Naming: mistakes to avoid

18/05/2018

Like choosing a name for a baby usually ends up being a nerve-wracking exercise, putting a name atop your new brand, product or future company can also be a perplexing thing to do. First of all, let us help you relax and put things into perspective: like newborns, there probably isn’t just one perfect name your business could bear, but many. That being said, that doesn’t mean there is no bad choice you can make as far as naming goes, to the contrary. Keeping with the children comparison: pretty much everyone has a kid in their surroundings whose first name raises eyebrows or makes heads turn, and not for good reasons. Smoothie, Saruman, Brutus, Adolf… Those are all unforgiving, dubious names that will attract a lot of unnecessary negative attention on the poor child and which could have easily been avoided with a touch of common sense, sensitivity and research. Same goes for your future company or brand initiative: be aware of the existing pitfalls and avoid them like the plague. Here are six of them:

1. Skipping multilingual research
You may start your business on a local scale or plan to only distribute your products on a domestic market but we suggest that you consider the big picture within the naming process, which might include an international expansion or development on the long term. That means that you absolutely need to consider how your final top 5 options perform under the translation test before deciding for a name. “What? Is that really important?” You bet! Ask that question to the glorious marketing teams behind the launches of the Toyota Pajero in Spanish-speaking countries, the Opel Ascona in Portugal or Nordic Mist in Germany (wanker, vagina and trash, respectively… poor choices indeed), and the financial departments who plan to budget the recovery operation.

2. Going for a generic name
Going for a generic name such as Natural Cosmetics is a low-risk, low-reward approach. Indeed, you won’t expose yourself to any bad first impression and you’ll gain visibility by being bang-on descriptive about the attributes of your product but you also won’t be able to create a special hook from the consumer or to generate identification. We suggest to always try to go a little bit further than simply being generic and show personality and character through your naming process. Afterall, your brand name could end up itself being induced in the generic realm, like Zodiac, Jacuzzi, Kleenex or Q-tips.

3. Endless names
Long company or brand names are harder to remember, to write and to connect with. This is a no-go, pure and simple. Plus, long names are a problem for digital marketers as characters limits are set for online domains registrations, SEA campaigns, and social media postings. You also don’t want your public to start abbreviating your name, it is not a good look. Keep it short.

4. Going for a meaningless name
A name void of meaning for its creator is just… sad. Aim for a name that sounds good, create a consensus internally and more importantly, that resonates within the soul of the whole team behind it. It needs to encapsulate, in a few letters, the scope and values your company claims to represent. Here are a few great examples to follow: Verizon (a mix of Veritas, Latin for truth and horizon), Reebok (running and training manufacturer, named after a speedy African Antilope), Sharp (The Japanese manufacturer is named after its first-ever product designed in 1915: an ever-sharp pencil).

5. Making things unnecessarily hard
We already briefly touched on that issue in mistake number 3 but we really want to make it clear here: the naming process needs to put simplicity as one of its cornerstones. You want your name to roll off the tongue rather than creating confusion as per how to write or pronounce it.
Still, it gives personality, ownability: While American beer brand Budweiser or the beverage brand Schweppes, had to apply marketing budgets to educate their targets on how to pronounce their names correctly, they never considered going for a simplification of their names.
When Häagen Dazs brand was created from scratch in the US, they made up a name that would sound Scandinavian for American people. They did not opt for the simple, rather the opposite: they looked for an extraordinary foreign upscale name… and no one get confused when they ask for an ice cream.

6. Not considering the legal aspect
Last but not least, never forget to submit your naming options to a legal sanity check. Indeed, you simply don’t want to be spending time, energy and money developing your brand image on- and offline only to receive a cease and desist notification from an unbeknownst member of your competition who apparently claimed copyrights on the exact same name as you, only a while ago. Naming functions on a first-come-first-served basis, so do the smart thing before any launch project and contact an intellectual property specialist sooner rather than later.

There are thousands of fun stories online surrounding brand naming failures, please follow our bits of advice above and make sure you don’t become part of this hall-of-shame. To conclude on this topic, we’ll just leave with a few wise words:
“To have a bad name is the best help you can offer your competition”
Naseem Javed, President and CEO, ABC Namebank.

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