Simon Barwick | April 6, 2016

What’s in a Brandname?

If you were launching a totally new brand, how would you go about naming it? Or perhaps if your business already exists, how should you evaluate its brandname?

It’s true that with an infinite marketing budget even the most complex, obscure and unmemorable brandname can be embedded in the consumer’s mind. And while a brilliant brandname alone won’t guarantee success, it can certainly give your startup crucial early competitive momentum.

“I know who you are and what you offer me” – every one of the brands in Interbrand’s Top 100 Global Brands can claim to have achieved this in the typical consumer’s mind.

How have they achieved this? Is it their infinite budgets and decades of sustained marketing, or do their brandnames offer a clue?

Trawl through the rankings and you’ll see that the brandnames fall quite neatly into three groups:

Acronym (11 of Top 100)

IBM, SAP, HSBC, VW – usually these are either logical (“Bavarian Motor Works”) but unwieldy names for which an acronym is easier to use, or the initials of the Founders (Hewlett Packard). As with Founder names, Acronyms tend to be associated with legacy brands.

Acronyms are the most difficult to establish in the audience’s mind. A random group of letters are usually difficult to recall and rarely impart any meaning. They can also be linguistically difficult and fail the ‘tripping off the tongue’ test.

Trust me, after more than 30 years trying to get people to say and recall ‘BB&P’, we’d never tell you an Acronym brandname would be the way to go.

Founder (35 of Top 100)

Macdonalds, Siemens, Porsche, Ford, JP Morgan, Kellogg’s – named after the individual who invented the original product or formed the company. Typically, these brandnames have long and distinguished heritage.

In our increasingly depersonalised age, Founder names are making a bit of a comeback. By their nature, they have more inherent personality and are easier to recall and connect with. But they tell you little at the outset about the nature of your business, can be difficult to protect and typically take bigger budgets and much longer timelines to really establish.

Coined (54 of Top 100)

Apple, Google, Facebook, Starbucks, Amazon, Nike – names generally conjured out of thin air for special qualities that set them apart from their competitive peers. That all of the younger brands are in this group reflects the modern approach to brand naming.

Coined names can achieve the ‘Big Five’ of brand naming qualities:

Coherence

Pampers, eBay, Ford, Sprite: what you see is what you say is what you think. The brandmark and the brandname are one – there’s no additional company subtitle or symbol to clutter things up. In the business, this is known as a wordmarque.

Simplicity

Lego, Boss, Mini, Citi: the fewer letters, the fewer syllables, the better. American Express, Federal Express, Caterpillar, Coca-Cola also go by vernacular diminutives – AmEx, FedEx, Cat, Coke.

Relevance

Intel, Facebook, Visa, Kleenex: in these names there are strong associative clues as to what business they’re in.

Universality

Xerox, Canon, Sony, Kia: no matter what language you speak, you can say these names.

Protectability

PayPal, Lenovo, Accenture, Microsoft: artificially coined brandnames, being unique, can more readily be legally protected worldwide and have the additional advantage of being available as a url (eg, paypal.com)

It’s instructive that Apple – the world’s most valuable brand – fails to tick all the Big Five boxes but with its overwhelming marketing clout has achieved brand nirvana: delivering its brandname via a symbol alone.

So it can be very useful to consider your present or future brandname to see how many of the Big Five qualities it meets. In the meantime, whether you’re looking at a new brand or trying to strengthen an existing one, BB&P can help you with these naming challenges as well as with brand identity in general.

Simon Barwick

Creative Director + Principal