with stellar brand names and share some thoughts on how you can come up with a stellar brand name too.
So, whether you’re a designer looking for a name for the product you’re creating or an aspiring entrepreneur in search of the perfect business name… you’ve come to the right place. I think? Below you will find an in-depth rundown on how to come up with a brand name or at least how others have done it before you.
Just do it (or name it)… like Nike.
Nike is one the most iconic brands of all time, yet it only sport’s a four letter word for its name. The athletic giant is named after the ancient Greek goddess Nike who personified victory.
While this probably goes without saying, most people believe winners wear Nike. This perception has of course been fueled by incredible branding hammered into the heads of consumers year after year, as well as their ongoing sponsorships with some of the greatest athletes of all time — Michael Jordan, Serena Williams and Tiger Woods to name a few.
However, we can’t leave out the role their awesome brand name has played in their growth. Nothing against Under Armour (I really like Under Armour) but I don’t think anyone can argue that the word(s) Under Armour has the same oomph as the punchy, suave and supremely powerful Nike.
So, what can we take away from the Nike brand name? Well, one way to come up with a brand name is to start by thinking of the words you want your customers to think of when they see or hear your brand name. For Nike, that’s victory, winning, athleticism, competition, etc.
Once you’ve thought up these words, write them down and begin thinking of people, places and things that represent them. If you’re an insurance company that wants to offer a new product like “pet insurance”… look for things that represent protection.
Shield? That’s too ordinary.
Fortress? No, that feels Game of Thrones-esk.
Shell? Wait… we might be getting somewhere.
Turtle? That’s it!
So, GEICO decides they’re getting into pet insurance with a brand new low cost insurance product called… Turtle Insurance, because every family’s pet deserves a shell. I bet that if you sat down for more than two minutes, you’d come up with something better. Anyways, you get the idea.
Create a word for your brand name from scratch.
There’s been a trend in startups for the past decade: take a word and add “-ify” to it and you’ve got a business name.
In short, don’t do this. It’s not creative nor interesting. And, it’s definitely not memorable. Brand names like “Playlistify” are difficult to remember and even more difficult to spell. I’d argue that Spotify and Shopify are of the select few brands that pull it off well.
However, I don’t think creating a new word from scratch for your brand name is a bad idea.
While today, we think of the word “Dumpster” as an actual word, it was actually a brand name created by the Dempster brothers –– they blended their last name “Dempster” with “Dump”.
This blending of two words is called a portmanteau and is a great practice for brands in up and coming industries that are trying to turn their brand names into actual everyday nouns and verbs.
Think: Google and Kleenex.
Nobody says they’re going to search something on the internet. They say they’re going to “Google it”. Same goes for Kleenex. Do you ask “may I have a tissue?” Or, “may I have a Kleenex?”
Zipper, Windbreaker, Trampoline, Videotape, Styrofoam, Realtor, Popsicle, Frisbee and Laundromat are all words made up by brands and people.
Side Note: If you’re anything like me… this blew my f****** mind.
If you can successfully create a brand name that becomes an everyday word, you’ve made it. So, how would you go about creating a brand name from scratch?
This one is challenging and certainly a practice that will require other peoples opinions (friends, family, colleagues and potentially even customers).
However, I think the portmanteau strategy is the best option for creating a new word from scratch. Similar to the advice in the previous section, begin listing out words that define who your brand is. Once you’ve done this… start combining them together.
So, to use GEICO’s pet insurance product as an example… instead of Turtle Insurance it might be Turtlesurance. Or, maybe GEICO decides to mesh their brand name with the word “pet” — PETICO. You get the idea.
The biggest risk here is creating something that sounds stupid… like Turtlesurance. Once you’ve compiled a listed of 25 portmanteaus, show them to your friends and family. Ask them to read them out loud. Then, in 2–3 days ask them what their favorites are. They’ll only remember the one(s) that stuck. GO with one of those.
When in doubt, use your last name (if it’s not lame).
Along time ago when advertising was the coolest thing in school, advertising agencies were raking in millions helping big brands come up with witty slogans for their sugar puff cereal.
Many of these old school agencies were named after the founder(s) last name (some of them are still around today). Ogilvy, Saatchi & Saatchi, Deutsch, Leo Burnett and Wieden + Kennedy are some of the most famous examples.
If you’re considering this route for your brand name, the rules here are simple. Ask a few people if they think you have a cool last name. Don’t listen to their answer, instead watch their facial expressions. You’ll know… you’ll know.
While I am proud of my last name “Schafer”. I am aware of the fact that I have a very average sort of blah last name. Hence why my copywriting business is called Honey Copy and not Schafer Copy.
Here are a few last names that I consider brand name worthy — Black, Parker, Starr, Smith, King, Valentine, Rose, Wilder, Silva, Carter, Taylor and Armstrong.
Finally, don’t be afraid to pull out the dictionary.
There are right around a quarter million words in the English language which means there are plenty to choose from for your brand name.
If you’re willing to wipe the dust off your dictionary and crack it open, sooner or later your thumbing will lead you to a word that just feels right. Looking for a place to start? Here are 99 of some of my favorite words.
And as always, if you need help with naming or slinging other types of words, just give me a shout here.
By Cole Schafer.