10 Tips on How to Choose a Killer Brand Name

choosing a brand name is crucial

Choosing a brand name is tough. It’s like naming your kids, except kids can change their own name when they decide that ‘Balthazar Horatio’ isn’t getting the street cred they deserve. A brand name might not always be for life, but it could have a big impact on the life of your brand. It also forms a fundamental element of your brand personality.

A truly outstanding brand name should be both instantly recognisable and suitably differentiated. There’s no point calling your new fast-food chain McRonald’s unless you’re just banking on the short-term publicity, and long-term law-suit.

There’s no magic bullet to building an iconic and recognisable brand name. Arguably the world’s most valuable company, Apple, is named after a piece of fruit. Like many aspects of good brand development – it’s all about putting the work in.

That doesn’t mean you have to start from scratch, there are some handy hacks to help you along the way. Here’s our list of 10 top tips on how to choose a killer brand name.

  • Bounce ideas, and bounce some more

Brand naming can be a strange process. Sometime it’s a bolt of creative lighting out of the blue, and sometimes it’s a steady case of working through options until inspiration bubbles up to the surface.

Don’t close yourself off to ideas from the start, engage your creative juices with a group of people you trust to help you. Bouncing ideas around and off each other can sometimes result in some crazy stuff, but it also provides a positive process for exploring different avenues that a single individual may not have considered on their own.

  • Don’t dismiss the basics

There are some obvious areas to inspire brand naming, and they shouldn’t be discounted straight away just because of how obvious they might seem. AirAsia is an iconic brand name throughout the region, yet at its heart the name itself is a simple description of what the company does – fly people around Asia.

That’s not the only simple solution to consider. Let’s look at global automobile pioneers Ford Motor Company. How did they get their brand name? They named themselves after Henry Ford, the founder of the company and all round smart-inventor-bloke.

Descriptive names that explain your offering, as well as brands named after their founders, are all legitimate choices. Simple doesn’t mean ineffective.

  • Embody your creative spirit

Ali Baba is one of the world’s most successful companies, and it’s named after an internationally recognised story – Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. The Ali Baba name not only made the company easily scalable in terms of global recognition, it also incorporated the key, and highly emotive, concept of being a gateway to treasure. That certainly worked out alright for Jack Ma, didn’t it?

You can look even further back for inspiration if you’ve a mind to explore the more obscure. Nike might sound like a famous sports brand, but it’s actually a sports brand named after the Greek goddess of victory. That’s a pretty good sell for a company based around action and competition.

  • Making stuff up is ok

Google was not a word before, well – Google. Now it’s perhaps one of the world’s most recognisable and multilingual words, both a noun that represents the company, and a verb that represents a search undertaken on the internet. So you see, making up stuff can work out.

Don’t be afraid to explore the potential for making up a new word to name your company, but do try and make sure it’s sharp and memorable. Work through the sounds and syllables and imagine both how it might sound to consumers in your core markets, but also how it might look visually on branding.

  • Don’t get too complicated

There can sometimes be a tendency to try and be too clever when it comes to naming. If you’re exploring Ancient Greek or Latin words to name your new roti canai hawker stall, you’ve probably gone too far down an imagination rabbit hole.

The same is true of over-complicating things. There’s an urge sometimes to add and tweak and refine until you’ve got a twenty-syllable monstrosity that even you can’t read back to yourself. A good brand name is recognisable, and it’s easier to recognise something that people can pronounce.

  • Delve into the (alternative) meaning

Always be aware that what you think a name means, might not be what your audience understands it means. That’s as true for brand names as it is products. Just look at the poor marketing team at Nokia, who entered the Spanish market with their Lumia model phone, only to discover they’re basically selling prostitutes.

I’m going to be honest here  – even aside from translation issues, the world is full of weird and wonderful terms that seem innocent… until you check Urban Dictionary. This site is a go-to reference for all the slang terms and rude innuendo that might create a potentially embarrassing naming situation. It’s US-based, but covers wide international use of English, so possibly more important for brands thinking of a global market.

  • Research the competition

You’d be amazed how often you come up with a dazzlingly amazing and original name, only to find out someone got there first. Always search the relevant official sources, topped off with a hearty Google search, to ensure you’re not stepping on some established toes.

It’s not always a killer blow if you do discover an overlap. If you find a folk band in Canada with 87 Facebook followers has the same name as your fledgling Malaysian bakery, there’s probably no need to panic. But big brand name overlap not only causes potential legal problems, it makes it more challenging down the line to develop brand visibility.

  • Check the domains

Brands don’t just live in a physical space, they also need to plan for participation in the digital landscape. Unfortunately some plucky (annoying) entrepreneurs have decided to stake out that digital space by purchasing and selling some likely names at inflated prices.

It’s important to check domain name availability on a site like GoDaddy to avoid a nasty surprise at a later point. If you’re choosing between two names, the one that has a price tag of RM30,000 for annual rental of the .com domain is probably going to look a whole lot less appealing.

  • Think about SEO

This might seem a strange consideration at the naming stages, but it’s going to come back and bite you in the @ later if you don’t give it some thought at the start. SEO is about gaining visibility on search engines. If you name your brand with an extremely generic name that overlaps with high authority websites, you’re going to find that very difficult indeed.

Take the imagined case of a fledgling soft drinks band. You might think it’s cool, trendy, sleek and hip just to call it ‘Drink’, but you’re going to run up against some serious competition even getting close to the first page of Google results.

  • Run it by an audience

The final step to naming your brand should be… asking people what they think. Once you’ve got a shortlist, it’s difficult to look at that from a purely objective point of view. After all, you’ve potentially been sitting there winnowing down names and crying about the Urban Dictionary definitions for weeks.

If you’ve got the resources, a consumer research panel can be a great idea. It’s less painful to get feedback that reveals your audience hates the name before you’ve branded ten thousand brochures. If you’re a smaller entrepreneur, run it by friends, family, industry colleagues, preferably without explaining your own thought process in advance. That objective point of view could be the difference between brand success, and brand ridicule.

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