So you think naming is simple?

Ben Garfinkel – No Comments

Did you know the name Apple was inspired while Steve Jobs was pruning Gravenstein apple trees on his friend’s orchard? According to the recent Steve Jobs biography, Apple Computer could have just as easily been called Personal Computing International. Had it been, who knows if it would have met with the same iconic success.

The Apple name, along with others such as Virgin and The Gap are not immediately intuitive because they evoke something about the company’s unique positioning. And they are risky. If you think about it, the word virgin has negative connotations, especially for an airline: new, untested, and young to list a few. The naysayers in the boardroom would certainly pick these out as an argument against such a name. Those with a different vision might say it perfectly captures the spirit of a new entrant into a category dominated by sameness and mediocrity. When you think of the possibilities for a positive disruption to the airline (and others) business, ‘virgin’ could also mean new, fresh, energetic, willing and young.

Naming success in this case is all about how the name is defined in the minds of the consumer, and creating a link between the name and the company’s positioning.

Evocative names are some of the most exciting to create, but the reality is, they are only one type of name, and admittedly, not all types are as exciting. Why? There are many variables that go into determining the right name for a company or product: What industry is it? Does it need to be descriptive; What is the personality of the firm?; Are there any legal or regulatory considerations that need to be conformed to? These are just a few of the things that need to be considered when we are doing naming for our clients.

Truth is, a name can come from anywhere and anyone. Yes, you can name your own company, but what you are missing is an exhaustive search and a deeper development past the obvious names, and in the process, perhaps even validation for an earlier inspiration. In seeking name options for our clients at Industrial Brand we pursue multiple streams of naming types. We may explore functional names that are merely descriptive of what the company does or sells, made up names, hybrids composed of two or more words, evocative names such as those mentioned above and any number of other name types in our quest to fully explore all the options. The quantity of names generated cannot be underestimated—it is in fact crucial. As a fascinating aside, have a look at some of the name generation Thomas Edison did when coming up with a name for what we now know as the ‘phonograph’. Marvellous insight.

It is at this point that engaging a firm experienced with naming adds the most value. Finding the best name is only partially about generating options. Sorting and filtering the names down to a select shortlist requires experience and skill, and objective analysis. Subjective analysis should not come into this process. “I don’t like it” or “This reminds me of…” are not relevant here and are not representative of how the target audience may see it. The goal is to land on something that will resonate with the market and support your goals for the company.

At Industrial Brand we don’t attempt naming for a client without first doing extensive research into the client’s industry, their organization and competition. Armed with this, and the raw names we generated, we can then begin to filter them.

We use a nine point matrix to score each name on a scale. Some of the elements we scrutinize are as simple as appearance and sound: Does it look good?; Are there any awkward letter combinations, etc.?; Does it sound good when spoken?; Will it be easy to mispronounce or be misheard?; Is it a word that’s uncommon or hard to spell (by the way, not always a bad thing)?

Other filters are more complex to analyze: Things such as how much meaning the name has, and how deeply layered other meanings are, distinctiveness within the industry and from the competition and whether the name is flat and lifeless or energetic. Is it corporate and impersonal, or genuine and warm?—there’s a reason and fit for each.

Ultimately though, the name has to be available. Canada only, USA, Global? The wider the reach, the more complex and less likely it will be that the chosen name is available. In addition, finding a suitable URL is vitally important today. In fact, we’ve had clients whose priority was owning the root name dot com URL for the company, so that dictated the name they ultimately selected.

We’ve had to get creative with URL selection and consider what URL is available for chosen names before presenting options to the client. If it seems there’s a possibility for acquisition of a desired URL, then we will keep the name under consideration. Ideally, we want the .ca, .com, .co, .net and any other domains that are relevant to the client.

Finally, working with an intellectual property specialist to ensure rights and ownership of a trademark name is almost always advisable. This applies to the name as well as the final logo created. A good trademark lawyer will also suggest options and advise modifications to avoid potential conflict. Considering the money, time and effort that will be invested in turning the name into your brand, ensuring legal ownership at the outset is a must. No one wants to receive an unexpected cease and desist letter even part way down the rebranding road.

As a recent article about naming your child suggested, the name you give your offspring can determine their success later in life. While it seems implausible to imagine that the difference between “Steve”, “Mike” or “Larry” would matter all that much to your kid’s success, when you think about it in terms of your business, it’s not all that hard to envision that the choices you make at the start do have a magnifying effect on the trajectory of your enterprise.

It is doubtful that Steve Jobs, arrogant and visionary though he was, could ever have initially seen the company he named Apple ascend to such a massive and industry-dominating place in the world. Or maybe he did? Regardless, that name was the right choice, and the fit with the people, products, values and vision created a distinction that propelled the company to mythic status.