2017 ASAE annual conference

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We will be exhibiting at the ASAE Annual Meeting and Expo from August 12-August 15. Be sure to stop by booth #339 to learn more about our association work, and if you’re an attendee, to claim your sweet treat! We would love to see you!

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Brand Thinking
Bleeding edge thinking on branding and marketing

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Shakespeare was wrong! What's in a name?

By Greenfield/Belser
August 11, 2014
Shakespeare was wrong! What's in a name?

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Juliet was determined…but wrong. Names do matter. In fact, Al Ries and Jack Trout argue in Positioning: The Battle for the Mind, that choosing your brand name, product name or service name may be the most important strategic marketing decision you ever make. What’s the saying? "Well begun is half done"—and we mean that in a positive way!

Every day, thousands of new companies, product and service names are created. We all roll our eyes at some of the names offered to consumers, but few appreciate the difficulty of naming until they are faced with this critical task.

Handling Expectations Sensibly

Everyone wants their new name to be the next Coca-Cola or Google, with an instantly memorable logo and immediate name recognition that encapsulates the company’s brand promise. But the hard truth is that may not happen: a lot of the good, obvious and even extremely creative names are already taken.

Understand also that a new name alone cannot possibly represent the richness or complexity of an entire organization. But the name development process must, nonetheless, try to capture the essential spirit and value of the organization. Do not expect this to be evident at once. And be realistic: it takes time for both staff and the public to absorb and get comfortable with a new name.

Finally, as you review the names offered, one should remember—and balance—how easy it is to dismiss a name versus how difficult it is to propose a name that may have merit.

Naming Process

Before any naming exercise begins, know what you’re selling. Too obvious? We wish it were so.

• Perform a SWOT analysis.
• Note key attributes that make your company, product or service unique.
• Research the industry for existing names, paying particular attention to your direct competition.
• Research the category for industry terms.
• Go to the linguistic well to prime the pump. Create a list that might include, for example,
       —names of relevant: mythical figures (Greek, Roman, Chinese, Norse, Egyptian, African, etc., gods, goddesses and heroes);
       —plants and animals;
       —prefixes and suffixes that are commonly used in English from Greek, Latin and Arabic, etc.
• Stop being disciplined and logical and be silly, goofy and outrageous. Names will rise up from the discipline or by inspiration. You never know.
• Toss logical candidates into a program that generates mix and match names. Review the hundreds or even thousands of options. Rinse and repeat.

The naming process is iterative by design and necessity. Even a name that seems perfect to one, will be dismissed by another. Everyone has opinions. Names will find supporters and detractors on both the client team and creative team. In fact, developing consensus around finalists and the winner is probably the toughest aspect of the job. But by keeping the committee to a workable number of respected individuals with decision-making authority, the process will be more manageable and resolved quicker.

The Creative Team

When we embark on a naming project, we gather our creative team to review the background research and goals so everyone clearly understands the objective. We then encourage each member of the team to jot down 30 names in 15 minutes, seeking quantity more so than quality. The goal is to clear out the obvious and begin to identify broad categories of search. We consolidate all ideas into a spreadsheet to sort, compare and begin to combine options. Here are some rules of thumb:

• Keep it short.
• Go with your “street name."
• Avoid initials unless they are unavoidable for some reason.
• Make up names with caution.
• Avoid unappealing names.
• Embrace class distinctions.
• Leave your ego at the door.

Getting It Right

Quantity over quality means the first review will feel more like looking through a trash heap than picking through Ali Baba’s cave. So much is just terrible! Some options rise to the top quickly and are extracted to be added to a short list for further consideration or refinement. Every failed effort helps refine our direction for the next assault. While we all want the strongest, most defensible options, sometimes the pickings seem slim. So, we branch out and start the process over again. This process may continue for days, even weeks, before a strong set of contenders are compiled. Clients who decide to join the fray and try their hand at naming quickly find themselves tumbling down a rabbit hole that simply never ends. It can be obsessive.

With a short list of 10-15 strong possibilities, we whittle down the list even further by searching the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s online database, Google and registries to see if any of the options are protected, or if domains are available. We also do a gut and gutter check. A gut check is simply “like/don’t like”; no reasons required. Gutter check? Does the option have nasty or sex-related connotations we can’t live with. This exercise inevitably reduces the list sharply. We will almost automatically secure the domains of any names that clear inspection. Buying five or six domains aligned with your naming options is a cheap insurance policy. If your best name does not clear inspection, and/or the desired URL is already the property of someone else, you may have to pay the current holder for the rights to it or, come up with an alternate URL that will work just as well.  

Selecting A Winner

This is the moment of truth. The client team must make a decision. Since thousands of names are being registered every day, many names have already found a home elsewhere. You might feel like you’re settling for second best. But if the process has been followed and the name has merit, you’ll find a strong, creative brand campaign can make almost any name shine. Within six months, you won’t remember the options. You’ll simply smell the rose you have in your hand and enjoy its perfume.