A Poorly Chosen Brand Name Can Spoil the Party in this Digital Era

It all starts with a name. Over a period of time, a name becomes a brand name, and the brand name becomes the container that stands for the brand promise and embodies the brand values. A poorly decided name can even trouble a country as proven by the recent moves by Czech Republic to rename itself as Czechzia[More on that here].

Yet, one finds how the basics of name development and qualification are often given a go bye by the startups. For example, Vistara is a name that defies any naming logic (see my blog post on Vistara here). [Frankly, I think Vistara as a choice of name is a big fail].

Over a period of time, due to our heavy exposure to commercial messaging, our brains have started meaning discounting, which means essentially, that a name such as Blue Sky Airline, which may have made great sense in the 1950s when civil aviation was in early phase, would probably be seen has not having a distinctiveness now. And, if it were to be adopted by a new airline, it would hardly be seen as carrying any specific meaning or distinctiveness. So names have to be chosen to bring in some intrinsic advantage to a product or service even before full-fledged marketing takes over. Why? Because at startup stage every brand needs a trial and often the name is the only brand asset a startup has.

Yet, many startups fail to grasp this, mainly because they are too concerned with getting the tech right and hiring the teams and often take a name without doing a proper evaluation. I have friends whose tech companies are named Gazelle and Tranquil – what intrinsic value for the customer being targetted would such names bring to tech startups?

Choosing a well-considered name, therefore, is an opportunity to save lot of effort and money in establishing the basic purpose of your brand – maybe even taking our first five minutes of the introductory call or few words out of the intro email because it leverages the internal bias we have for those words.

Having gone through a name selection process, I can say it is a mix of deductive logic and a reasoned art. While there are tonnes of material available on the net about how brand names are selected, I feel many of them are from the times before digital became the centre of our lives. Hence, this is my way of approaching:

Distinctiveness: This is at the heart of brand name. Besides being able to stand out,  a name should have inherent stickiness within the target group. Frankly, that is why we need brand names in the first place! Think about a name such as Zovi when reading this point.

Phonetic Disambiguation: S-mart and Smart are different words, but they are hard to distinguish phonetically. If either of these brand names exist, you’d do well to stay out of this name. Plus, there are names that can be pronounced in more than one way, owing to prevailing pronunciation slants in the target group due to geography or cultural reasons.

Visual Disambiguation: Little and iittle are both going to look alike unless written with great care, particularly in lower case. A name should have only one possible spelling that’s where a name such as Grofers does wonders.

SEOability: It might appear odd to see it so high up here but if someone else is ruling that keyword globally, your brand starts its journey with a severe handicap. For example, if there is a movie such as Fan which will have huge volume of content on the net, never name your brand Fan (I know you wouldn’t have a name such as Fan for a product or service, but I have seen real cases of serious corporate brand names clashing with a blockbuster movie name and therefore, always figuring in page 3-4 for their own brand name). It will require huge SEO efforts to progress up and compete with the movie.

Domain name: This is extremely important. You should have an uncompromised TLD available for your business or product. It means no hyphens in between, no add-ons etc. Chose a country TLD only if your target market is that country alone because that is how search engines work.

App Store availability: This is crucial if your venture plans to have a mobile component to it. Do search Android, iOS, and if you are keen, Windows app stores to see if there are no apps that clash with the candidate name that you have developed.

Trademarkable: A brand name is yours only till you have a trademark right over it. In most cases, a name that exists in English dictionary will not be granted a trademark by the trademark office, particularly in India. More importantly, there should not be an existing registered trademark or trademark application pending for your chosen word.

Logoability: Vertical format logos for example, have vanished in the digital era because the logo has to be placed on the website as well as physical forms such as office branding, product literature and packing etc. Even if you are in digital business, you may be making branded gifting merchandise for your clients in the festival season and realize you have a problem in reproducing your logo in two colours. In addition, social media profiles such as Twitter and Facebook have their own size requirements and a vertical logo does not work well. Square and horizontal logos work well. And if your brand name is too long, it will not fit in one line below the logo or the font will have to be too small, killing the personality of the name as well as hitting the readability.

Twitterable: An unqualified Twitter handle should be available for your brand. Check out before you finalize.

Pronounability: A name such as Triskaidekaphobia may possibly meet many of the above criteria, but if the target group is rural and unable to pronounce the name, consider your brand as done! [To those curious about Triskaidekaphobia, it means fear of number 13!!]. Car companies are master of this art and that’s why you have lovely names such as Kwid and Tiago.

Nonnegativity: Negative names such as Monster and Fossil evolves into a bearer of positive promise due to sustained brand building efforts. But if you are likely to be a little light on your brand spend, don’t do this adventure. Plus, examine the same sound in other languages, at least, widely prevalent languages in your market or home location, and in colloquial use as well. Do ensure that your chosen brand name does not rhyme with a cuss word.

Meaning Correlation to Offering:  A brand name should have this as boolean, but no intermediate values. For example, a name such as  Freshdesk clearly hints at its offering via its name and seeks to suggest a differentiator in the name itself. Names such as Upgrad, Coursera etc work very well in the educational context. But Udemy is somewhere in between and perhaps score lower in this score. You can even look at newly coined composite words that do not relate to what your product or service offers but no midway names.

Intrinsic Pull Score: A name such as Urbanclap clearly touches on an urban problem of finding a plumber or electrician on the go. It has a great intrinsic value and the brand will reap its reward in the times to come.

Call to Action: If you are a product or service, you would like to give an implicit call-to-action messaging via the brand name itself.

Curiosity Value: Some names make you curious. Such names are great at getting  digital footfalls and in inducing trials.  Chances are, that if you see an online apparel ad for a brand such as Cabbage you may find it unusual, and click the ad.

I write this post because I often see how casually some startups choose their corporate or product brand name and become a victim of its gross negative score.

And last but not the least, someone recently checked with me how the name xStacy would sound for a retail hyperlocal brand. Please suggest me an answer!

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