Tips for naming brands, products & pets: Part 2

by Shane Loorham

8 August 2018

Part 2. Trust the process

The Liquorice naming process changes slightly from one client to another depending on their own internal processes and culture and project requirements. This is particularly true of the research and engagement stages that precede the development of the Naming Brief.

But, typically, once we have our brief and we’re into the naming phase of a project, we would go through the following stages. Each stage can take a number of days, or the whole thing can be condensed into a sprint. We can run sprints on-site with our clients or host them here in our studio which can help to get people out of their own familiar (and sometimes limiting) environment.

Stage one – Name idea generation:

During our first stage, we work to generate a long list of names based on the approved brief. Then work through an internal process to shortlist and prepare a presentation of these names, rationales and associated copywriting ideas to take into our client workshop. I work with a thesaurus on hand as well as any and every other creative tool I can find. I’ll include a handy list of resources in part 3 of this series.

Sometimes clients will approach us with stage one half completed on their own; one notable example being a client who held a ‘staff competition’ to rename their organisation. This is not a great strategy in my view (see Boaty McBoatface), but every organisational culture is different and engaging your people is vital. As long as stakeholder and staff expectations are managed, it can’t hurt to throw ideas around within your wider business. But a decision as big as this can be a sensitive area so it’s worth treading with caution.

There’s a lot to consider when assessing and shortlisting ideas. Does it fit the brief? Does it have any unexpected cultural associations? Even the look of the letterforms play a role (you will likely need to make a logo at some stage after all!) Beyond the obvious though, there are a lot of other softer elements that are worth considering.

An interesting area of linguistic theory that applies to naming is Sound Symbolism.

"[Sound symbolism is] a field of linguistics, not without its skeptics [that] posits that certain sounds have certain meanings and that these sounds trigger imagery that is consistent and meaningful." - Pile, M.

A great example of sound symbolism in action can be seen here in the "Bouba/Kiki Effect" where a clear association is demonstrated consistently, and across different cultures between certain sounds and visual shapes.

American college undergraduates and Tamil speakers in India [were asked] "Which of these shapes is bouba and which is kiki?". In both groups, 95% to 98% selected the curvy shape as "bouba" and the jagged one as "kiki", suggesting that the human brain attaches abstract meanings to the shapes and sounds in a consistent way.  – Wikipedia

Bouba and Kiki

Bouba and Kiki

It’s important to do a degree of due diligence around any names that are shortlisted at any stage in the process. There’s nothing worse than having a CEO fall in love with a name that simply won’t work for legal reasons. So, at Liquorice, we do a cursory search (to the best of our non-lawyer abilities) through business name registers, trademark registers, and we look at the availability of desirable domain names, social media handles, whatever is important for a given organisation based on the Naming Brief.

Stage two – The naming workshop:

It’s important to present and workshop names in person with key decision makers. Seeing people's reactions, their facial expressions and body language helps you detect their level of engagement and interest in ideas. And we always run our workshops with the key stakeholder group (anyone with ‘veto’ power!).

It’s vital to involve any and every stakeholder who has a say from very early in the process. Ideally, in the development of the Naming Brief. Clients, often with the best intentions who probably only want to protect their colleagues’ time, can end up wasting resources going down the wrong path, so we are strong advocates of a transparent and inclusive process. A small investment of a CEO, CMO, or Founder’s time can pay dividends in the long run.

During our workshop, we run a variety of exercises. All attendees are invited to contribute ideas and critique the options on the table. Again, to the above point on due diligence, we are equipped to make quick URL business name searches on the fly, so if a decision can be arrived at during the workshop, it will allow us to cut short the naming process and get straight into Brand Identity design (or whatever the next stages of a project might be).

Stage three – Refinement:

Following a workshop, there will generally be a number of promising directions, possibly a front-runner, but not always a decisive call on a single name. In those cases, we take the learnings from the workshop exercises and refine the architecture/language ideas for the most promising shortlisted names and we get creative to uncover related ideas. We do further research into the IP/availability (often enlisting outside legal counsel at this stage), and we prepare a refined presentation of options.

When presenting names, I think it’s helpful to show them on a generic graphic page, each evenly weighted and uniformly presented in the same font. If we have some simple imagery that helps contextualise the name in some way, we might include it, but we’re very careful not to pre-empt the Brand Identity development stage, as that work takes a lot of time in itself and should only be done once a name is approved. It’s important for stakeholders to bear in mind that a name will never exist in isolation. A name prior to the attribution of other brand signifiers can have some meaning, but never enough. It exists to act, in many ways, as a vessel for the meaning that we will pour into it over time through every brand interaction and touch-point we develop.

Stage four – The final push:

This stage is simple: just repeat stage three if you’re still yet to get consensus, and get into the thorough and necessary process of due diligence for your final options. More on this next week.

Next week, we’ll release the final chapter in this series. I’ll share some handy tools and tips, plus some pitfalls to watch out for. Catch you then :)