current writings on all things

What’s in a brand name?

“What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” This line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet reinforces the idea that the core essence of a person or thing is what matters most, not what it is called. I would argue, however, that in the branding of a product, service or organization, naming is critical to success. Brand names should be specific, distinct, and relevant in order to leave a lasting impression in the mind of the consumer.  

Be Simple.

  Choose a brand name that has meaning behind it, or that is specific to the type of product or industry. Avoid being overly generic. Kinko’s, named after the founder’s “kinky” red hair, soon became FedEx Kinko’s after being purchased in 2004. Not only was this a mouthful to say, it diluted the perception of the Kinko’s brand. And in 2008, when the name changed to FedEx Office, it became two generic words (how often do we say that we are going to “fedex a package”? In this manner even the corporate name has become part of our everyday vernacular). I still refer to the store as Kinko’s.   Another way to keep a brand name simple is to avoid names with too many syllables; that incorporate parts of many different or unrelated words; or that may be difficult to pronounce or spell (this coming from a branding firm called “Indicia”). Some companies approach naming determined to find something that can also be used as a domain for the web. Basing an entire brand strategy on whether or not a URL is available is a risky endeavor, since almost every word in the English language has already been registered as a domain name.  

Be Unique.

  It is important that your brand stand out and be distinct from the competition. It wasn’t too long ago that placement within the Yellow Pages guaranteed differentiation among brand names. Since phone number listings and ads appeared in alphanumeric order, brands such as “AAA this” or “ABC that“ became the norm. Now it is possible for customers to “google” products or services, making the Yellow Pages all but obsolete. The importance of a name beginning with the letter “A” is now totally irrelevant.   In some cases an owner or founder’s name is used for the brand. The problem is that ultimately the perception and success of the brand becomes tied to an individual, and it can be difficult to transition to new ownership or sell because of the equity that exists within the market. Many law firms (and even some advertising agencies) take this “name on the door” approach, having multiple partner names define the brand in what could be mistaken for a sentence. When the receptionist answers the phone, they must resort to identifying the company as “Law Firm,” since otherwise it would take too long (and too much breath) to say the whole name.  

Be Memorable.

  The more relevant and less generic a brand name, the more it will stand out among a crowded marketplace. Using initials or abbreviations for a company might sound like a good alternative to help simplify a brand’s name, but when it comes time to making a purchase decision, will the customer remember those three letters, or get them confused with something else?   Likewise, adjectives within a brand name that are used describe the quality or type of product or service should also be avoided. You would think that a company called “Creative Marketing” or “Creative Planning” would have a more creative name.  


  Developing a name that is simple, unique, and memorable is just the first step in creating an enduring brand. The ultimate value of a product, service or organization will be judged by its quality (“the sweetness” alluded to in Romeo and Juliet). However, a positive first impression must first be built around that brand, particularly when it comes time for a buying decision to be made from among all like-brands.   —Ryan Hembree, principal/brand strategy