(Part of my Naming 101 series.)
I frequently talk with company founders and executives who need a new name but don’t have the budget for professional naming services. Because I believe that everyone deserves an effective, appealing name, I do my best to show them how to tackle the challenge on their own. Sometimes that leads to a phone call – I use the Clarity service – during which I direct the do-it-yourselfer to my evergreen post on how to write a naming brief, the essential first step of any naming process.
Mission accomplished, right? If only.
A good naming brief isn’t brief. It comprises a description of the naming challenge, insights into the market or audience, and information about competitors’ names, among much else. At the heart of the brief is a list of naming objectives: what the name should or must communicate. And this is the section that proves hardest for do-it-yourselfers to complete in a meaningful, useful, and non-biased manner.
To show you what I mean, here are some of the “naming objectives” I’ve seen in internally developed naming briefs. I protect my sources, so let’s say they come from Company X:
What do these words have in common?
1. They’re adjectives.
2. They could apply to any of Company X’s competitors.
3. They have less to do with the brand name being developed than with how the company’s founders or executives like to see themselves: they could be cribbed from a résumé or LinkedIn profile.
Like the children of Lake Wobegon, everyone in CorporateLand is above average. Everyone’s a leader; everyone is brilliant. Unfortunately, those attributes are useless as signposts on the road map to name development. You need to show leadership, intelligence, and superiority — through excellent product design, great customer service, ethical behavior, effective web design, and professionally written and edited copy. (This last requirement is, alas, too often overlooked in the name of cost savings.) Merely telling us about them, in your name or tagline, will be perceived as empty boasting.
So what would a useful, productive list of naming objectives look like?
First, it would include nouns, verbs, and phrases as well as a few adjectives. And all of those words would speak to what makes Company X distinctive. Maybe it’s something about the company’s specific history, geography, or specialization. Maybe the distinctiveness arises from a philosophy, an activity, or an inside joke. The challenge is to go beyond what could be said about any of your competitors and to explore what can be said only about your own company, your own product, your own service.
Here are some examples of naming objectives that could yield appealing, distinctive names. I’ve invented them for a fictional company that’s launching a new food product. Of course it’s tasty. Of course it’s “different.” Here are the more relevant descriptors:
No cooking required
A grown-up treat that makes you feel like a kid
Five international flavors
Invented in Australia
Makes you look like a great host
Now I have some material I can work with. I’ll probably create some names with a youthful, kid-like feeling, and some that reflect the international objective. Some of the names on my list will emphasize the ease of preparation (no cooking!), and some will evoke home and hospitality. I might even throw in some references to marsupials or Ayers Rock.
There’s nothing easy about creating a strong set of naming objectives. It’s especially tough when you’re on the inside: You’re too subjective to see the objectives. Companies in this situation too often end up settling for names that are different looking – or simply available as domains – rather than truly distinctive and meaningful. A professional name developer can help you avoid this pitfall, but if you can’t afford one, make sure you do extra homework on your naming brief.