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The Name Of The Game Is Finding The Right Name

by Alf Nucifora

Aside from logo design, nothing is guaranteed to try the patience of marketers more than naming a product or company. Yet, it's a matter of exceptional importance in the ultimate marketing success of any product. Increased competition and marketing clutter demand a distinctive and intelligent name that will clearly define and distinguish the product. For example, doctors have thousands of drugs to choose from, but will normally select from about 100 to prescribe regularly.

A strong name provides a competitive edge. The name can convey the brand or product image (Big Lots, The Dollar Store). It can also educate consumers about the product even before they're exposed to it (Office Depot, PetsMart). Although advertising and promotion are vitally important to brand enhancement, the right name can enhance brand value and help build the brand over time. For example, approval ratings for corn flakes increased from 47% to 59% when customers were told that the product was Kellogg's. Ratings for floor tiles increased from 50% to 90% when the brand was identified as Armstrong.

What are the factors common to great names?

The rules vary, but there are a number of basic considerations which can guide the name development process:

  • It can be made up (Altria, Altima, Aon).
  • It can have suggestive meanings (Windows Explorer, MapQuest).
  • It can be someone's name (McDonald's, Hewlett-Packard).
  • It should be simple and easy to pronounce, preferably no more than 3 syllables (Bufferin vs. acetylsalicylic acid).
  • It should be memorable (iPod, Hummer, Google).
  • It should convey the proper image or message and have a strong association with the nature of the product or service (Home Depot, Toys R Us, AutoZone).
  • It should be timeless and survive the life of the product. American Telephone & Telegraph had to be shortened to AT&T; Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC; International House of Pancakes is now IHOP).
  • It should be provocative, and should attract attention and arouse interest (Victoria's Secret, Obsession perfume, Desperate Housewives).
  • It should express benefits (Healthy Choice foods, Best Buy electronic stores, CarMax auto retailers).
  • It should be legally strong. More than 120,000 trademark applications are filed each year (10 times the size of an average person's vocabulary).
  • It should be appropriate globally or at least within your markets of operation (Coca-Cola, AutoNation).

The naming process

First, review the criteria. Study the attributes and "personality" of the product. Know the positioning and brand strategy. Understand the target market, (e.g., business or consumer), the demographics and the buying habits and decision-making process. Assess the competition. Consider the sales and distribution channels, e.g., direct, sales force, online, etc.

Determine if a "coined" name would be appropriate, e.g., Motorola. These are easier to protect legally and are not normally subject to language constraint. However, they take much longer to establish in the consumer's mind.

Develop an initial list of names. How? By employing brainstorming techniques, computer naming programs, synonym directories and "random association" techniques. Narrow your options to a short list and measure the list against your criteria. Avoid or tread warily with puns, family names, and names that lend themselves poorly to foreign translation or trademark protection.

Always test the proposed names. Is the name memorable, clear, descriptive, appropriate, appealing, and does it convey the right message or image? Use focus groups, surveys, company and/or client or customer polling to gauge the appeal of each name.

Making the name mean something

Now that the name has been determined, how should it be promoted and protected?

Frequency: Take "ownership" of the name by using it often and everywhere, especially if it's a coined term. This applies equally to the online universe (website) as the offline environment (delivery van signage)

Graphic standards: Understand the value of the logo…its creation, protection and more importantly, the consistency with which it's used. Protect the integrity of the name and logo by always using them in the prescribed fashion. That company headquartered on North Avenue in Atlanta is always referenced as "The Coca-Cola Company". Don't forget that the logo can be more memorable and noticeable than the brand name alone (McDonald's "Golden Arches"). It provides consistent interpretation across cultures (Starbucks), and can support or supplant promotional efforts. For example, Campbell's Soup estimates that most shoppers see its red and white label almost 100 times per year, worth incremental $ millions in advertising. And adherence to strict graphic standards provides additional legal protection.

Protect it with your life: You can never be overly-zealous in the protection of your name. It's axiomatic that the best-known brands tend to be the best protected (Coca-Cola, Kodak, Microsoft). Any lapse in enforcement can ultimately contribute to name appropriation and worse, still "genericization". It's a problem that Kleenex, Xerox and Q Tips have had to fight for decades.

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