Selecting a name for a brand demands the same care and attention as choosing a name for a child. Just as parents wouldn't dream of calling their child "X" because the name has no personality, companies wouldn't call their brand "X" because it doesn't convey a distinct product identity.
Even so, many companies seem to underestimate the importance of nomenclature, as demonstrated by the increasing number of sound-alike brand names. For example, the suffix "choice" has become almost as common as the name John. With brand names such as Healthy Choice, Today's Choice, President's Choice and Master's Choice, to name a few, a product may as well be called No Choice.
With so many products clamoring for attention in today's supermarkets, consumers will gravitate towards those with names that are memorable, recognizable and synonymous with quality or value. Even if all other packaging elements are in place, if the name doesn't work, the consumer won't buy the product.
Of course, coming up with the perfect name isn't easy -- especially because so many already have been taken. Since the passage of the trademark reform law in 1988, the number of trademark applications has soared, putting a squeeze on the number of names that are both desirable and legally available.
So what makes for a good brand name? At a minimum, a product name should be easy to read, pronounce and recall; distinctive and memorable; legally protectable; appropriate for target consumers, and either descriptive of the product or totally made-up abstract (that is, Kodak or Xerox).
Here are some other guidelines to follow:
· If a name ain't broke, don't fix it. You need valid grounds for a name overhaul, otherwise you may only blur an established brand identity. A rule of thumb: no change is called for when the old name does not retard growth by conjuring up negative images. Although a name may seem tired, the problem may only lie in its visual presentation -- that is, its trademark and package design. Often, updating a brand's graphics or mark is all that is needed to resolve an identity crisis.
· Make sure names can cross cultural borders. In the increasingly important global marketplace, brand names should be able to travel anywhere. Aim for universality, but be sure a name will not be offensive to or inappropriate for a particular culture.
· Don't embark on internal contests to create potential new names and identity. Names must be well researched and tested. Smart companies hire professionals to guide them through the process of developing brand names and identities. Resources to tap include experts in trade name, trademark and trade dress and design who can draw on a wide range of expertise, including demographic and motivational research, linguistics, industrial design, trademark patent law, marketing and/or package engineering.
· Do not allow the final selection of a name to be a solitary decision. Corporations may not be democracies, but they also should not operate as dictatorships. Although the final decision on choice of name and symbol ultimately rests with the person who runs the organization, input from various publics should be solicited.
Elinor Selame is past president of Package Design Council International and president of BrandEquity International, a brand identity and package design consulting firm based in Newton, Mass.