Naming In The News

The Name Game

Tread carefully when developing brand names

Minnesota Business March 2004
Bill Lozito, Strategic Name Development

All too often, when a company seeks a new brand name for a product or service, the first and only gratifying step in the process is that initial, enthusiastic, creative brainstorming session. The session, usually ad hoc, generally results in a scintillating list of potential names, many of which meet the marketing criteria for uniqueness, descriptiveness and fit to concept.

But that's usually where the naming harmony ends. Name candidates must then pass through the trademark filter, often leaving no survivors. After all, there are only 80,000 words in a typical English dictionary, but over 280,000 U.S. trademark applications annually. What's more, if the name is targeted to an international audience, extensive translation and profanity filters must follow. Ignoring these filters can result in grave consequences. Ever wonder why Irish Mist is not marketed in Germany? (It means excrement.) Why can't the Nike brand be used in Spain? (It's owned by a distributor) Why is RC Cola known as ARCI Cola in Mexico? (Mexicans cannot pronounce the RC consonant cluster).

Following the international checkpoint, those few names that persevere must now pass muster among the all-important senior managers and board of directors who rightly ask: Is it extendable? Is it timeless? Will it require extensive advertising support?

Little wonder that companies who find one name that passes all these hurdles, rush to trademark it. Yet, in doing so, they skip the most salient step. They fail to answer the critical question: Will the name resonate with the target audience?

To prove this point, Strategic Name Development (SND) conducted a national online survey of 20 newly minted brand names. The survey of 838 consumers found that consumers and business customers are not necessarily thinking the same as marketers. Even though a company may have spent months painstakingly developing the ideal brand name, it still may not connect with that all-important person - the consumer or business customer.

For example, Centrino is a combination of new technologies from Intel designed for mobile devices like laptop computers and personal data assistants (PDAs). Despite a $300 million advertising budget, only 11 percent of people surveyed were familiar with the Centrino name. In addition, the perception of the name was quite low as only eight percent associated the name with a computer product - most thought Centrino was a brand of vitamins.

Naming a new product or service is not simply a creative exercise. Rather, it is a delicate interweaving of both art and science - and it starts and ends with a sound strategy and positioning. What follows are some strategic steps for staying the course.

•  Establish the business strategy and positioning. Take the time, upfront, to involve all stakeholders in setting the naming strategy. This includes consumer or trade input on a qualitative basis. Start with a concept statement and utilize both internal and external feedback to develop strategic criteria and direction for the name.

•  Lay out the technical criteria before hand. Be upfront and realistic about what you want the name to accomplish. If you must have a .com URL, state that fact now.

•  Select the international trademark class codes (there are 45) that will apply. Determine if international markets must be considered - if so, which ones?

•  Cast the creative net broadly. It is often productive to break rules during the first round of brainstorming. While ideas should be built around the naming strategy, there is always room for out-of-bounds thinking.

•  Keep casting the net. Don't stop with one, two or three brainstorming sessions. Invest your time and money in the name just as you would in an employee. After all, the new brand name will be a key member of the sales team.

•  Liberally incorporate trademark and linguistic filters along the way. Get professional advice early on. It will save you from 'stubbing your toe' and result in an enduring brand name.

•  Use what you learn from trademark and linguistic filters to build an even stronger base of name candidates.

•  Test with the target market. Quantitative testing among both consumers and the trade, where appropriate, will provide invaluable feedback to objectively select the best name.