Tips for naming brands, products & pets: Part 1

by Shane Loorham

17 July 2018

Preparation makes purrrrfect

Whether you’re naming a new company or the family cat, it’s important to consider what your ultimate goal is, and who will be affected along the way. You need to consider and plan. You need a process.

At Liquorice, we’re all about brands and communication. Much of our work involves refining, recalibrating and honing the details. But there are also times when we’re fortunate enough to be right there with our clients from day one, in the lead up to a new birth. It might be that a new product or service offering is being developed, a brand new organisation is being established, or that two existing organisations are coming together in a merger. Regardless, the result is something wholly new. And the big question we are faced with (as in any birth) is: what do we call this thing?

Often, organisations will work through brand and product naming processes internally and decide on a name before approaching design and branding agencies to execute. And this is a perfectly sound approach. Creativity certainly isn’t the exclusive right of the self-anointed ‘creatives’ of the world. But, just as often, it’s helpful to bring in an outside perspective. It takes procedural rigour to steer an organisation through a naming project, and a refined process executed with confidence helps to align stakeholders and achieve positive cultural outcomes (as well as strategically sound ones). And, of course, it is vital that the name you have fallen in love with is available and ownable, so vetting, searches and legal protection needs to be considered. It’s worth pausing to consider the best process for you when it comes to naming your business or product.

Another consideration in the case of a rebrand and a big question I’d suggest asking right at the top is “Do you actually need a new name?”. People can get excited about change and the idea of creating impact, sometimes at the expense of their brand equity or the quality of existing dialogue with their audience. It’s important to weigh this up first, so a little research probing for this kind of information is prudent.

All of that said, if you are keen to rename and you’re going to tackle the process yourself, then good luck and godspeed! I’ve collated some helpful tips, accumulated through my own research and experience that will help guide you along your path and hopefully help you avoid a Boaty McBoatface situation.

The Naming Brief

Before racing headfirst into creative idea development, it’s important to start with a strategic planning process. At Liquorice, we develop a ‘Naming Brief’ which usually comes as a component of a Brand Strategy project. We conduct research, examining the internal culture of an organisation and the external communication audiences. We look into the competitive landscape and examine best practice from adjacent or comparable industries. Lastly, we draw insights and recommendations from this research to guide us in our naming search. We then meet with key stakeholders and workshop the various aspects of the strategy to arrive at our brief.

A Naming Brief outlines the many varied mandatories and objectives of the name to ensure the subsequent creative work, filtering, measuring and decision making can be done strategically. It serves to remove subjectivity from the process and create a touchstone for the names we develop.

During naming projects (and branding in general), it’s important to balance leadership with collaboration in our client relationships. Similarly, it’s hugely important that our clients manage the relationship with their community and stakeholders in a similar way throughout the project. The right balance is different from client to client depending on the organisational culture. Think hard about the right approach and about how and when you invite your community into the naming process. It might be during the briefing stage, prior to the brief with a research and engagement piece, or even when you have a final logo and are about to go public with it. There is no one right answer. We’ll be writing a piece on the importance of community engagement in the coming weeks.

Types of names

A typical Naming Brief will include a section that pins down the kind of name that’s appropriate for the job. It’s one of the first questions we ask when developing the brief and it helps us narrow the search and can be very helpful. One ‘namer’ from the US, Jonathan Bell, has a good methodology for this that he walks through in his 2016 Ted Talk. The seven types he presents (eponymous, descriptive, acronymic, suggestive, associative, non-English, and abstract) each present different pros and cons. We’ve used other systems for categorisation in the past, and again, there’s no one right answer but this is a particularly good breakdown.

Next week, we’ll release the next in this series, focussed on our creative process, and what to do once you have a brief in hand. Stay tuned!