Figuring out the right name for your company, product or service is no easy feat, but how you set the stage makes all the difference. Here’s how to get it right.

So you think you need a name for your company, product or new line of business. You set up a brainstorm with all your most creative people. In that meeting, you generate tons of ideas and someone is sent off to filter them all down to a more manageable cut. A voting process takes place and you get down to a short list, and your core team gets back together to make a final victorious decision. But suddenly, no one can agree on which idea is the best, everyone starts dissecting specific words they don’t like, new possibilities get brought up, more people are mentioned that should have input and you are suddenly in naming purgatory.

If this sounds hauntingly familiar or simply like something you never, ever want to experience, there is hope! But you need to commit to set the stage for naming success. Here’s how.

Mindset matters.

From the outset, it is critical to ensure that your leadership team understands that naming is not merely a creative exercise. It is a strategy that will impact how your company and products are perceived and received in the marketplace. While creativity has an essential place in coming up with the right name, “brainstorming” is not job number 1. So what is?

The first step is actually to determine whether you really need a name. But how do you really know?

Sometimes it’s clear. Maybe you are launching a new product or offering, are creating a new company or have secured a patent for a groundbreaking technology. Do you need a name in these cases? Definitely. Sometimes, okay a lot times, it’s not so clear. Maybe you’re going through a merger, repositioning a brand, trying to shake off some bad press or shift negative perceptions.

Regardless of the circumstances, you need conviction, clear rationale and organizational support for creating a new name, particularly in those cases where it’s a little murky. That might require conducting research, understanding perceptions and getting to the root of what you need to solve. It might mean taking a closer look at your brand or product architecture to see where branded names are required and where category terms or clear descriptors could be just fine. And it definitely means gathering your leadership team or board and ensuring everyone is committed to this change – and the significant investment it will require.

It’s not uncommon to jump to the conclusion that you need to change – or create – a name. But, having been down this path a few times before, I strongly counsel against it unless you know it will make a difference for your brand. Why?

The naming process is not for the faint of heart.

We’ve all named something - a child, a pet, an annual event… (The latter is my personal favorite, by the way.) But developing a brand name is a different ball of wax. It’s an important component of your brand communication. Many times, it delivers the first impression of your brand or product – telling part of your story before anything else is known about who you are and what you stand for. In absence of all other communication – visual or verbal – it telegraphs your brand. It also carries equity. Any investment you make in supporting your brand, product or offering, builds equity into your brand name. So it stands that changing your name could also result in a loss of equity.

Finally, changing your name requires support and investment. Your name is everywhere! Are you ready to change all your communications and collateral, sales presentations, signage and stationery, packaging, your entire digital presence? This just underscores my point about having conviction before you embark in the process. And, of course, getting the name right. Clearly, getting it right is key. But how do you know what’s right?

Let’s talk about what names can and can’t do.

Naming can be an anxiety-inducing experience, but every time you’re getting those sweaty palms, take a breath and remember: a name doesn’t have to do or say everything (and can’t!) about you. It may be your first foot forward, but it’s also only one part of a system that defines and helps you to deliver your brand. You’ve also got your mission and vision, positioning, value prop, personality and visual identity.

Altogether, these elements make up your brand. So, while a name doesn’t stand alone (and certainly isn’t a silver bullet to fix everything you may not like about yourself), a good name can set the foundation for the experience you want your customers and employees to have with your brand.

Meet your best friend: the creative brief.

Here, in agency land, we have a love-hate relationship with the creative brief. We write them, we debate over the objective and the big idea, we pour our hearts into them. We share them with our clients. And (sometimes) we see their eyes glaze over. I get it, they want a name – not a naming brief! But this document is important. If done (and used) the right way, it can be the difference between getting to a great name and getting stuck in creative cycles that miss the mark. And it’s my job to make sure it lands. Delivering a clear, concise brief – and making sure my clients understand what we are suggesting (and what they are agreeing to) – is critical to our collective success and happiness. So, do I pull out the jazz hands? You bet. This little powerhouse is worthy of a show.

So, what makes for a good naming brief?

While a naming brief will not definitively determine where your name will land, it sets important parameters. It gives you something objective to work towards and to judge the names against. I could go on and on about creative briefs, and likely will in another blog post, but for now here are some highlights.

Your naming brief defines and helps you gain consensus on:

  • What you are naming

  • The specific problem you are solving with your name

  • What the name should help you achieve

  • The role of your name in the broader communication mix

  • The type of names you are interested in, looking at two vectors: the naming approach (from descriptive to abstract) and the construct (from real English words to coined or invented terms)

  • What ideas you want your name to convey or what creative territories you want to explore?

At the end of the day, the less subjectivity that’s part of naming evaluation, the better. I’ve seen a great creative brief take a creative review conversation from “I like it” or “I don’t like it” to “This is the perfect name because it meets the criteria we set up in the brief and will further our business goals.” That’s success!

If you’re struggling with the right way to start (or finish) an important naming journey, let’s talk (

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