How To Choose A Brand Name

One of the first challenges every marketer faces when launching a new brand is choosing a name for it. Naming is very important in the overall brand strategy for at least three reasons: first, it is the first point of contact that your customers have with your brand, and you want to make a first good impression. Second, a well-chosen name reinforces the brand positioning in the mind of the consumer. And third, the name you choose has a direct influence on your brand building budget, as some names are easier to communicate than others.

Brand names fall into 4 categories: family names, semi-descriptive names, initials, and abstract names. Below is a quick overview of their advantages and disadvantages:

Family names, as the description implies, means that the brand is named after its founder. Some of the world’s strongest brands fall into this category: McDonald’s, Disney, Mercedes-Benz, Stanley Tools, Merrill Lynch, Harley-Davidson, Chanel, Gucci. Advantages: the family name implies personal endorsement, heritage, quality products, trust. They are mostly suitable for premium brands where the “personal touch” plays a crucial role. Disadvantages: Brands named after their founder take long a time, consistency in the message and important financial resources to build. They also require consistent and flawless delivery of brand promise.

Semi-descriptive names provide some information about the product or its uses. Familiar brands that have adopted this naming strategy are Craftsman, Intel, Microsoft and MasterCard. Advantages: this naming strategy is very “end-user friendly” and easy to communicate. Disadvantages: semi-descriptive names do not provide strong differentiation and are difficult to protect as trademarks.

Initials are a collection of letters with no evident connection to the product/service being marketed. This strategy is used by well-established companies and not recommended for new entries to the market. Examples include: IBM, GE, LG, ICI, AT&T. Advantages: initials are very distinctive and easy to remember. Disadvantages: Since initials are meaningless in the case of a new brand, this strategy requires most investment in brand building in order to create the connection between the brand and the name. They are also very difficult to protect as trademarks.

Abstract names, like the initials, provide no obvious description of the product or its uses. Examples include Nokia, Gap, Canon, Marlboro, Xerox, Kleenex, Apple. Advantages: abstract names provide powerful differentiation, with many products defining the product category (Xerox, Kleenex). They are also easy to protect as trademark and easily recognizable in different languages, making them the preferred choice for global brands. Disadvantage: abstract name requires more investment in communicating the brand and its positioning.

In conclusion your naming decision comes down to the type of product/service you want to launch, the marketing resources you have available and the ability to consistently deliver on the brand promise.

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