Brand Naming. What are the rules? How important is it?


By Tom Dougherty

We spend a lot of time dispelling the myths of branding. We tell companies to define their brands by the customers they wish to influence more than by the attributes of the company itself. We talk continually about how brand is so much more than just a name, logo and mark, and how the importance of that brand is so much more important than the mundane attributes usually associated to it.

brand naming needs to follow the strategy
Names are often given to much importance

That said, let’s digress a bit and look at one of the more mundane aspects of brand and how even in this obvious and traditional component most companies screw up.

We have been known to lecture on brand naming and how, in the relative value equation of branding, the process is overrated. We poke a little fun at companies that insist on “focus grouping” name ideas and how all they end up with is something so inoffensive it becomes unmemorable. That’s because it is the very things that strike us as odd that often form the basis for memory and recall.

I remember one client who wanted to run names through a focus group until we suggested that they pretend for a moment that they were starting a rental car company and the name they wanted was HERTZ. My guess is that the focus group would have said, “Terrible name. Sounds like pain to me.” The company would no doubt have scrapped that name and come up with a different less disturbing name like ACME.

How a Brand Name Can Have Value

We preach that names have value and meaning only when the brand assigns some to it. I would rather have a great name and a powerful brand but, given the choice between the two, we would err on the side of brand as opposed to name.

At the risk of making light on the situation even more, let’s explore naming further. From the standpoint of powerful branding, where you start will certainly affect where you end up, and it is important to get out of your own way when going through the process.

When creating a name for the brand, think about what need the potential customer is buying instead of what it is you sell and then you are off to a good start. (Read more about changing a brand name and why it may not be important here)
An example of this expanded view of the relationship between buying and selling can be seen in Anderson Windows. Anderson’s big break occurred when it dawned on the manufacturer that no one buys windows for the sake of having windows. Consumers buy “light,” which brings a happy, optimistic emotion. Once Anderson positioned their brand as the purveyors’ of light, it became the market leader.

The same kind of foresight should be applied to brand naming. When you consider your brand name, try to anticipate what the customer is buying not what it is you are selling. There is a difference, and one of the most important ones to consider in the art of stealing market share.

Looking at It the Wrong Way

brand naming can't be focus group tested
Form follows function in naming

The latest offender is Lufthansa. When flying back from a business trip to France a few weeks ago, one of our strategists spent an hour in the Lufthansa Club Lounge in Frankfurt. Like all airlines, Lufthansa was pushing its frequent flyer program hoping flyers would get chained to Lufthansa with a pair of golden handcuffs by joining its affinity program. Airlines named these programs in very concrete terms based on what they were selling, not what flyers were buying: Free miles.

Soon, the airlines discovered that offering people who flew tremendous amounts of miles free miles for their miles was a bit narrow minded. Miles alone was not enticing enough, so they added “plus” and “more” to the name.

For Lufthansa, it meant naming the affinity program “Miles and More” and, for United, “Mileage Plus!” Sounds a lot like the bank selling “super free checking.”

All that says is that the brand itself has no vision. They started thinking it was enough to name themselves based on what they were selling, not what consumers are buying. It’s as if Greyhound had named itself “Bus Trip.”

Sooner or later, brands find their names so limiting they start adding adjectives like “plus” or “more.” Those have no meaning to target audiences because it’s so ill defined.

How much of an epidemic is this brand naming blindness? Once you start noticing it, it is everywhere. This means the opportunities for brands to steal market share is limitless.

This is why the market is filled with: Used Books and More, Home Furniture & More, Miles and more, Just Riddles and More, Batteries Plus, Mothers and More, Cosmetics and More, Tires Plus, Beverages and More, Cutlery and More, Paper and More, Total Wine & More, Bedrooms and More, Music and More, Hearth Cabinets and More and, our personal favorite, Bed Bath and Beyond.

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