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.