Arguably the most important corporate decision made about an organisation, its brands, products or services is its name.
Built upon a strategic direction or a unique selling proposition, a good name serves as the foundation for everything else the organisation does. It suggests a connection to customers, stakeholders and employees that is relevant, memorable and timeless. It’s a snapshot of an organisation’s creativity, speaking volumes about a company’s position, offering or promise in just a few syllables. A name boils down the business plan and brand values to a single insightful point.
And if that’s not enough, the best name will stretch across the entire geography of a corporate footprint, including all of the languages which live there, each with their own words, phonemes and symbolism. (Phonemes are distinct units of sound in any language, such as the ‘b’ sound in ‘bat’.)
It’s been said more than 5,000 names are introduced publicly each year. Whether the names are all-new or changed to reflect an altered direction or position, the principles and tactical steps to generate both are similar.
This is the first of two posts. The points below reflect the initial steps which must be taken before creating the name through intensive brainstorming. The second post will focus specifically on tactics, tips and suggestions to incorporate into the brainstorm session itself. As always, please feel free to leave comments or thoughts below.
1. Articulate your direction.
First and foremost, all naming decisions must be linked to the future strategic direction of the business. If you’re creating a new name, it should reflect the company’s vision, mission and values and its long-term business plan. If you’re naming a product or service, it should reflect the brand strategy, promise and unique selling proposition. If it’s a change of name, the new word must reflect the shifting wants and needs of the target market. Otherwise, why – very expensively – change the name?
2. Gather quality market research.
The final name must quickly resonate and connect with the people who are going to interact or use it, including the following in priority order:
- The decision makers who buy and engages with the offerings – whether they be consumers, customers or other types of buyers,
- The shareholders and other influential stakeholders of the organisation, and
- The employees who are the face of the organisation or the brands in the communities they live.
In addition to the business direction of your organisation, you will need research about a variety of areas:
- What do key audiences think or perceive about your organisation’s existing names and their relevant brand attributes? In practical terms, your new name must co-exist with other names. How will a new (or changed) name complement your existing naming architecture – now, and in the future? Will the existing attributes be compatible with the new attributes?
- Can the new or changed name leverage and carry forward your customer’s positive aspects of the brand? Which positive brand attributes will transfer from a former name to a new one, and how will that occur?
- In the case of getting rid of an old name which carries emotional baggage, how will you differentiate or re-set the mindset to accept a new name? You don’t want a good new name to instantly be stained with former bad perceptions in your audience’s mindset.
- What are the target audience psychographics? What do your customers and other relevant influencers think, feel and do now, which might be reflected in your new name?
- How will your new name ‘sit’ along-side those names of your competition? (Remember: competition may be real, perceived or future/potential.) Your new name can’t sit in the same mental real estate as an existing name from another company, because you’ll confuse your audience – or worse, reinforce the your competitor’s name over your new name.
- What issues, opportunities or gaps are out there in the world in general, or even in your own industry or business environment? The issues will tell you what naming areas you can’t own, where misperceptions may arise, or how a name may be spoken or used. Opportunities will tell you the opposite information – and at the same time, suggest more broad boundaries, areas to explore creatively, or brand messages that might be conveyed to key audiences through marketing and communications. Gaps will identify areas where no company plays now, which may be an open place for your new name to live without competition.
- What trends can you capitalise? These might be societal, business or environmental. They may even be trends in naming, either in your industry or beyond. How and where will your name be used? Locally, regionally or globally? This will influence the types of words, phonemes and imagery that can be used or avoided.
- What do the people who work in your organisation think? They leave your business every night and go home to their communities. They are often significant resources of real-life stories and testimonials about your company, its products and services; how the names are used colloquially; how they will be associated in an every-day type of way. Think of your employees as a first-line focus group, but at the same time, be careful not to give this group of people serious decision-making powers … which leads to my next point.
3. Consider what group of people will decide the name.
It’s easy and natural to want to democratically involve as many as people in the naming decision. After all, so many different types of audiences have a stake in the name’s success. At the same time, you don’t want too many cooks in the kitchen, because you may end up with too many choices, ego-driven opinions, or worst of all, creative churn as you go through needless nuances and variations.
How to describe the best group of decision-makers?
- The fewer the better
- Broad-minded and objective
- Both right- and left-brain thinking
- Articulate enough to explain the new name simply and to build excitement about the name to others
4. Test the name before it’s announced.
When you have a short list of names, you’ll need to consider additional research to understand the following:
- Can you actually own the name? The most obvious research is whether you can legally own the name. Can you trademark it? Can you secure an appropriate domain name on the internet? How does it work with different social media outlets? I even had a client recently look into whether the potential new name might be used as a new telephone number for future customer service.
- Will your audience use it? You’ll want to survey key audiences, to determine their reaction to the name, to hear if they can cleanly pronounce the name, and to understand if they are willing to use the name in two competitive spaces: in their head, and in the marketplace. How they might use it is also critical. For example, in Australia where people are fond of abbreviating names, will your name hold up? Or, are you missing or ignoring a potentially better name?
- How will it be represented? You will need to develop artistic prototypes, including any visual logos, packaging, fonts, colours and so on. When sorted, you’ll also need to show these options to customers to learn their intellectual and instinctive responses.
5. Determine how you will monitor the name after it’s in the public domain.
In whatever department you go to monitor customer opinions, you’ll want to ensure they know and monitor how a new name is recognised and talked about outside and inside your company. Marketing and communications should be brought in to help monitor and adjust opinions if needed, both in traditional and social media. If you’re particularly nervous about a new name’s acceptance, you might use this department to also develop in advance an issues management plan, just in case.
Once you have this information – and yes, it’s a lot – you’re now ready to also begin creating the actual name. Please come back for the next post, for my tips, suggestions and brainstorm activities to help generate lots of names for consideration.
In the meantime, anything I’ve missed? Anything you’d add to this process?
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