The article is written by Craig Swanson, Creative Director, Partner of Toniq LLC, USA
Brand names. Where it all starts, the genesis of the new. Or if not the absolute beginning, very near. A nanosecond after the Big Bang of a product idea, a service development, a company start-up, comes the inevitable question: What do we call this? Where to begin? Because no matter what “it” is, we have to have a way to refer to it. All the nouns of our world become dollars and sense in the marketplace of brands. No one may care whether NASA’s new exoplanet is called Kepler 22-b or Dustball-X047, but sellers and buyers will care very much indeed if a product for sale on shelf is capable of establishing its brand narrative in a way that adds value to a corporate portfolio and a consumer’s life.
The brand name development process must be robust and capable of attaching specific meaning to what is often a broad set of challenges. The following three macro approaches can be combined, mashed, ripped, and restitched in combination with a thorough dive into the project brief (goals, wishes, strategic must-haves, etc) to create a distinctive, ownable brand name.
1. Make It Up
A key requirement of all first-level creative work is to “forget” what you know. Or to put it another way, to get outside your own head, beyond the everyday, lest you lean too heavily on cliché and the obvious. There are any number of brainstorming techniques to accomplish this. One that can be particularly useful in the development of names and avenues for exploration comes from George Prince, co-founder of the problem-solving methodology, Synectics. In brief, the idea is to take two large, contrasting ideas and look at each in the context of the other. For example, to look at Cooking in the context of Architecture. Or Technology in the context of Ballet. Using imagery for inspiration can aid cognitive breakthrough here, and it’s especially useful to have a skilled moderator for guidance if you’re not used to this kind of non-linear thinking! Once you’ve worked through one of these mind-stretchers, however, it’s remarkable how rich the territories are to emerge, and how apropos to the project at hand.
A brand name should feel fresh, “new” (even if heritage), capable of invention, reinvention, extension. Imaginative, non-judgmental development is important in achieving this.
2. Make It Right
What does it mean to be “right” when something is original, untested? Though a focused brief helps, it isn’t always possible, and a deep dive into brand essence or aspirations is always necessary. As with any kind of meaning, context is key. Developing zones, platforms, or other distinct territories of consumer targets and trends helps in the creation of symbol sets, word roots, memes, and other images, metaphors, and icons of verbal essence. Additionally, what I call the “sound and music” of a brand name is important. Certain syllables sound well together; others clang and conflict. Being sensitive to these rhythms yields options that have the sense of rightness that makes them good candidates for testing and research.
What finally makes right or wrong is, as with any design or marketing challenge, a question of aesthetics, strategic support, and hopefully at least a percent or two of magic! Most of our world is navigable because we’ve turned the unfamiliar into the familiar. You have to work to keep your mind (eye, ear, all the senses) open.
3. Make It Real
We are in a process of “making up” the brand name at the same time we are attempting to establish its authority. A sense of realness is essential to give the brand the foundation required for audience trust. Connection to or endorsement by a known parent may get around this requirement to a great degree. New brands don’t always have it so easy. On the other hand, many major online brands started from scratch and to some extent have changed the brand name culture as a whole toward broader tolerance of both fun (Google, Yahoo, Skype, Wikipedia) and even nonsense or onomatopoeia (Twitter, Zaarly, Squrl). Reality becomes somewhat amorphous in our increasingly virtual worlds, and given the increasing number of brands emerging in the global market perhaps that’s not a bad thing! No matter what else, at bottom, the name must be real in the sense that it is capable of serving as a symbolic container for its brand story.
None of this work occurs in a vacuum, of course. Brand names for each project must be reviewed extensively and in multiple phases by the development team, by brand management, by consumer research, and of course by the decision-makers responsible for saying, finally: “This one”. Having a strong strategic foundation for decisions involving words provides confidence in this critical early stage of brand-shaping. Ah, words: those nimble messengers of emotion and purpose; vulnerable to subjective interpretation, misinterpretation, misunderstanding, un-understanding. Words become brand names through their stories, the same way a novel’s title stands for the whole book. The brand name is a rich symbol, a dimensional chronicle all its own, that helps us put elements of a product/service/company story into perspective. There may be no “perfect” brand name at the beginning of the process, but make sure you have one that fills you with enthusiasm, with excitement about its rightness, its newness, its authenticity.
About the Author
Craig Swanson is Creative Director, Partner of Toniq LLC.
Toniq is a brand strategy firm dedicated to creating “brand effervescence.” Mr. Swanson and the Toniq staff bring life, energy and dimension to brands by blending marketing with anthropology, sociology, the psychology of symbolism and innovative consumer research techniques. Email: email@example.com, Tel: 212-755-2929 x218.