What has changed (or not) about the business of creating names

What has changed (or not) about the business of creating names

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By Olivier Auroy, Managing Director, Kantar Consulting

I have been working as a namer for two decades and in the era of digital and artificial intelligence, it is appropriate to wonder to what extent brand name creation has changed in this time. Not much…

- Artificial intelligence can't do everything
The idea that computers create names is still an illusion. Some apps can come up with new words by matching syllables and sounds. Ok, but machines will never replace man intelligence. Without the intuition and experience of the namer, words are nothing.

- Internally managed name creation can be a perilous lottery
It is tempting in our times of collaborative economy, to have your staff participate in the making of a brand name. Unfortunately, without the support of a professional, homebrewed names often end in disaster. In-house creativity sessions have the merit of creating a bond but also show how difficult it is to come up with a viable name. They involve and explain but are seldom effective.

- Tell me about your decision-making process, and I'll tell you if we can make it happen
Mathematics. The more people who are invited to decide and have a say, the less likely it is that a result will be achieved. That's the way it is. A name creator's worst enemy is the selection committee, where a name's potential is diluted in the multiplicity of opinions voiced. The most audacious names in their time (e.g. Orange, Virgin) were the expression of a daring, visionary intuition. And before any testing!

- The art of crossing borders
Some brands don't embarrass themselves too much (check what “Nike” means in French or Arabic) because they are so powerful (media investment) people forget their imperfections and side meanings. For the others, checking languages and cultural evocations is a must.

- Stop trusting a name to say anything and do everything
A name is only one component of a brand, the beginning of a story. The belief that a name must very clearly and exclusively express the qualities of a product or company is the reason name creation so often fails. Such expectations are unrealistic.

- It’s easy to make fun of a name
Unfortunately, this is where the decision maker usually outdoes himself - especially during those Friday afternoon meetings. Rarely if ever will he take a step back. Would he have named his own tech company Apple? I doubt it. To convince and seduce, a name candidate must be immersed in its natural habitat (ex: packaging, on a facade, on a shelf...) Once it has become concrete, alive, it will no longer be a subject of mockery.

- Legal matters act as scarecrows
It’s true that lawyers have cold feet and want to minimize risks. The legal framework is the perfect alibi, because it scares people, because it has that objective and rational dimension the object of creation is completely devoid of. Too easy. If a name is taken, in which classes, since when? By whom? Can we negotiate? The presence of your legal team in the first rounds of name submissions is crucial to avoid misunderstandings.

- Following trends for a boost in confidence
People are afraid of being different. In name creation, as in many other creative fields, fear of failure leads to conformism. As soon as a company adopts a particular tone, everyone follows in its footsteps, and all the brands end up sounding alike.

- The challenge of memorization
"Come up with anything, as long as it's memorable!" This is the best directive a client has ever given me. Therein lies the very essence, beyond the meaning and the message: to be remembered. Proven recipes exist, let me give you one: alliterations. They're called "echoing" names and they work wonders. Coca-Cola, Kit-Kat, and so many more.

10 commandments for CEOs on picking names.

  1. Give precise instructions but leave some freedom of interpretation
  2. Choose carefully how you involve your employees
  3. Don’t expect an immediate crush
  4. Ask the creator to put names in context
  5. Limit the number of people you ask for opinions
  6. Take this process seriously, don't postpone
  7. Invite your legal department in for the first round of submissions
  8. Beware of trends. Always favour names that tell a story
  9. Make sure names are quality tested in the countries that matter to you
  10. Share top names with other service providers involved in the project


Author: The Marketing Society
Posted: 23 Jan 2018
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