I had a conversation at a recent pitch meeting that I think is worth expanding on and sharing.  I was asked by a potential client what I felt were some of the most common things that can go wrong during a naming process, the effect that they can have and how to best guard against them.  What was interesting was that he wanted to know what mistakes were made by the client themselves so that he could try to stop them from occurring during his own project.  I love proactive clients!

Now before anyone gets the impression that I’m about to start venting my frustrations over every issue I have ever had with a client I need to put up a small disclaimer.  I totally understand why all of these issues come up.  Some may come from a simple lack of experience of this type of project and others are just impossible to get around when working in certain companies and environments.  Any good consultant will be aware of these issues already and will be able to help you work around them if necessary.  This list is simply here to help create a better environment in which to carry out a naming project, either with an agency or with your own in-house team.  I hope it helps.

Not allowing enough time

Expectations vary wildly on how long a naming project should take. I have worked on projects that have been given anywhere between 2 days and 18 months to be completed.  Giving too long to a project comes with its own issues but the bigger and more catastrophic ones occur when not enough time is available, which is also the more common state of affairs.

From a creative point of view, it’s best to have enough time to fully explore all options.  Besides, even if you happen to get the best name in the first day, your confidence in that name might be affected and you’ll probably find yourself doubting the decision and thinking about what ‘might have been’.  You may find that you have limited options to choose from and you’ll possibly be rejecting names because you’ll think there must be something better out there even if you don’t have the time to find it.

Even more importantly, you need to allow time for mistakes and problems.  With experience I’ve discovered that there are a lot of things that can go wrong in the naming process, from unexpected legal hurdles to the test audience rejecting the name.

Bringing people in late in the process

This one is very common.  In many cases it fits into the category of ‘unavoidable’, where it is impossible to synchronise the diaries of all the key decision makers.  If possible though, my advice is to try to ensure that you get the expectations of everyone involved as soon as you can, even if they need to disappear for the middle part of the project.  It also helps to have those people understand how the process works from the start, so that even if they have to step back from the process for a while, they trust in it enough that when they come back in, they don’t feel the need to revisit old ground.  I have seen projects progress down a certain track with everyone pulling in one direction only for a decision maker to come in near the completion date and tell everyone they want something else instead.  Getting that first meeting with everyone around the same table can be a tricky task; try having one person who will be continuously involved interview those others who will come in later: it could be a huge time and energy saver.

Not having a clear objective

You know you need to find a name, but what exactly are you looking for?  What are you hoping for from your creative team or agency?  If you don’t know exactly what you’re looking in a name for you can use your creative resource simply to explore possibilities, but you need to realise that’s what you’re doing – don’t be disappointed when most of the names don’t seem to hit the spot.  You can even use a consultant to help you decide what you’re looking for in the first place. This problem is not the cause of much procedural hassle but avoiding it can save you time and frustration. It’s important that your naming projects do not keep you awake at night!

Getting too personal< /div>

To find a name that fits the purpose and pleases everybody, it is best to remain as objective as possible.  This is not an easy ask, especially when a proposed name hits a chord with you.  As a tongue-in-cheek example, if you were bitten by a dog as a child which had the same name as the one being proposed, you’re not going to feel particularly warm to it.  Your clients did not suffer this misfortunate encounter, however, so an experience like this is not relevant to the naming process.  To put it another way, selection or rejection of a name should not be about like/dislike, but rather whether the name meets the requirements of the project or not.

Not having faith in your own ideas

If you have some name ideas but none of them seem good enough, you can use a naming expert to help you explore more thoroughly.  However, perhaps you have something that you already think is good, but simply due to lack of confidence or lack of experience in name science, you feel unable to present the idea as the candidate.  It seems controversial to say, but, in some cases, it would be better to use the experts to help you develop the support for your existing idea, rather than spend time and money looking for something else to replace it.

Not giving feedback when it’s asked for / giving vague feedback

When your creative team or agency produces work, as professionals they won’t be expecting you to like everything they’ve done and certainly won’t be offended by rejection of their ideas.  What is important, however, is that you give your reasons.  This is crucial because it is the reasons why you like and dislike ideas that will help the evolution of those ideas towards what you want.  State the obvious and bore them with detail; they will thank you for it!  And, as mentioned before, keep it objective and related to the project guidelines.  Giving detailed feedback to a number of suggestions is also a great way to explore possibilities when you don’t have a clear idea what you are looking for.

Being too inflexible

So you developed a name idea that met all the criteria… except at the last hurdle you found out you can’t use it.  One situation where this commonly occurs is when an existing brand needs to move into new territories but the name cannot be used for legal reasons; for example, the name you registered in your ‘home’ country is already registered in the new target countries.  This can be very disappointing.  The challenge now is that it is difficult for any new ideas to beat the favourite one.  But you need a name, so how can you get over it?  Once again, objectivity comes into play, and a certain amount of flexibility.  Do the new ideas perform the role required?  Do they reflect the brand as well as possible?  You may have to allow some changes in the brand, or in the communication structure.  For example, if your logo and name were semantically linked, you might need to consider a new logo as well; or you might need to change a tagline or add a descriptor.

Not understanding that it is a process

Sometimes a client at our first project meeting will express disappointment that we haven’t given them the definitive name solution straight away.  However, there are a number of steps that you must go through on the journey to the final name.  It sometimes happens that we can create the perfect name after the first briefing, but as explained above, it’s still beneficial to go through the rest of the process in order to build confidence in your choice.  And besides, this doesn’t happen often.  It helps to understand that things will go wrong (especially when legal issues begin to be investigated) and that it is perfectly normal as part of the process to get to the desired outcome.