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Workflow | 02.10.2020, by Paul Schoemaker

Bridging strategy and intuition: finding the perfect brand name

The art of getting to the heart of a brand with just a few syllables

Let’s just get it out of the way – we are well aware that anyone responsible for founding an agency with the name g31 should probably keep quiet about the nuances and process of naming a brand. Although we love to develop charismatic brand names for companies, organizations and products, we ourselves sound like the latest model number for an assault rifle or gaming computer. In short, this probably isn’t the best way to start this post. I’ll come back to why we remain true to our name and even find some benefits in its anonymity, later – but first, I would like to write about how to do it better. What distinguishes a bad brand name from a good one? What does a meaningful process to get there look like? And what do you need to keep in mind to make sure you do it right?

A name is usually the first point of contact between people and brands. Rule number one is that there is no second chance for a first impression. Does a name make you want to find out more? Is it original, likeable, maybe even inspiring? Or, does it sound like a thousand other brands? Is it clichéd, generic, or immediately forgotten? Whether scrolling on a smartphone or talking to friends: a name is always at the center of every interaction with a brand. People make their first judgement in a split second – consciously or unconsciously. However, the essential meaning of the name in the brand context goes far beyond the first contact. Here is a simple but meaningful thought process: would the Beatles have been just as successful if they had been called „McCartney Combo“?

What makes a good brand name? Are there specific criteria that ensure that a name develops iconic qualities? For us, at least one thing is certain: to find the perfect name, it’s important to put in work well before the first brainstorming session if its going to be a success. It is critical to know exactly what you want to communicate before any actual name searching can realistically begin. Knowing who you want to address, what the market environment is like, and in what context you want the name to appear in, is key. We rely on a naming strategy that breaks down the essence of a brand to a central idea in addition to a more general brand strategy. The goal of the creative process is to incorporate the central essence of the brand as concisely as possible within the name and to avoid tired naming strategies or fads in our clients’ industry. After all, identifying as a brand always means being different from the rest.

brand names developed by g31
Brand names developed by g31

As soon as we have developed a comprehensive understanding of our clients’ specific industry, target group(s), and, above all, the essence of the brand’s personality, we can finally get started. The pencil is sharpened, the white sheet of paper smiles promisingly at you. From this point forward, things get personal. The actual creative process is different for everybody and that’s a good thing. Some create overflowing mind maps and brainstorming sessions – others find inspiration by getting lost in Wikipedia articles about Greek mysticism. A thousand ways lead to Rome; actually, a million ways lead to Rome! Initially, finding a name means ultimate creative freedom – and for this very reason, it often ends in complete disorientation. Therefore, in addition to a sound strategic framework, it helps to pre-define constraints and binding requirements needed for the new brand name (which of course does not exclude the possibility of throwing them all out the window if needed).

At g31, we are convinced that it is always better to find good names rather than inventing them. What does that mean exactly? Many international companies, and especially start-ups, use generic artificial words to name their brand – from Accenture to Zalando. The advantage being that this allows them to fully protect their brand’s intellectual property rights by securing the appropriate URLs and other bureaucratic details. The biggest problem with this approach is that these types of names sound like the way they were created – artificially, anonymously, and arbitrarily. That’s why we prefer to explore and combine existing word and language worlds and put them into a new context. We find that it enables a brand to play with lively associations, linguistic images and cultural idiosyncrasies and use them for their own purposes in a clever way.

»Finding the right name is the art of getting to the heart of a simple truth about a company, product, or service in a clever way - without giving everything away.«

If everything works the way that it should, a brand’s name should tell a little story – or at least to serve as a unique starting point to tell a compelling story. It is important not to want too much at once and above all not to promise anything that you can’t deliver. Promising too much can have the exact opposite effect that you are looking for – if a pizzeria writes „World’s Best Pizza“ in bold letters on its shop windows, everyone intuitively knows that the pizza is more than likely mediocre at best. The same applies to brand names that contain the words »Best«, »Premium« or »Excellence«. Instead of making big promises, it is always better to inspire people’s curiosity. Finding a name is the art of getting to the heart of a simple truth about a company, product or service in a clever way - without giving everything away.

Whoever manages to hit the nail on the head here makes an invaluable contribution to long-term capital of the brand, as well as to the overall success of a company or product. The tricky thing is not only to find the right name but also to do a good job recognizing and reinforcing it. Throughout one’s own life, almost everyone has to find a name for something – whether naming a child, a pet, or a bowling club. Similarly, you can be sure that almost everybody has a strong opinion about the name given to anything. Therefore, we always give our clients a clear recommendation on how they should ask friends and family for their opinion on the names we suggest to them – don’t! Choosing a good name always has an element of risk involved, which in turn, means that people will always find something to criticize. If we found a name that everyone can agree on, it would mean that we found the least polarizing, lowest common denominator, giving people what they are already familiar with instead of what stands out and makes your brand unique. In other words, this would result in exactly what you don’t want in a new brand name.

So now, we come full circle. As I alluded to before, g31 stands for the address of our office on „Germaniastraße 31“. That’s certainly not a particularly good story, it is more of a quick thing to get out of the way during our first meeting with clients. The much more important aspect of our name, however, is that the name has been around longer than we have as a company. We originally founded g31 as a student co-working space. When things got serious after a few years and the company was about to be founded, the name had already achieved a certain degree of recognition, at least in some circles. A new name would have meant starting from scratch. This brings us to the biggest mistake a company can make when finding a name: carelessly changing it on a whim. Changing a name means throwing any existing brand capital into the trash. 

We recommend our clients to wait for the right occasion to introduce a new brand name, to do it once, and to do it the right way. This right moment could be when the company is founded, when going through a period of reorientation, or when making a fresh new start. Despite it being only one aspect of many in brand communication, there is no better starting point in ensuring the long-term success of your brand, than a good name. At g31, we have at least found a way to make our name more attractive to us – by making our own brand presence somewhat anonymous, we keep the focus on what really counts, the work (and names) for our clients.

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