You say you have a company or a product that needs a name? Great. Let's talk.
But not about names—not yet, anyway. Instead, let's talk about what comes before the names: your naming brief.
Never heard of a naming brief? You're not alone. Name development seems fuzzy and magical to many business owners, and especially to new entrepreneurs who've never named a company or product. They may not put it quite this way, but they want to believe that namers are wizards and good names develop themselves, without prior research or strategy.
Well, that's just wrong. To create good names, you first have to create a good naming brief.
Here's why—and how.
A naming brief is a written document that describes your brand concept and your naming objectives. It's a road map that plots a course for the entire naming exercise. Without it, the name developer is meandering in the dark. With it, the naming process has a direction and a goal.
As important as the naming brief is for the creative-exploration phase, it's equally important during the next phase: name evaluation. It isn't sufficient to say you like or don't like a name; those are subjective, unsupported responses. It's far more constructive to say that a name matches or fails to match the objectives in the naming brief. (And if a name does match your objectives and criteria and you still reject it, you'll need to ask yourself whether the objectives and criteria have changed.)
Most of the time, I begin a name-development project by writing the naming brief myself—which means doing interviews and research as well as writing. But regardless of who does the research and writes the brief, here's what it must include:
1. Concept statement.
In three or four sentences, describe what problem your company or product solves, what is distinctive about your brand, and why your service or product matters.
2. Brief overview of your naming challenge.
What's being named—a holding company, a corporate division, a family of products? Are you inventing something new or renaming something? Has there been a merger or acquisition? If this is a renaming project, what's your naming history? Where did the original name come from, and why is it no longer appropriate? Have there been any internal attempts to develop a new name? How will the new name be chosen—by consensus, by fiat, by straw vote?
3. Company or product background.
Some history and biography, please: When was the company founded or the product invented? Who's on your management team? What's special about your technology, your design, or your service?
4. Your market.
Who are your customers? What's important to them? Where are they located? What languages do they speak? What do they read, listen to, drive, drink, worry about, play with?
5. Your competition, vendors, and partners.
What companies or products are you competing with? From which companies do you buy your raw materials or services? Whom will you partner with? You'll want to cast a very wide net, because one point of this inventory is to determine which names (and parts of names) are off limits for you because they're owned by other companies in your sphere.
6. Naming objectives.
What qualities does your new name need to communicate? What story should it to tell? Note that you'll want a comprehensive list—for example, communication, personalization, connectedness, fun—but it's unlikely that any single name will meet all of your objectives. A very strong name may evoke three of them.
7. Linguistic criteria.
Do you prefer real words or coined ones? Are you interested in languages other than English? Are certain letters, words, or word parts off limits? Do you want to evoke specific sound symbolism—the crisp sound of Ks and Ts, the nurturing sound of M? Will the name need to pass muster in non-English-speaking countries? Will you require linguistic/cultural screening?
8. Domain and trademark.
Are you willing to buy a domain from a third party (i.e., someone other than a domain vendor such as GoDaddy)? Are you willing to modify a name (say, by adding "Inc." or "Services") to create an available URL? In which international trademark class(es ) will your product or service be registered?
9. Non-trivial trivia.
Good ideas for names often emerge from unexpected or tangential sources. Adobe Software was named for the creek that flowed behind the company's original office; a California wine, Le Cigare Volant (which translates to "flying cigar," i.e., flying saucer), got its name from an absurd French ordinance that banned flying saucers from landing near vineyards. What are your offbeat interests? Did your founders meet in the stands at Wimbledon? Are you a geology buff? Do you collect comic books from the 1930s? Is there a poem, a song, a play, or a movie that thrills you? This section of the naming brief is where you can pour all of these sundry inspirations.
Researching and writing a naming brief takes time, patience, experience, and objectivity (which is why it's often most effective to pay a naming consultant to do it for you). But the alternative can be far costlier and more time consuming: endless rounds of aimless "brainstorming" without a clear goal. That's why—no matter how impatient you are to develop a name—the naming brief is essential. It isn't an optional add-on: It's the foundation of the entire project.
I hadn't heard of a naming brief before. That's really interesting. It makes complete sense, though... that kind of thing can have a huge affect on the reaction of the receptor.
Posted by: Sagan | July 14, 2009 at 02:33 PM
I'd be interested in your thoughts on how a company with a wounded but utterly memorable name like Philip Morris wound up with a botched abortion of a name like Altria. Which sounds like a drug advertised on the USA network after midnight.
But that's for another day. One wonders how a new company that's thought through its entire product hasn't already come up with a naming brief, long before it gets to the naming consultant. Some of your points go beyond the presentation of the business, of which naming is vitally important, into the core question of:
Posted by: Patrick | July 14, 2009 at 03:49 PM
I'm not a professional namer, but do have a little experience with starting a business and it seems to me that part of the answer to "WHY?" lies in pure inexperience with marketing. For example: two artists starting a gallery; good artists? Maybe. Good at marketing...well. It's nice to have experienced advice.
Even large companies may be run by people with experience in only science or accounting. IMO
Posted by: Nick | July 15, 2009 at 12:12 AM
The lack of proper briefing is an affliction that goes far beyond the requirement for a company name.
I expect you find that executives want you to start suggesting names the moment you sit on their leather couch: in the same way companies that want TV commercials and corporate videos invariably expect the producer to mind-read the commissioning executives. They are always surprised when I don't immediately start with, "I see a sunrise and the [company's product] appearing over the horizon"... or somesuch; but instead start asking questions such as, "describe the typical customer for this product".
When talking to the client I always summarise the brief as, "who are the audience and what are your aims? This can then extend to more detailed questions such as, "who are your competitors and how does your product compare; and, "in what viewing situation do you expect the audience to see the commercial/DVD,etc." .
Briefing a supplier adequately is a vital skill that should be taught to all executives. Even when they're bright enough to have realised a brief is needed, they will often use it to describe what they want; rather than describing what they want to achieve and then leaving the professional to come up with how the objective is to be realised. Like you (I imagine) I frequently have to prise the brief out of the client, who feels that I'm wasting time.
I wonder how often does your client starts by saying, "we're looking for a name like...", rather than "we're looking for a name that achieves...".
Posted by: John Russell | July 15, 2009 at 02:52 AM