What’s in a name?


Although I’ve spent much of my career building brands and businesses, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been called upon to name a brand. Big brands too. Think Unilever, Cadbury, Coca Cola, Kellogg’s, Nestle … the list goes on.

To their way of thinking: call in a creative guy who knows his way around a brand strategy and has big brand experience, give him an open brief to name a new brand … and out the end will come a list of names that will so resonate with its intended target market, that it will be a gigantic overnight success and change the category forever.

A fair theory, but when it all comes down to it, can a mere name really do that?

The simple answer is no. A name is what you make it. Nothing more, nothing less.

While you’re sitting there, spend the next 10 seconds writing down the first 5 brands that come to mind. What were they? Chances are two or three of them are brand names I mentioned earlier, that’s just how top-of-mind awareness works, but what were the others? Apple? Toyota? GM? Google?

Now think about those names. Really think about them. If you were charged with coming up with the ultimate name for, say, a car brand, would you really strut into the boardroom feeling all clever and superior about coming up with a list of names like Toyota, Honda, Ford, General Motors or Chevrolet? Or a list of fashion house brand names that include Avon, H&M, Zara, Gucci and Adidas? Seriously?!

Yet, every one of those names is listed in the 2013 Best Global Brands Top 100 – a definitive list of the world’s most valuable brands by the highly respected global brand consultancy, Interbrand.

My point is simply this: a name is what you make it. It’s not about thinking the ultimate name is out there somewhere and that you have to find it before you can launch a brand. It’s not spending about sweating bullets pouring over potential names for weeks – or months – on end. It’s not about spending ridiculous amounts of money in research hoping your target market will give you the answer. Because the answer is all in what you create around the brand that will make it. Or break it for that matter.

In fact, in my experience the best names have ben those that have no meaning or connection to anything or anyone. They are clean, unencumbered by any preconceptions and ready to become whatever you want them to be.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, yes I do practice what I preach. My current entrepreneurial pursuits include brands such as RED Burlesque, Horse Sense and Lion Chiefs. Without clicking the links, I guarantee you couldn’t tell me what they are. Yet (with the exception of Lion Chiefs for now) when you do, the brand behind the name will resonate immediately.

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