How to create a powerful name for your brand or product

In this post you can find techniques for developing a meaningful name to represent your brand or product. The posts suggests a collaborative process but it can also be performed by one single individual.

Design thinking applied to Naming

So you have a new product or brand, your business strategy is in sync, you have your graphic designers ready and the only thing missing seems to be the most important piece of the puzzle - a name.

Naming can be a complex task because:

  1. Once it’s out there it is very likely - and not recommended - that you change it;
  2. The market is overwhelmed with brands already and it is hard to come up with something unique;
  3. You can never test it enough before actually putting it out there.

In this post I will share with you a few design thinking techniques that might help you to crack this problem. But first a little design thinking theory so that you can properly apply these methods.

“Out of chaos comes order - Nietzsche”

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The image that you can see above is probably one of the most shared images when the topic is Design Thinking but it is never too much to share the mental concept.

The idea is simple: the journey between point A and B is not a straight line. Coming up with the ideal name for your brand / product it is not an exact formula it requires creativity and for creativity to happen you have to induce your self into a creative state for a short period and then restore back the order and refine your ideas.

As nietzsche said “Out of chaos comes order” and that is exactly what I am suggesting. I are first going to enter into a state of chaos so that you can get some order out of it.

The process consists of 5 steps:

  1. Info
  2. Focus
  3. Creativity
  4. Back to reality
  5. Showcase

This process can be done by one person our a group of people or by one single person. I usually suggest to bring more than one person into the table because you will have more substance to work with as well as different perspectives. Another suggestion I make is if your doing this process as a collaboration with your team and you are the facilitator of the workshop then you should not engage as a participant. Because you hold a very biased position you should just be the facilitator and bring everyone around the task of getting a name. I will explain later how the role of the facilitator will evolve throughout the process.

The duration of the whole process is around 4 to 5 days. Mainly due to the creative phase which should take roughly 2 to 3 days.

So let’s go over each phase!

Phase 1 & 2: Info and Focus

These two phases are very short and should be a brief kickoff for you and/or your team to get familiarised with the problem at hand.

I would recommend preparing a short meeting where you will explain the product features or the brand purpose and values and essentially make sure you provide some context to the participants. This is obviously the the info phase.

The focus phase comes right after the info phase and it should be covered in this meeting. It is when you explain that to focus on the problem, for the next 2-3 days the participants will have to be in an alert status. It is also important to mention that ideas not always come when you’re sitting in your desk from 9am to 5pm. They might come in the most unexpected times. When you’re showering, commuting, when you go to bed and turn the lights out. This is way the creativity period should be no more than 2-3 days. Because it is a non-stopping job and participants should have a small notebook at all times to write down ideas that might come to mind.

Phase 3: Creativity - the long list

Alright, so the kick off meeting happened and you sent your team mates out into the world to gather a few names.

Not so fast, we’re not there yet!

During this phase each participant is expected to generate a long list of words. This list is usually as long as 100 names. Yeah that’s right, this wasn’t a typo, it’s 100 names! So you can’t just send your team mates out there looking for 100 words without providing them a few tools to do their research.

I will summarise the 7 tools I usually recommend to be successful in your quest:

* Go for volume: a rookie mistake is often to try and look for the perfect word for your product / brand. You know what? That just doesn’t exist! There is no perfect word, there will always be some caveat not use a word. So in the creativity phase your suppose to be bold and go for volume instead of quality. Gather as many words as you can and don’t judge yourself by thinking “oh, this is stupid! I won’t right down”. I advise to write down as many words as you can that relate to the topic of your product. In fact this the trick: look for words that relate to a topic instead of the perfect word.

* Values & Etymology: write down a list of your company / product’s values and for each one research it’s etymology. There are plenty of etymology dictionaries online that you could use for free.

* Prefixes and Sufixes: another cool trick that you can use is look at the list of words that you wrote down and have a play with their prefixes. If you look around, you will realize that there are many brands and terminologies that follow this rule. For example: “Fintech” is a terminology the uses the prefix “Fin” from the word Finance and “tech” from the word technology. Another one is “Brexit” or even Adobe’s software “InDesign”.

* Go Hunting: this for me is one of the most important tools of them all. Buy a magazine or book that relates to the topic of your brand or product and instead of reading the articles just scan for word with your finger and write down the ones that are more relevant. You can also apply this tool to podcasts, movies, documentaries, articles on the internet although I find that it is harder to focus when using these mediums.

* Latin & Greek: again, pick the list of words that you have already or even the values of your company or product and search for their meaning in Latin and Greek. You can also look for ancient deities in these languages that somehow relate to the product or service that you deliver.

* use thesaurus: considering the names that you already wrote down, look for synonyms in the thesaurus website.

* mix: finally the last tip is to just mix all of these tools together. The go hunting with the Latin and Greek, the prefixes with the etymology etc...

By the end of this creativity phase you should have a long list of words and it is time to come down to earth and refine this list.

Phase 4: back to reality!

After 2 or 3 days going through this creativity phase, you should have in your possession a large list of names. It is now time to short list this to 5 words.

There is no exact formula on how to this but I leave you with a few recommendations.

You should look at the list from a distance and try to identify which words resonate the most to you given the values of your brand / product within the industry.

A little research might help as well! Look for brands that might be using those names already on their web domains. Also you should look into intelectual property. That fact that there is no website with that name it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a registered brand using that word already. Take into consideration the geo-location of the economic market where performing your activities and contact the authorities to make sure you can use this name. In most countries there already websites where you can clarify this information.

Another important thing is: make sure that a certain word in a language doesn’t mean something unpleasant in another language. There plenty of examples of this miscarriage out there. For example the car MR2 is not a very good name in France. The Mitsubishi Pajero is also a bad idea in Spanish speaking countries. There are also websites that can help you with this information.

Phase 5: Showcase

Finally we’re getting somewhere! So now you have a list of 5 words.

If you’re being a workshop facilitator and waiting for your each participant to deliver a shortlist of 5 words, in the end (depending on how many are the participants) you will still end up with a long list. So this is the main difference between doing this process by yourself or in a collaborative mode. You will have to do two shortlists when doing it in a team. Basically you will have to shortlist again after everyone has given you their own shortlist.

You can be creative as to how you do this second shortlist. For instance: you could hang the names on the wall and do a democratic vote and in the end showcase the 5 words that got more votes to the CEO / product manager. Use your creativity as facilitator to try and come up with a fun, engaging way of selecting the right word as well as to make everyone feel that they are part of the process.

The way you showcase the words is also important. They should not be written by hand. In fact they should be printed in the same size and typography. It should be a very neutral and readable font face and because of this I suggest using a sans-serif like Helvetica. The words should be printed in black over white background. The less visual branding the words have the more neutral they are and thus the better to make a clear vote.

Conclusion

Coming up with a name for a brand or a product is a creative activity that requires effort and a lot of thought out into it. For this reason there is no fixed formula on how to come up with the best name. This can be a fun and engaging activity to do in a team.

Throughout this blog post I tried to describe the way I applied design thinking techniques to gather your team and engage on the quest of getting a meaningful name for your product or brand.

Maybe you can find other techniques out there and mix it with the ones described here. Overall I hope this was a good contribution to solving your problem.