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how to pick a brand name

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What’s in a name? The very essence of the brand. A well-chosen brand name summarizes the product, explains its purpose and benefits, and sparks subtle emotional reactions.

Choosing an enticing name of a product or new company is the first step in marketing the brand.

“A great name is essentially a short ad for the product, evoking feeling and inspiring some kind of action (consciously or unconsciously),” writes Paul Earle Jr., adjunct lecturer of innovation and entrepreneurship at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University

Some services say they can select brand names. Brand managers are dubious or downright opposed to machine-created labels. At best, they can offer brainstorming help; it’s up to humans to concoct brand names that engage humans.

Qualities of Great Brand Names

Although there are many exceptions, great brands typically have certain characteristics.

Short. Short names are easier to remember. It’s also easier for designers to create logos and other marketing materials from short names.

Easy to pronounce. Avoid tongue twisters. Try saying the proposed name out loud. It should easily roll off the tongue. People may like names with alliteration. A 2010 University of Alberta study found that consumers have a more positive reaction to brands with repetitively structured names, such as Coca-Cola, Kit Kat, and Jelly Belly.

Marketable. Think ahead to consider how potential names will be marketed. What’s the potential tagline? What about a launch act? Or a social campaign? “If you find that it feels unnatural to market your name idea, it’s probably not a very good name,” Earle says.

Available. It’s essential to trademark the name and buy the name’s web domain. That rules out common words and phrases and names already trademarked. A search of the USPTO trademark database can tell you if your proposed name is already trademarked for a similar type of business. The “Whois” search in Network Solutions can tell you if a domain name is already taken. If it is, move on to another name. Owning a brand’s .com domain name is a marketing essential.

Malleable. Seek a name that adjusts with your business’ needs over time, advises marketing consultant Rob Allen. If you’re launching a Keto supplement company, don’t call it KetoProtein. If popularity of Keto weakens, that name will constrain your ability to change. Something more malleable like FatForFuel allows you adapt to changing tastes in the marketplace.

Brand names can be:

  • Based on the founder or a real or fictional person, such as Ben & Jerry’s, Warby Parker, or Betty Crocker.
  • Descriptive phrases like General Motors.
  • Completely made up such a Kodak, Xerox or TiVo.
  • From mythological sources such as Nike, the ancient Greek goddess of victory.
  • Acronyms such as DKNY (Donna Karan New York)
  • Combinations of two words (a portmanteau) as in Facebook.
  • Eccentric spellings of words like Flickr.

Expect differences of opinion on your team. People, including branding experts, have diverse opinions about the different types of name. Categories of brand names have pros and cons. There’s no clear-cut right or wrong choice.

Steps to Choosing Names

Here’s a concise guide to selecting a brand name recommended by Katy French at Column Five Media:

Define brand’s purpose, mission and values.

Define what differentiates your brand from competitors and what makes it unique. Competitive intelligence can help.

Brainstorm ideas. Write down all the adjectives that describe your product/service. Describe what you want your customers to feel when they use your product/service. Do a free association of words about your product/service.

After you’ve narrowed down possibilities, search the US Patent and Trademark Office’s database of registered trademarks and the “Whois” database from Network Solutions. “If they’re all taken, it’s back to the drawing board,” French says.

Test your choices. Create logos, and other marketing materials for your top three choices. Then test them. You may be surprised at what resonates with people.

Steven Cook, an attorney at Cook & Cook, who works with startups, suggests this testing process:

Build a branded landing page for each name. Use identical copy and only change logo/brand name.

Run a highly targeted Facebook ad campaign to your target customers for a week.

See which page won more conversions.

Bottom Line: Selecting a brand name may be one of the most important decisions for marketing a product. Extensive brainstorming, creativity and testing can produce a brand name that excites customers and energizes marketing efforts.

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