Lisa Merriam

Biggest Naming Mistakes When Branding Your Company or Product

Here are the five biggest  naming mistakes you can make when branding your company, product or service.

1. Mistaking the name for the brand.

Your company or product name is just part of your brand. Not realizing this, many novice branders put too many expectations on their name.

It is important to realize your name works in a context. Other elements such as your logo, messaging, the entire visual look of your brand, and the communication tactics you use join your name in the heavy lifting that goes into creating your brand.

Some of the leading brands in the world don’t look like much when stripped of all other brand elements. Take the name ebay. Would you have looked at that word a dozen years ago and said, “Wow, a leading global brand!”? Not likely. Add the logo, the visual context, the attitude and personality,the story of the brand, the experience–then you have that leading global brand.

I’ve seen a number of naming projects end in failure. One client wanted a name that meant “synthetic oil”, “wear protection”, and “smooth operation”. It had to work around the world and have no more than 6 letters. Believe me, there is no combination of 6 letters in any alphabet that can deliver on those expectations! This client was simply putting too much on the shoulders of the name. Your name definitely needs to communicate, but it cannot, by itself, be your brand.

2. Looking for a “likable” the name.

Any time a client starts evaluating the “likeability” of a brand name candidate, the project is doomed. Likeability is an entirely nebulous concept that is impossible to objectively define. Likeability is in the eyes of the beholders.

Likeability can actually be harmful as a criterion of a “good” name. Years of research have shown a strong link between likeability and familiarity. People tend to like names that are in their comfort zone of the known and conventional. That means likeable names are not going to stand out as different, and that is a critical naming mistake. And being distinctive is the most important quality your name can have.

3. Lacking criteria that define a “good” name.

Since “likeability” is a poor standard for determining a good name, what standard should you use?

The best name is the one that makes the right people (your customers) think the right things (about your product). You need to define what your brand will stand for, both in a logical sense of features and benefits and in an emotional sense of feelings and associations. Your name has to suggest, inspire, or reference this brand definition.

Second, your brand needs to be different. You can’t choose a name in a vacuum. You must consider what your competitors are doing. Avoid anything that even comes close to mimicking their brands.

You can name a dozen other criteria for choosing a “good” name, but if you get these two, you are 80% there.

4. Going for “memorability”.

The standard advice of brand experts far and wide is to go for memorable names. This ridiculous piece of advice is useless to most branders. The problem is three-fold:

a. First what do you know about what makes a word or name memorable? A really different brand isn’t necessarily memorable. PWC Consulting spent $110 million to change its name to Mondays, a very “different” choice with disastrous results. A short word is no more memorable than a long one. Chevrolet is more successful than Geo. Hidden Valley Ranch is a full three words and five syllables of memorability! Spell-ability isn’t intrinsic to memorability. Winnebago isn’t spell-able–how many folks forget there are two “n’s”? How can you evaluate memorability when you don’t know what criteria actually contribute to it?

b. Memorability is inextricably bound to the rest of your brand elements. Memorability is created by your communications more than by your name. Was AFLAC a memorable brand? For years, the company operated under this string of letters. You can imagine the talk internally about having to change the name something better. After all, it sounded like the quack of a duck. Bing! AFLAC became a powerful brand, not because of a great name, but because of a great duck. That said, maybe there is hope for TIAA-CREF (but maybe not.)

c. You can’t see memorability by simply looking at a name. You have to test for memorability. You’ll need quantitative research to track reaction over time to know if your name is “memorable” or not.

Nothing is wrong with memorability, but thinking you can just look at a list of words and determine memorability is a common naming mistake… But don’t attempt to use this criteria when looking at a list of words.

More naming resources–to help you avoid naming mistakes:

Naming How-To:

Naming Mistakes
Six Factors for a Memorable and Motivating Name
History of Best Known Brands
Styles and Types of Brands
Choosing a Name
Try a Recycled Name
Web 2.0 Naming Considerations
What is Brand Architecture
Approaches to Brand Architecture
Brand Architecture and Business Strategy

Companies and Products:

MSNBC vs. and The Bigger Naming Problem
Macy’s Blunder with Marshall Field’s Name Change
Banks and the Name Game from Bank Marketing Magazine
AIG Name Change to AIU
Breaking Up the Motorola Brand
Google’s Speedbook Disaster
Renaming a Small Business
Proxios CEO Talks About Renaming Process
Naming a Green Sportswear Company
Unintentionally Funny Names-BARF
Unintentionally Funny Names-Putzmeister
Unintentionally Funny Names-Bimbo
Renaming a $2 Billion IPG Agency
Renaming Iraqi Freedom
Selected Naming Portfolio