The Game of the Name

In today’s fast-moving, tech-driven world, with new companies, products and services being developed apace, we are often asked to help with the creative task of naming.  Whether driven by a mergers and acquisitions, or by an innovation that aims to solve a customer need, clients seek our expertise in the field because they recognise a number of things. That a name is a primary element of brand communication.  That a strong name is one way to stand out and stand for something.  It is a way to start a conversation and will directly determine levels of audience engagement.  It is a springboard for the brand’s visual and verbal identity.  Thus it not only needs to brilliantly express their purpose and offer – hard enough in itself – but it needs to be ownable and protectable – often globally so.  And as such, finding a name that is ‘on point’ is challenging.   

Why so? Well, in all but a very few instances, there will be other organisations in similar or maybe not that similar fields who will have snapped up the seemingly desirable ‘first choices’. And there will be many more who have explored further, identifying more unusual names and snapped them up too.  They will have secured the URL’s. And trade marked these names one or more categories.  So the need for inspired creative thinking to develop something on-purpose, ownable and protectable is high. 

Once an idea for a new name is generated, it then also needs to pass the ‘new baby’ test.  In the same way that naming one’s new born can be emotionally charged, a new brand can evoke similar feelings in its stakeholders.  When people are highly invested in an initiative, they will often have strong feelings about a potential name and, as with families, one person’s view may differ significantly from another’s. So navigating this potential ‘minefield’ and getting consensus requires skill.

But it doesn’t end there. It may have several more barriers to overcome.  In this increasingly global marketplace there are the practical ones, such as ensuring that a name can be read and easily spoken by people of another tongue – what’s easy to pronounce for an English speaker may be less so for someone in Asia, for example.  Or vice versa in the case of Huawei, the Chinese multinational technology company. Who would have known that it’s pronounced “WAH-way” not “HOO-uh-way”!  A discovery that nearly made the company change their name when expanding into the United States.

A word may also carry different meanings in different cultures. So it may also need to pass linguistic tests in order to avoid what the cautionary experience of Chevrolet who found that the Chevrolet Nova automobile failed to sell in Spanish speaking markets.  The reason – “nova” means “doesn’t go” in Spanish.  Something a small amount of research would have uncovered saving not only corporate embarrassment but also significant cost.  Cost to first change the name to Caribe and then to originate a second set of market specific communication materials.  Fortunately, the Chevrolet Caribe sold well! 

So, how do you win the naming game?

To circumvent these complex and often sensitive challenges, we have at The Allotment developed our own unique process for naming. One that has delivered successfully for many clients in many fields, from the naming of Fixter, an Axa backed tech-driven disruptor for the car repair industry to Sofa Heaven, an online retail offer for a brand store on Amazon, to Streamline, a process improvement service for Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP.

Start-up design

Our approach follows three key principles.

First, we set expectations. We advise clients to keep an open mind. To remember that, while a name can speak volumes, it won’t necessarily convey everything about a product, service or organisation. It can’t emerge full of meaning from the offset; this needs to be built over time. Consider Uber or Google or Twitter.  At launch no one had heard of them, let alone knew what they meant. They sounded unlikely, strange, alien even. But now we all understand and buy into them. These names have huge resonance across the globe. So, while the journey of naming is full of excitement and anticipation the journey can, unless you are prepared to be open-minded, feel at times deflating. So it’s important to remain objective, to not be to quickly judgemental and to focus on the opportunity.

Secondly, while we explore what the brand is and how it works as part of our process, we focus on what it stands for, its purpose.  We’ll consider not just where the brand is today, but where we want it to go in the future, how much it might need to grow and stretch. We define territories that are derived from these aspects and allow us to discover unexpected and inspiring ideas. Ideas that are fresh and apt.  Ideas that are original and somehow exactly right, be they descriptive, evocative or abstract, be they single word names, like Envestry, or names built from a two or more carefully juxtaposed words, such as Sofa Heaven. 

Start-up Branding

We’ll create hundreds of name ideas, and refine these to a long-list that we workshop with the client.  In the ‘hot house’ of creation people often judge names based on what inspires and excites them personally. But we encourage people focus on names that convey purpose and will add meaning to their audience’s lives. We ask them to bear in mind that a name will rarely live in isolation.  It will be enhanced by a carefully crafted visual identity and a brand language  that will provide a greater depth of meaning and personality.  These additional facets will all work together to bring the brand to life in a way that is both relevant and exceptional.  So that on this basis we can together develop the right final selection.

And then thirdly we recommend that clients settle on a healthy shortlist for legal validation and domain name registration.  We encourage them to select a number of names, any of which they would be happy to run with.  So that we can steer them through the inevitable disappointment of the legal and registration process, to an outcome of one, brilliant, beautiful name on which to go forward.  A name that inspires all its audiences – be they customers, partners or employees. A name that sets the trajectory for the brand, now and for the future.

6 tips for evaluating a name

  1. Does it convey your purpose (or a meaningful aspect of your organisation, product or service)?  Does it help you stand out and stand for something?
  2. Is the meaning wide enough so that if you change your offer, or the market changes, the name is not a barrier to momentum. Carphone Warehouse probably did not consider this!
  3. Is it memorable? 
  4. Can you own and protect it in the markets and territories you are operating in? Is the trademark and URL available?
  5. If your chief executive had to introduce your new brand to your audience at a big conference, would it feel credible?  Would people get it?  Would it inspire confidence and allow you to tell your story?
  6. Will the name act as a springboard for an identity that will engage employees and rally them behind the brand?

Introducing Progressive

We’re very proud to have helped design and develop the Progressive brand with our friends Matt Nicholls and Ken Valledy. Progressive helps organisations unlock and commercialise new growth opportunities more rapidly than their competition and more effectively than traditional innovation programmes.

It builds faster, more agile, industrial-strength Growth Acceleration Programmes that have a proven track record of enabling senior management to more rapidly define, build and deliver new corporate growth and ROI.

Working across retail, automotive, financial services, media and entertainment, FMCG and professional services sectors, Progressive has already helped organisations bring over 40 new solutions to market.

Big thank-you to Mike Feather for photography and to our friends at Evil Donkey for building the website.