Myths About the Brand Naming Process: Part One

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Because people can imagine what their own process would be, they assume that the professionals must do it the same way. That is almost never the case.

Most disciplines within branding have myths and misconceptions attached to them. I doubt that any professional designers reading this haven’t lost a potential client because they believed that their friend’s nephew who wants to go to art school could design a cheaper logo that is just as good… it’s just drawing, right?

A lot of these myths about what we do are understandable and I am not making fun of anyone for believing them. The fact that a lot of these myths still exist, especially among the general public and so many start-ups, is probably a failing of our industry more than anything else.

My own specialism, brand naming, seems to have quite a few misconceptions. It’s perhaps one where most people can imagine what the process might be and don’t know the details of what is actually required so they make assumptions. Often these assumptions can cause tension or confusion over expectations, especially when it comes to costs and timescales.

In order to address some of these myths I reached out to some of my fellow naming consultants in the UK and asked them which ones they tended to see the most and why they were inaccurate assumptions.

You only come up with one name (Camille Medina, freelance naming consultant)

This one might be the most common myth and it’s due to the fact that what you are getting at the end of the process is ‘one name’. Camille says that it can throw up a number of frustrations for a client because they tend to then assume that only creating one name will be a quick, and consequently cheap, process. Neither of those things are often the case as we’ll get to in more detail in a second.

It’s perhaps a little harder to imagine than for something like logo design but even namers have to go through a process of creating different names and refining the things that work into the final name. Even if inspiration does strike and the first thing we think of seems perfect, it’s likely to be unavailable or there’s a chance that the client won’t like it, so alternative options are always created.

The reality is that to get to that one name, a consultant may have to create anywhere from fifty to several hundred names as part of their creative process. They won’t all be suitable options but they’re required as part of the process. If there is a team of creatives working on one project then the number can go into the thousands. Of course as a client you are only paying for the one name but to get there requires more work than you might realise.

It can throw up a number of frustrations for a client because they tend to then assume that only creating one name will be a quick, and consequently cheap, process. Neither of those things are often the case.

Names just come to you (Annabella Forbes, freelance naming consultant and copywriter)

Annabella specialises in naming and copywriting so she understands the importance of getting the tone and the underlying message of a name right. One of the things that people expect quite frequently from their naming consultants is the ability to instantly come up with a name on the spot. As Annabella points out, part of the process requires considering the way the name will be used and knee jerk creations are not only unusable 99% of the time but they’re often not entirely suitable when some proper consideration has been given. For anyone who names things for a living, the experience of being out with friends who ask you what you would name such and such and expecting an instant answer will be an entirely familiar one.

A well-considered naming project will start off by investigating, among other things, the names you may have already considered, the reasons you didn’t pursue them, your list of requirements, and the environment that your name needs to work in. Thinking about actual names comes further down the line. Giving off the cuff examples can be problematic as it is likely to set a project off with a tone of disappointment when the name is either unavailable or completely wrong! 

Giving off the cuff examples can be problematic as it is likely to set a project off with a tone of disappointment when the name is either unavailable or completely wrong! 

It should be a quick process (Emma Peto, freelance naming and brand identity consultant)

Many naming projects for the professionals come about due to someone doing it themselves and then encountering a last minute problem such as trademark issues or not getting the domain name they wanted (more on that in a second). Fair enough, you probably have to have gone through the naming process a few times to get an idea of the problems that can regularly occur and how serious they are. Unfortunately what happens is that the project comes to the consultant with an incredibly short deadline as other things are in motion.

Emma says that it’s not uncommon to be asked to create a name that has to be signed off by several different people, be linguistically acceptable in many different countries and registered as a trademark in multiple territories all within a week or two. 

Although there are some economies of scale that come into play with naming, the more complex the requirements, the longer the project is likely to take. Even the most basic of projects is doing extremely well if it’s done and dusted within 2 weeks. Expect an average of around 6 weeks but that can still go up dramatically once you take into account the legal processes involved in checking and registering a name around the world.

You probably have to have gone through the naming process a few times to get an idea of the problems that can regularly occur and how serious they are.

If someone else is using that name then you can’t have it (Philip Hansen, Creative Director of Open Water)

This one is very common and perhaps the most understandable. The assumption is that if a name is in use by anyone else somewhere in the world then it cannot be used. As Philip points out, this isn’t always the case.

“Many people these days tend to use Google as the first step in their legal checking as it’s easy to use, immediate, and cheap. Although it’s easy to understand, the results can often be overwhelming and misleading if you don’t know what you’re looking for.”

Philip says that a common problem is that people give up on a name as soon as they see that someone else is using it already. This doesn’t always need to be the case. A name like Polo is used for the mints and the car because they exist in different categories where consumers wouldn’t reasonably get them confused with each other and they wouldn’t benefit from each other’s brand equity. For example, nobody has ever bought a Volkswagen Polo because they like the taste of Polo Mints!

Assumptions when it comes to legal matters are never a good idea and getting proper legal advice is recommended but at the creation stage of your project, don’t give up too easily. 

Nobody has ever bought a Volkswagen Polo because they like the taste of Polo Mints!

CLICK HERE FOR PART TWO