The Strategy Behind Successful Brand Names

Derrick DayeJuly 15, 20194 min

Branding Strategy Insider helps marketing oriented leaders and professionals like you build strong brands. BSI readers know, we regularly answer questions from marketers. Today we hear from Melissa, a Chief Marketing Officer in San Jose, California who has this question about brand naming strategy.

We are about to launch a new product and have moved into the naming phase. Please help us understand the best practices behind arriving at a successful name.

Thanks for your question Melissa. Naming and verbal identity is an essential foundation of successful strategic brand development. Names set a foundation for understanding and helps a brand tell its story. Anthropologists contend that 70% of everything we learn is through story.

Powerful brand names are stories distilled to one word.

What Characteristics Do Successful Brand Names Possess?

They are memorable, hint to function, shift thinking and sometimes invent a language. Consider Blackberry, Google, Starbucks, Amazon, Pinterest, Swiffer and Netflix. Successful brand names occupy the intersection between brand expression, differentiation and consumer impact and meet this criteria:

  • Branded – the name supports the brand positioning
  • Distinctive – the name is unique to others inside/outside the industry
  • Energetic – the name brings the product to life
  • Flow – the name has a harmonious flow and looks appealing
  • Easy – the name is easy to spell and easy to pronounce
  • Depth – the name has multiple layers of meanings and associations
  • Story – the name is memorable and communicates a point of view
  • Ownable – the name has no conflicts with other brands in any category

Creative Development: Exploration Clusters

Exploration clusters are the initial starting point for creative development and are commonly categorized in one of five ways:

Outcomes & Benefits: Emotional and tangible benefits of using product or service. Example: Off!

Heritage: Origin of name or phrase, etymological roots and history. Example: IKEA

Related Concepts: Related concepts, phrases and psychological links. Example: Viagra

Industry Key Words: Terms relevant to the industry or product. Example: Microsoft

Other: Differentiators, brand positioning, points of view, brand values, etc.

Types Of Brand Names

Understanding the type of name to develop for your brand is important to its success. The following are the top four most popular types of names, but many additional types exist, including Geographical, Founder, Personified Names, Acronyms, Lexical, Compressed and Suggestive. Each type of name carries its own pros and cons.

Descriptive Names: They are unremarkable but clearly define the story. Examples: Subway, E*Trade, Pizza Hut, Foot Locker

Evocative Names: They are powerful and rooted in the brand’s positioning. Examples: Virgin, Slack, Pandora, Hotwire

Invented Names: Easy to trademark and have no negative connotations. Examples: Pentium, Kodak, Snapple, Häagen-Dazs

Experiential Names: They are intuitive, harder to trademark and don’t always differentiate the brand. Examples: Safari, Explorer, Lyft, United

Sound Symbolism

Brand names can be amplified through the power of sound. Specific sounds and letters communicate particular attributes – both desired and undesired. The sound of a brand name can communicate information about the product like its size, speed, strength and weight.

V, F, Z and S: Sound the fastest.
D, G, V and Z: Suggests something large and luxurious (they vibrate the vocal chords).
Z: Is one of the fastest, biggest and most energetic sounds in language.
B, D, T and P: Suggest relatability, dependability and slowness.

A recent study by psycholinguist Dr. Laura Whissel found the sounds of l, s and v are associated with pleasant feelings; r, p, t, d and k with unpleasant ones.

Y and – LY: Suggests friendliness and likeability and forces your mouth to smile.
T and K: Respondents rate these sounds as the most active and daring.
X: The letter x fascinates us and triggers significant associations in our brains. Ex: X marks the spot, indicates a selection, is a universal signature, X rays, X men, etc.
Front Vowels: Perceived as smaller, lighter, milder, thinner, softer, faster, colder, more bitter, more feminine, friendlier, weaker, and prettier.

Emotion And Sound

Sounds connote not only meanings but emotions. Alliteration, rhyming, onomatopoeia and morphemes all play a role in the impact of a name. They are human universals in associating emotion with sounds.

Aliteration: The repetition of initial consonant sounds in neighboring words. Examples: PayPal, Kinkos, Lincoln Logs

Onomatopoeia: A word that imitates the sound it represents. Examples: Ziploc, Pop-Tarts, Roomba

Morphemes: The smallest meaningful unit in language. Examples: FedEx, UniSys, Acura

Rhyme: The similarity between syllable sounds. Examples: LexisNexis, NutterButter, SmartStart

Starting The Naming Process

According to the WIPO, there are 36.5 million active trademarks. 8.4 million trademarks were filed in 2014 alone, an increase of 13% in the previous year. After the brand positioning process, developing a memorable name is the first step in differentiating your brand.

One simple question will help you start the naming process; “What do you want to evoke in the audience’s minds when they hear the new name?” Interest & Want to know more? Excitement & understanding? Power? Curiosity?

I hope this is helpful Melissa.

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  • Miguel L. Flores

    July 16, 2019 at 8:37 pm

    Mr. Daye,

    This is a very interesting article. I think that it is crucial to select a name that will evoke the values and feeling that the brand wants customers to associate with it. The brand’s name has to be powerful, but at the same time attract attention. Great post! I am looking forward to reading more.

    Miguel L. Flores

  • Miguel L. Flores

    July 17, 2019 at 12:01 am

    Mr. Daye,

    This is a very interesting article. I think that it is crucial to select a name that will evoke the values and feeling that the brand wants customers to associate with it. The brand’s name has to be powerful, but at the same time attract attention. Great post! I am looking forward to reading more.

    Miguel L. Flores

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