The Art and Science of the Brand Naming Process

Apple. Google. Uber. Netflix. These are just a few of today’s dominant brand names, and they’re so engrained in our culture that we forget at some point the brand was only an idea. And like so many emerging brands today, these ideas needed a name. But how do you get there? How do you get to a name that is both unique and ownable? How do you avoid watering down the thinking? How do you stand out in the marketplace?

Getting it right isn’t something we take lightly—we realize choosing a name can be a risk, not to mention a significant investment. That’s why we have developed and refined our process over the years—to ensure successful outcomes.

At GS&F, we have a proven process and track record for getting to the right name. What makes our process unique is that we start with your business strategy and then work tirelessly to remove subjectivity from the evaluation process. Our objective: develop a name that can win in the marketplace as ownable Intellectual Property. Our approach: take what you “like” out of the equation.

For us, naming never starts with what we like. It starts with what will win. Naming is more than a whiteboard, a group of marketers and a few brainstorming sessions. Instead, there is a science behind naming—a proven strategic process with a creative outcome. It’s 80% strategic thinking and 20% creative magic. It yields captivating names that are also strategically positioned to win in the market.

With help from a few of our Friends, let’s pull back the curtain on the naming process at GS&F to see how strategy—and a bit of creative magic—work together.

Putting in the Work

“The science behind naming can be an eye-opening experience for clients,” says John Anderson, Strategic Planner. “Clients may expect us to be in a room brainstorming, but really it’s defining upfront what the name needs to do and what will win in the market before you ever put pen to paper.”

“It’s more work than you think,” adds Garrett Lyon, Senior Strategist. “You know you have a product and its features, but there is strategic work that adds to the naming process, including consumer research, market fit, audience and value proposition.”

Our strategic and account management teams also work to make sure the right naming team is up to bat for each brand’s process. Typically, our teams consist of three to five namers with a range of titles, personalities and strengths.

“There is no qualification for a namer,” Gabby Springer, Account Supervisor. “That’s the beauty of naming, and it allows us to bring in people from different teams across the agency.”

When fielding a team, Lyon adds, you need a group that will allow you to hit all the requirements of the brand while also pushing those boundaries a bit. You’ll need a balanced group of crazy thinkers, brand experts and reliable creatives who work well both collaboratively and alone, as the naming process requires both. Once the team is in place, it’s time to get to work.

The Naming Process

 Because naming is so crucial to a brand’s DNA, a grounding process goes a long way in directing the energy of the brand’s stakeholders and ensuring the final name is one that captures the spirit of the brand—and will win in the market.

Once foundational research and setup has been completed, the naming brief must be written. “Teeing the team off in the right direction is crucial,” says Anderson. In the brief the strategy team, along with the help of account management, outlines audience research and insights, context, brand information and more.

Most importantly the brief identifies a clear objective for the name, which gives the team a way to determine each name’s success. This helps remove emotion—whether the team likes or loves a name—from the process and provides an objective measure of success. “Names on their own, without context, are meaningless, and it’s hard to justify if they’re good or bad,” Lyon adds, showing the critical role an objective process plays.

“A name can’t be everything,” Anderson points out. “You have to choose the part of your brand story you want the name to tell.” But when the name paints a picture of the brand with creativity and it’s backed by research, it’s on its way to success.

Finally, the brief identifies naming buckets—categories of thought intended to direct the naming team in their efforts—and lets the team work individually to identify name options. Typically, this first round of naming yields hundreds of names. “We take the first list,” says Anderson, “and find out where we’ve hit oil. Then, in the next round, we dig further and go deeper.”

With objective client input along the way, we narrow the list to a small batch of names we believe in and jump into research to capture consumer feedback and sentiment on our shortlist. “We’re not necessarily finding a winner,” says Lyon. “Instead, we’re looking for indicators to help make the right decision.”

Getting It Right

Once the process is complete, we land on a set of 3­–5 names that can win in the market and from an Intellectual Property perspective. Thanks to our process, this gives our clients multiple options as they go deeper with securing the IP rights. Once we have clearances, the client makes the final decision.

“A name can take on many forms: it can be practical, formal or even fanciful,” says Gregg Boling, President & COO at GS&F. “What makes a name great is when it makes the necessary emotional connection with your audience.”

“Great names are both timely and timeless,” Boling adds. “If you are developing a new name for your organization, you need a proven process that works.”

Just the Beginning

The naming process often serves as a starting point for relationships with our clients. We want to work with ambitious brands, and naming is just about the most ambitious task we can take on together. When we go through the naming process our clients get to see our values on full display, and we build trust that can lead to more great work and longstanding partnerships.

We’re excited to work with clients at all stages of brand building. Whether you’re starting from scratch or need to name a new product among many, we’re here to help. Check out some of our previous work and get in touch. Let’s name your best idea!

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