According to marketing guru and author, Jeffrey Fox, “Naming your business or product is one of the most important marketing activities you’ll ever engage in.”
There are essentially four types of names:
These are not hard and fast categories. But the BrandXcellence Naming Quadmap™ is a helpful tool for guiding the name decision-making process.
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Here's how the Quadmap works: A name can move within its quadrant toward another category if they share characteristics of an adjacent quadrant, or a name can even straddle two quadrants. Let’s move clockwise around the quadmap from the upper left.
These are product or company names that are descriptive or functional in nature. They explain, with words, what it is your company does or what your product is. Because the word or combination of words used to build an explanatory name are typically chosen from a “public domain”, in-the-dictionary list of possibilities, these names can be more difficult to protect. In addition, “common” naming schemes can cause your name to get lost in the crowd of other similar-sounding names. This could make your branding and marketing task more onerous because you’ll have to work harder to stand out in the marketplace.
Explanatory names are, however, immediate and intuitive to grasp: Pizza Hut, Home Depot, General Motors, and Bank of America.
These are invented, not-in-the-dictionary names. Often, concocted names are constructed using Greek and Latin roots, prefixes, and suffixes. Because made-up names are just that—made up—they often fly through the trademark process (presuming they’re original) and if you’re really lucky, a web URL will also be available. And because they often find their origin in classical languages, the can sound serious and businesslike.
Understand that with a concocted name, your marketing and communications efforts will have to pull double duty: explaining what the company or product does, and what the name means.
Other concocted names can only be described as “fun to say.” These are also nonsense words that will need to become filled with meaning through the marketing process, but they are memorable because of their uniqueness and pacing. Snapple, Google, Kleenex.
Most pharmacy names are concocted: Abreva, Lunesta, Levitra, Zocor, etc.
These names suggest or advocate the company’s or product’s positioning, not the function or experience of the business or product. These names are somewhat uncommon and playful, so if you pick the right one, it can make a splash in the market and provide your business with some buzz. Because suggestive names reside on the right hemisphere of the quadmap, these types of names can also be easier to protect than explanatory or experiential names.
My favorite suggestive name is Apple, the computer that sits in front of me as I write this. It’s not really a piece of fruit (that would be descriptive), but it does suggest ease of use and supports the Apple theme line, “Think Different.”
These names are typically rooted in personal experience. They’re more than simply explanatory because they describe a real-life encounter rather than the function of the product or business. Experiential names can be abstract to prospects and customers because they must align with a user experience. Also, because these types of names are usually constructed from common, in-the-dictionary words, they can be more difficult to pass through the trademark process.
Microsoft’s web browser, Explorer is a good example of an experiential name. We know what it means to explore—what it feels like—so the name works well for a browser, as well as for a Ford SUV.
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An “Able” Name
While naming conventions, styles, and preferences can be categorized and generalized in dozens of different ways, here are some simple criteria for developing a business or product name or evaluating your current name.
Is your name “able”?