Creating a New Brand Name: Name Hurricane

It’s self evident: naming your brand or business right is vital. I don’t think I need to tell you why.

A brand with a confusing name, a name that’s hard to pronounce or difficult to remember or a  name that’s virtually indistinguishable from the ones the competition are using will have a tough time competing with other brands.

So, how do you come up with a killer name for our brand? Where do good brand names come from?

This excellent blog (in Dutch) by Mischa Coster gives a comprehensive run down of various brand name origins. There is the family name (Heinz), the descriptive name (FastCompany), the acronym (IBM), the contraction (FedEx), the fantasy name (Google), names from mythology (Nike), and there is the symbolic name (Red Cross). They are all excellent descriptions of various types of names and I think they make excellent starting points to generate great names.

Knowing where other names come from or how they are constructed doesn’t really help you much. A great way however to generate great brand names is by having a brand-name-brainstorm (or as I like to call it: a name hurricane)

At Roos & van de Werk we get to do a lot of these for our clients. Sometimes we involve our clients as participants, sometimes we do the hard work (the actual brainstorming) all by ourselves. Sometimes it takes 30 minutes, sometimes it takes several weeks to find just the right brand name. I would like to share some of the tips, tricks and tools that I have accumulated over the years with you so you can set up a brand-name-brainstorm for yourself.

For convenience’ sake I am going to split the whole article up in three parts: before, during and after the brainstorm. This first post I will focus on the things you should do before you have the brainstorm.

Get Briefed

There is no way around it; creating a good brand name from scratch usually takes a lot of hard work and time. You really don’t want to waste your effort and time.The first thing you should do before you assemble a team of people for a creative brainstorm: get briefed. Here are some questions that you need to ask:

  • What are we naming? (yes, get a proper description or definition of whatever it is you will be naming.)
  • How will the name be used? (a singe product or service, an entire line of products, a company, in combination with other brand names)
  • What audiences will be targeted by the name? (and what languages do they speak?)
  • What key attributes, values and USP does the brand have?
  • Are there any other conditions, taboo, legalities or limitations we should take into account?
  • What is the context of the brand? (company history, developments etc.)

Some of the above may sound obvious to the point of silliness, but having been in meeting in which some of the above issues were debating in what was supposed to be a brainstorm I can tell you: those things eat up huge chunk of time and drain your creative energy. Really, take your time to talk these things through with your client (or with yourself, if the client is you) before you get to work.

Get the Right Team

Once you’re briefed, you should ask yourself: “Who am I going to invite to the brainstorm?” I’m going to have to be honest here – some people are more talented at generating names than others. Generating names requires some linguistic skills, the ability to associate freely and (do not underestimate this) little courage. Be picky about who you invite. In my experience avid readers, polyglots and public speakers are generally pretty good at this.

You really don’t want to invite too many people to these particular kind of brainstorms. As a rule of thumb I limit the team to about five people (this includes two or three people from the client and the facilitator). Having said that; generating names is a creative process that can benefit greatly from making it a team effort.

Get Prepared

Like I noted earlier: brainstorming for names is hard work. It can also be a fuzzy, messy and sometimes chaotic process. In fact, it almost always is. If it’s not – you’re probably not doing it right.

Having some kind of structure, a program written out by the facilitator before you get brainstorming will be very helpful in guiding the team’s creative energy towards their common goal: a list of great brand names. Such a program should list the different steps the team will make as well as the time frame, purpose and the team’s required work and output for each individual step.

To be honest – I’ve never followed a program I had prepared 100% through. You don’t need to either. In fact, every experienced creative facilitator knows how to improvise and when. Improvisation is made a whole lot easier by having something to improvise from: that’s why we have programs.

Get Inspired

Sometimes you have to get a little lucky. The founding partners of bransoncompany, Leendert Bikker and Frank Roos first named it Branson & Guevara at its conception in 2004. How did they come up with this name? Leendert and Frank were enjoying a glass of wine in Leendert’s library. At one point either Frank or Leendert (depending who you ask) spotted two biographies. Richard Branson and Che Guevara were standing shoulder to shoulder on a bookshelf, conveniently placed at eye-height, waiting to get noticed. And so they did.

Was it luck? Perhaps. In general all brainstorms or creative meeting benefit greatly from a little inspiration (or luch). These three ingredients will help you stage an inspiring setting for your brainstorm:

  • A Great Location – comfortable chairs, enough space to walk around, clean air and a lot of atmosphere. Places with an excellent view: trees, the sea, a cityscape do well. Chances are your regular meeting room doesn’t fit the above description, so you may have to get out there and rent a place. The great thing about that is that the team won’t be bothered with day-to-day business issues and colleagues running in either. The latter is the reason why you also want to make sure cell phones, black berries and similar distractions are turned off.
  • Plenty of Stimuli – if possible provide the team with a variety of different creative stimuli. You can have stacks of relevant magazines (preferably some in a foreign language as well), dictionaries, picture books for your team to flick through while working. Of course if there are models, sketches, pictures or actual samples of the product or service: make sure those are available too. Make it easy for the team to stick stuff they find interesting to the walls or write things down on flip charts.
  • External Input – get input from a variety of different sources outside of the team. A great way to get input is to ask your employees or your customers or your children to provide you with a list of names they would come up with.

Wrap up

Get briefed, get the right team, get prepared and get inspired. These are the first four tips I would like to share with you. I hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to use anything you may find useful. If you do, please let me know and share your experience.

In my next post I will dive deeper into the creative brainstorm itself – with lots of techniques and tips to get your creative juice flowing and generate lots of wonderful, new brand names.

7 Replies to “Creating a New Brand Name: Name Hurricane”

  1. Hey Bas,

    Excellent post. Looking forward to part II & III. I guess there are various ways to have a sructured AND unstructured (chaotic) brainstorm session; very curious to find out your opinion on which is best to use for brand name creation. And which tools to use like whiteboard/paper and mindmapping/free associative thinking etc.

  2. Hi Mischa, I think I’ve got some writing to do this weekend!
    Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Nice post! Did you use this approach to name your kids too? 😉

  4. Hey Bastiaan, what is your feeling about language – eg when you wish to lauch an international (global) brand, can French be a good idea when you are aiming for a more high end sophisticated audience?
    I look forward to your opinion!

  5. Hi there,

    Great question! French (or any other language can be used to great effect). When you develop a name for an English (or English speaking) audience the great thing to remember is that a large part of the English vocabulary is of French origin or close related (because it is Latin in origin) so a lot of words can be used.

    French can be used a number of ways:

    1. Words like l’amour or élegance require no translation at all. Their distinct Frenchness gives it a little je-ne-sais-quoi.

    2. French names and words can be used to great effect (in particular for luxury items, food, fashion) A “Petit Gâteau” just sounds delicious even if you don’t know what it means… And a “Charette Merlot” could be a very expensive wine for all you know.

    3. Pseudo French can also be used. Like ‘Le Hamburger’ – perhaps to give a products something extra.

    4. Even a little French can go a long way. I once developed a brand name ‘House of Eléonore’ that uses the typical french accents on the e. I happen to think Eléonore is a slightly more elegant woman than regular old plain Eleonore.

    So yes, both as a source of inspiration and way to embellish ‘regular’ names French is quite a useful little language. On can imagine similar tricks with Japanese (SuperDry anybody?), German (Von Dutch), Italian or Swedish.

    I even once proposed a pseudo Hawaiian name to a client. AKUHA. (which is the “Hawaiian” spelling of Aqua). They went for the far less fun sounding ‘Dutch Water Dreams’.

    Anyway, should you feel like pingponging a brand-name or two – just send me a mail. 😉

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