My first career, journalism, taught me a lot of valuable lessons about marketing. Turns out journalism is a font of wisdom for name and tagline development, too.
The ABCs of journalism are the five Ws—who, what, when, where, why—and H for how. Here’s how they can help you write a solid naming brief that leads to a great name or tagline:
Who: Every company and product has a personality—pragmatic or romantic, traditional or adventurous, intense or relaxed. How would you describe your who? (Branding agencies often clip photographs from magazines to create “mood boards” that represent the client company or product. It’s a useful practice for do-it-yourselfers, too.) If your product is like a laconic, no-nonsense farmer, you’ll steer clear of whimsical name choices; if your company personality is that of a city-dwelling opera buff, you’ll want a name that suggests sophistication. Now think about another who: your customers. What do they look like, where do they live, what do they need from you? Are they mostly college graduates, a mix of English- and Spanish-speakers, grandparents, software engineers, world travelers? You’ll want your name to be a good match for your customer profile.
What: What benefit does the name need to communicate? What attitude or mood must the name express? Note that these are very different questions from “What does the company/product do?” The what of a naming exploration is about message, not features.
When: Do you have a target date for revealing the name or tagline? If you need a slogan for an event, how far in advance do you need to place orders for banners, coffee mugs, T-shirts, posters? If you plan to seek trademark protection, have you factored in the time required for legal review (at least a couple of weeks, usually more)? And to underscore the obvious: Make sure you haven’t scheduled your naming work during a period when key decision-makers will be unavailable.
Where: Where will the name be used? If you’re naming a restaurant or nail salon, you’ll want a name that’s distinctive and available in your city or region. If you have a national or international audience, you’ll need to consider the global where, and you may need to get linguistic and cultural advice before you make your final decision. Think, too, about the other dimensions of where: Where will customers see your name—Internet domain, packaging, transit ads, hang tags, business cards, Twitter handle? Ask yourself how the name will look and be pronounced. Will space limitations be a factor?
Why: This question is especially pertinent for renaming work. Why do you want a new name? Legal challenges, an upcoming merger or acquisition, and a major shift in brand focus are all legitimate reasons for considering a name change. But if your answer is “We’re adding new products” or “Our new CEO wants to put her mark on the company,” you’ll want to challenge that why.
How: How will you tackle the naming exercise? If you choose to rely on internal resources, ask yourself whether you have colleagues who are skilled and experienced enough for the task and whether they’ll have enough time in their schedules. If you plan to hire experts, ask whether you know the value of their work, whether you have enough money to pay them, and whether you’re prepared to listen to the advice you receive. Also on the how list: How will you launch the name—through a PR agency, a quiet rollout, a big splash at an industry event?
Be sure to write down all your answers and notes, and then use those notes to construct your naming brief.
And now the real fun begins: using your journalistic research to develop your name.