Manufacturers make products; consumers buy brands. Pharmaceutical laboratories produce chemical compounds, but doctors prescribe brands. In an economic system were demand and prescription focus on brands, brand names naturally take on a pre-eminent role. For the brand concept encompasses all of the brand’s distinctive signs ( name, logo, symbol, colors, endorsing characteristics and even its slogan), it is the brand name that is talked about, asked for or prescribed. It is therefore natural that we should devote particular attention to this fact of the brand creation process: choosing a name for the brand.
What is the best name to choose to build a strong brand? Is there anywhere a particular type of name that can thus guarantee brand success? Looking at some so-called strong brands will help us answer these usual questions: Coca-Cola, IBM, Marlboro, Perrier, Dim, Kodak, and Schweppes … what do these brand names have in common? Coca-Cola referred to the product’s ingredients when it was first created; the original meaning of IBM (International Business Machines) has disappeared; Schweppes is hard to pronounce; Marlboro is a place; Kodak, onomatopoeia. The conclusion of this quick overview is reassuring: to make a strong brand, any name can be used (or almost any), provided that there is a consistent effort over time to give meaning to this name, i.e. to give the brand a meaning of its own.
Does this mean that there is no need to give much thought to the brand name, apart from the mere problem of ensuring that the brand can be registered? Not at all, because following some basic selection rules and trying to choose the right name will save you time, perhaps several years, when it comes to making the baby brand a big brand. The question of time is crucial: the brand has to conquer a territory of its own. From the very start, therefore, it must anticipate all of its potential changes.
The brand name must be chosen with a view to the brand’s future and destiny, not in relation to the specific market and product situation at the time of its birth. As companies generally function the other way around, it seems more than appropriate to provide some immediate information on the usual pitfalls to avoid when choosing a brand name, and also to give a reminder of certain principles.
Brand name or product name?
Choosing a name depends on the destiny that is assigned to the brand. One must therefore distinguish the type of research related to creating a full-fledged brand name – destined to expand internationally, to cover a large product line, and to last – from the opposite related to creating a product name with a more limited scope in space and time. Emphasis, process time and financial investments will certainly be different in both cases.
The danger of descriptive names
Ninety per cent of the time, manufacturers want the brand name to describe the product which the brand is going to endorse. They like the name to describe what the product does (an aspirin that would be called Headache) or is (a biscuit brand that would be called Biscuito; a direct banking service called Bank Direct). This preference for denotative names shows that companies do not understand what brands are all about and what their purpose really is. Remember: brands do not describe products – brands distinguish products.
Choosing a descriptive name also amounts to missing out on all the potential of global communication. The product’s characteristics and qualities will be presented to the target-audience thanks to the advertisements, the sales people, direct marketing, articles in specialized periodicals and the comparative studies done by consumer associations. It would thus be a waste to have the brand name merely repeat the same message that all these communication means will convey in a much more efficient and complete way. The name, on the contrary must serve to add extra meaning, to convey the spirit of the brand. For products do not live forever: their lifecycle is indeed limited.
The meaning of the brand name should not get mixed up with the product characteristics that a brand presents when it is first created. The founders of Apple were well aware of this: within a few weeks the market would know that Apple made microcomputers it was therefore unnecessary to fall into the trap of names such as Micro computers International or computer Research systems. In calling themselves Apple, on the contrary, they could straightaway convey the brands durable uniqueness (and not just the characteristics of the temporary Apple-1): this uniqueness has to do more with the other facts of brand identity that with its physique (i.e. its culture, its relationship, its personality, etc).
The brand is not the product. The brand name therefore should not describe what the product does but reveal or suggest a difference.