I read an article about a month ago entitled ‘Why The Best Brands Eventually Leave Their Names Behind’. Joe Duffy talks about how branding is so much more than a name, which is a statement that I cannot argue. However, I would like to answer his question: ‘How important is it that a name actually explains your product’s unique selling proposition, defines your company, or pegs you into a specific category?’ Very.
He speaks about the struggle that comes with naming. Sure, it’s not easy, but when I hear the word struggle I tend to think of something complex that you need help with and surely it is something that cannot be ignored. If it’s a challenge, face it. It is true that it is harder to find more ‘unique’ names these days due to all the trademark and legal issues, but that is exactly the reason why naming should be given more attention. If you want to differentiate yourself, you need a good name. It is important to note that a name doesn’t have to be descriptive in the traditional sense to achieve differentiation and definition for your brand.
The given examples of names in his article that don’t ‘say much’ are Apple, Amazon, Target, FedEx and Aol. Being in the industry we are very aware that branding is not a one day process, you can’t just think of a name and expect that to be enough to build identity; it happens over years; decades even. These brands are already ‘grownups’ even though they keep evolving slowly; they are at a different stage of the brand cycle than new companies and products out there. They do say a lot, they say loads: one brand name tells the whole life story.
I like to imagine the naming process as having a child; something that is born and grows. As the baby is born, the first step is to give it a name and then work around educating and giving personality to him/her. You need to ‘dress’ and ‘pamper’ your name as it grows. If your child doesn’t like his/her school, clothes, hair… you can then alter these details, but the name is something that defines the child from the beginning and is known by it. However, their full identity cannot be erased even with a name change and characteristics will remain; just as with a company.
Take Innocent Drinks as an example. They have been working very hard on their branding since 1999 in the United Kingdom with their presence having developed to other countries around Europe. The reason why I am using this as an example is because they have a unique and original name. Over the years, even when using the word innocent, the smoothies come to our minds. Rewind back to 1999. What if they had picked a different name? Let’s be basic here and use two words to create a name: fruit and healthy; Frealthy. Beautiful, right? Would Innocent be as successful now if they had gone along with a name such as Frealthy? Have a think about it.
Branding agencies and other creative agencies often take on the task of naming. Yet it is such a niche and specialized market that naming should be done by specialists, within the agency or outside. The idea of a name being the quintessence of a brand is exactly the idea we wish to transfer.
Another way to understand the whole thing is picturing you walking into a store. There are so many brands out there that will offer you similar products and services, yet you have to pick one of them. You may not have enough time to research before your purchase. What is one of the first things that will impact your choice and the element that you will retain? The name. You see ‘Innocent’ and ‘Frealthy’ smoothies, which one do you pick? It may be easier to answer my question above this way.
It’s true though, it is all about different approaches. All brand elements are important considerations. I can merely present the different thought process in what we value and how we work, but at the end of the day it is for the client to decide what is most important for their ‘baby’.
Brand language is very important. It encompasses a bigger idea. With the name you are able to define the personality of the brand, how you perceive it and branding enables you to develop the name in the long run.
I would like to conclude with Joe’s theory of ‘wordlessness’: in my eyes, this happens the other way around. People know these memorable short names that the ‘best’ brands possess and their branding language has enabled us to remember their name as a reflex if we see only the logo. But look at it the other way around, for instance Levi’s, would you know immediately what their logo is if I only told you the name?
I believe the name is the core of the ‘Apple’. 🙂