Myths About the Brand Naming Process: Part Two

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Naming is never just a case of sitting down, coming up with a list of names and then calling it a day.

In part one of this article, we started looking at some of the persistent myths that surround the discipline of brand naming. These myths can cause a lot of problems with both the client/consultant relationship, as well as for the integrity and effectiveness of the branding process itself.

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 have to have the same domain name (Annabella Forbes, freelance naming consultant and copywriter)

There may be no phrase that sinks the heart of a naming consultant quicker than “the name also needs to be available as a .com”!

There are a couple of assumptions at play here, says Annabella. The first is that people find your website by typing the name into the search bar and then add ‘.com’ to the end. The second is that Google will rank your website higher if the company name matches the URL. The first assumption is a very inaccurate reflection of how people use the web and the second is completely untrue but they both derail a huge number of naming projects nonetheless.

Although it might be true that you could find some people who search for a company by typing their name into the search bar and adding .com to it, you can find others who just type the name into Facebook and follow the link through their company page, some who will simply type the company name into Google and click on the first link, and others like my mum who will phone up their kids and ask them to find the page and tell them what it is. The point is that restricting your naming options to only those that are available as a .com is incredibly unnecessary in a world where “Google it” is a common phrase. It’s a nice bonus if it happens but to make it a deal breaker for a name you may otherwise like is a huge mistake. 

Annabella sums up the reality perfectly when she says “it probably isn’t much of a surprise in this day and age that so many obviously desirable URLs are unavailable, or available at a price that is impossible for most companies. Finding a name you like and then finding a URL that works with that name is a much easier, time saving, creative and cheaper option”.

There may be no phrase that sinks the heart of a naming consultant quicker than “the name also needs to be available as a .com”!

The name is the easiest part of the brand to come up with (Philip Hansen, Creative Director of Open Water)

Philip says that this one stems from the idea that because most people are more capable of coming up with names than they are capable of designing a logo, they assume that naming is easier. After all, you need a computer and the ability to use special software to create a usable logo but to make up names, all you need is a pen and some paper. The reality is that just because anyone can come up with a name, it doesn’t make it any good; and it certainly doesn’t make it legally available.

There is a process to both disciplines. Both can be equally challenging for different reasons. Naming can be incredibly drawn out but people think you can turn a deadline around in a day or two. They are often frustrated when that turns out to not be the case. The side effect of people believing that naming is easy is that they assume you are causing unnecessary delays or charging them too much. It’s an assumption that doesn’t do much for client relationships!

Philip points out that the naming process involves many different stages, including: “competitor research, positioning discussions, concept exploration, name creation (often more than one round), legal checks, linguistic checks…and all of those have to be run past the client before the next one can begin”. There is no idle time in a 6 week process and each stage requires experience and expertise to get it done properly. There are plenty of examples of companies having to change their names because something wasn’t done properly, like a legal clash or an inappropriate meaning in a foreign market. The time that can be saved in the long run over trying to rush the process is well worth it.

Naming can be incredibly drawn out but people think you can turn a deadline around in a day or two. They are often frustrated when that turns out to not be the case.

Naming is the first step in the branding process (Emma Peto, freelance naming and brand identity consultant)

This is a common one with the smallest startups to the largest multinationals. It’s an understandable one that Emma says occurs because when a product or company is conceived, people need to know how to talk about it and part of that is knowing what to call it. So often the first step in the whole branding process becomes creating the name before anything else has really been considered. Unfortunately this causes problems for the naming process itself as well as the brand as a whole. 

The problem is that until a brand strategy that considers the whole brand has been laid out, creating the name is a bit of a lottery. Emma tells a familiar story when she says that she has seen many projects go back and forth because there is no real value focus or tone. Strategy discussions need to take place to decide what values should be conveyed in the name and what style it needs to be. Initial gut reactions to a new company or product can produce a long list of desired values and the temptation is to try and squeeze them all into a single name. It’s not an unusual request to be asked to find a name that is an English dictionary word and conveys the meaning of ten disparate values. It’s unusual to find one though!

Emma suggests really nailing down the strategy first before you consider your new name. Everything you do should drop out of that strategy work and with a clear idea in place you’ll find that everything goes much more smoothly. For example, naming is a much more focused and creative process when you are looking at trying to convey a clearer message, knowing that your other values will be conveyed later through other brand elements such as your visual identity, language and staff behaviour. Of course, as Emma points out, you may well be able to go through this strategy process with your chosen naming consultant but trying to rush straight into naming is tempting and false progress so you should always check their willingness to work on the earlier branding stages.

Until a brand strategy that considers the whole brand has been laid out, creating the name is a bit of a lottery.

Naming is just about creating names (Camille Medina, freelance naming consultant)

As an international naming consultant who is fluent in both French and English as well as conversational in Spanish, Camille sees her fair share of projects for companies or products that need to work across several countries. Names that need to work across borders bring their own challenges that many people are not always aware of, and clients can be surprised when these add weeks and costs to what they thought would be a simple process.

“People often don’t realise the importance of checking the suitability of their new brand names with native speakers who live in the relevant countries. They think that as someone who speaks different languages, that when I create names I am fully aware of the evocations and issues of those languages in each country. Unfortunately this is not always the case and the process should always include a phase of linguistic checking where required. Many people want you to skip this phase to save time or money but the reality is that even people creating names in their own language can sometimes miss things because they are so close to the creative phase. When something goes wrong, those two weeks you saved can come back to bite you in the form of several months’ worth of delays. Not to mention the potential costs involved depending on how far down the process you have gone!”

Camille goes on to say that there are similar issues when it comes to legal checking; something that many people don’t like to spend time or money on but can be a huge headache if ignored. “Naming is never just a case of sitting down, coming up with a list of names and then calling it a day. As frustrating as it is for clients who want things urgently and don’t want to increase their budget for legal checks, naming is a much more complex process than most people realise and not something that you should try and bend to fit your expectations”.

Naming is never just a case of sitting down, coming up with a list of names and then calling it a day.

Closing notes

There is a common theme running through these issues and that is that there is a process behind the scenes that most people aren’t aware of. 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. I can add up and subtract but I imagine an accountant would laugh at me if I then assumed that meant I knew how to do the taxes for a multinational corporation.

It’s important to understand that I’m not bringing these issues up as a way to moan about clients or show off how clever us naming consultants are (I’m not personally that clever, I just skate by on my devastatingly good looks). This gap between what we do and what people think we do causes frustration on both sides of the table and throwing a light on the process can only help (I hope).

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.