The Brand Naming Process Part 1: Before You Begin

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Gone are the days when a product team could sit around and come up with a useable product name over a cup of coffee.

When you’ve decided to consult someone who deals with such a specific speciality as brand naming it is difficult to know what to do in advance, what is expected of you as a client, and what information you will need to provide. For example, do you overload your new consultant with pages and pages of facts and figures and let them decide what is important? Perhaps you should tell them nothing; maybe give them just the merest glimpse of the product so as not to interfere with their artistic spirit and creativity?

If you’re about to carry out your first naming consultation, it is almost impossible to know what may or may not have an effect on the project you are about to undertake. What I’d like to offer over the next three blog articles are my own thoughts on some of the points you should consider when setting the environment for the project and then on writing the project brief itself.

So firstly, here I’d like to give you a few things to consider before the consultation really begins:

Who are the decision makers?

If there is anyone at your company who has the power to reject a name anywhere in the process then you should get their input as soon as possible.

Every brand naming consultant has several stories of times when they thought they were at the end of a project only to have a higher up at their client’s company come in and reject everything they’d already done, essentially resulting in the project being done twice.

Now everyone appreciates that you’re not going to manage to get the CEO of the company along to every project meeting, but if they are going to only turn up to two then it is best if they are the first and (hopefully!) last ones.

It is so important to get the thoughts and expectations for a potential name as early as possible. Everyone has different ideas on what they want to see. I know of consultants who spent a couple of months working on a project only to turn up at what they thought was the final presentation to be told by the owner of the company, whom they’d never met before, that he wanted to see a list of French names and could they ‘go away and take a look at that please’! Now, of course, there is nothing wrong with the request itself but creating names can be a longer process than people want it to be and when deadlines are tight it is best to have all of the important information from all of the relevant players as early as possible.

Consider your working titles carefully

If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard someone say “I bet they’re going to name it after the working title/project name” I’d be a much richer man. In many instances this is absolutely fine because the working title was probably chosen for its relevance to the new product. However, there are plenty of times when I’ve seen products given the working title that is then released to an audience who have no idea what the name means.

The problem is one of familiarity. If you spend a year referring to a potential product by a certain name, it is likely to start sounding good no matter what it is. (OK fine, you probably can think of a few that wouldn’t sound that appealing after a year but you’re not likely to have picked them in the first place.) It is difficult to accept another name for something that in your head you already know how to refer to. Suddenly calling it something different will feel weird and that feeling makes it very difficult to judge new names objectively (imagine having to suddenly refer to your oldest friend by a new name; it would be very strange for a while). This is where the very idea of consulting an outside party can have its benefits.

The problem is one of familiarity. If you spend a year referring to a potential product by a certain name, it is likely to start sounding good no matter what it is.

So if you don’t have a name in mind already, pick a working title that you can’t possibly use for the product name. If you happen to think of any potential names along the process that you feel would work then that’s great. You do need to judge them from the same starting point as all the others though.

Consult your legal team early

If you are using your own in-house legal services then I cannot stress enough how important it is to get their thoughts early on. Some of the smoothest projects I have worked on have had someone from the legal department sitting in on every meeting. Yes that’s right, I’m being nice about lawyers!

The legal process in a project can easily be the longest part, especially if you are launching something in several countries at once. It’s just one of those things that certain legal processes take a set amount of time and can’t be rushed through. The UK government’s Intellectual Property Office website currently advises to allow 4 months for an application for a name. Once you add your own legal team’s particular workloads you potentially have a 6 month delay in launching your product that you weren’t expecting. If you call in a consultant to name a product that you’re hoping to launch in 27 countries within the next 6 weeks you are probably going to be very disappointed.

The legal process in a project can easily be the longest part, especially if you are launching something in several countries at once.

Apart from advising you on the potential timing of what they can do, the legal team can also give you a very strong idea as to what they do and don’t expect to be able to use when it comes to legal clearance. You might love the idea of having your product name start with the letters ‘ANG’ but your legal advisors may know that doing so will get you in big trouble with a competitor. That kind of information is very useful to a naming consultant who is otherwise about to start churning out names that you can’t use.

The idea here is very similar to my first point about consulting all decision makers as early as possible. You might think that some of their ideas are silly but seeing as you’re not likely to get anything past them you should consult them as early as possible to avoid headaches later.

Accept that it’s a process

When you buy a shovel you don’t really want the shovel, you want the hole it’s going to make. A brand naming project is the same, you just want the result but there is a process that must be followed first.

I’ve had plenty of first meetings where I’ve sat down, said hello, then immediately been asked what my suggestions are for a new product that at this stage I know next to nothing about. I’m not complaining about that at all, it usually shows that the person I’m dealing with wants my opinion as the expert and that makes me very happy. However, there are certain stages that need to be worked through in order to give the best advice and name suggestions. Even if I give you the best name you’ve ever heard off the top of my head, you are going to be very disappointed when you find out in a couple of weeks that someone else already thought of it and legally registered it 3 years ago.

Gone are the days when a product team could sit around and come up with a useable product name over a cup of coffee. There are too many issues these days that go well beyond just coming up with a creative name: legal issues with the sheer number of potential competitor clashes that can exist; issues in finding a name that has an available .com domain even if the name is technically OK to use; issues with whether your potential name can be understood and doesn’t mean anything inappropriate in any of the countries you wish to launch in; the list goes on.

Unfortunately your naming process is likely to take longer than you hoped it would. Obviously a small, local start-up with no need for a domain name and linguistic testing can get through the process quicker than a multi-national who wants to launch something in every country in Europe. No matter what your needs though I would advise talking to a naming consultant as soon as you think you might need one so they can give you an idea of how long the process will take.

No matter what your needs though I would advise talking to a naming consultant as soon as you think you might need one so they can give you an idea of how long the process will take.

Do you really need a Twitter ID?

I recently heard a joke that said the biggest problem our grandchildren will face is finding a Twitter name that hasn’t already been taken. It is becoming increasingly common to be asked to only suggest names that have available Twitter IDs. It used to be only names with available .com domain names but now it can be Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Flickr and a million other social networking sites.

The more restrictions you place on where your name needs to be available, the more difficult it will be to find one that you are happy with. If you’re not going to even use Twitter, should you reject a name that you actually really like just because someone happens to have it registered there? I’d argue that unless they use their Twitter feed for promoting anything inappropriate the answer is probably no.

Work out where you want to use your name. If you worry too much about sites you’ll never use then you’ll only end up with a name that you only just find acceptable rather than one you love.

Look out for the second part of this article where we look at how to put together the brief for your perfect brand name.

If you would like more details or a face to face consultation on creating or building your brand, then please get in touch. We'd love to help.