5 ways to create a modern brand name that sticks


"Branding is the art of aligning what you want people to think about your company with what people actually do think about your company. And vice-versa." – Jay Baer


Whether it’s for a new venture or a new product, naming is a tricky business. Because it’s so easy for anyone to register a domain, put up a website and even establish a trademark with the US Patent and Trademark Office, naming is now anything but straightforward. Chances are if there’s a descriptive, easy to understand name you want, somebody has already laid claim to it.

Fortunately, there are several proven approaches for creating a brand name that is distinctive, appealing and suggestive of your product or service.  Rather than just listing brand name types, the outline below provides guidance on which approach is likely to yield the best results based on your market situation.  


1. Well defined category, focus, and markets? Try a compound name

By mashing up known words, compound names offer distinctiveness along with setting an expectation about your category, what you do, and even, how you do it. The downside to this specificity is it might limit your ability to scale or “pivot” into other markets.  Would you be interested if TurboTax started a web-conferencing division? Not so much. If you have international ambitions, this approach might be OK, but you’ll definitely want to see how your prospective names translate to the language of any intended international market.


2. Entering a competitive category and need to differentiate? Go for a coined name

Distinctive and intriguing, coined names (aka made up words) offer the ability for your brand to be synonymous with a category (e.g. google equals search) and the ability to enter adjacent markets (verizon sells broadband and cell service). However, If you go this route be ready to up your marketing spend to achieve awareness with your audience. Because this type of name lacks an obvious natural language meaning, you will have to devote more resources to teach potential customers about your brand rather than driving revenue.


3. Feeling Crafty? Are you a “maker”? Go for a This & That Name


Once the stodgy domain of old-school ad agencies and law firms, what we call “this and that” names offer a lot of latitude for playing with natural language descriptions as well as creating a feeling of personal service, craftsmanship, or thought leadership. You need not be constrained by the conjunction “and”.  A good old plus sign (+) as deployed by Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams immediately lets their audience know that there is a creative partnership behind this high performing home decor brand.


4. Really stuck? Try an acronym based name


This approach can be appealing because it will be easy to get buy in from insiders.  But beware of using internal jargon as a basis for building a memorable brand name. The key is to use an acronym as a starting point for creating a coined word (see approach 2).  With consistent use overtime, your acronyms can start to sound and feel like a real word rather than a string of letters. Can you say “AFLAC!”? Think about how the letters can be combined phonetically, rather than literally.  For example, HUMVEE came from the military acronym, High Mobility Multi-purpose wheeled VEhicle, and was eventually shortened to just “Hummer” when GM commercialized the product.


5. Get webby with it and add a cool suffix


Traditional suffixes are added to a word to form a derivative (i.e. -ation, -fy, -ing). With the proliferation of domain extensions (i.e. .biz, .art, .shop) suffixes can be used to impart a tech sensibility or to position your brand within a category. While they can be fun sounding and allow you to grab a very specific URL, they can be a bit tricky. For example,  “Shopify” and “Spotify” both deploy “ify”.


Evaluate what you generate… objectively.

After you have a short list, it’s a good idea to do a basic google search to see what pops up.  You’ll want to know if a competitor has a similar name, has some uncomfortable Urban dictionary definitions, and perhaps most importantly, a name doesn’t lead to an unsavory part of the web!

If your name ideas overcome these basic hurdles, the next step is evaluate the brand name contenders you have generated on a more objective basis.  We have created scoring system with 10 attributes so you, your team and perhaps a focus group can rank on a scale of 1-10 to come up with a numeric score.  

More on Evaluating Brand Names to follow...

david barnum