What’s in a name?

All good consumers are judgmental. I’ll admit that I often decide whether or not to visit an establishment or buy a product based on its name alone. Sometimes, this works in a brand’s favor. For example, Arm & Hammer has built a strong brand around its name. Because the Arm & Hammer laundry detergent, deodorant and baking soda are so good, I’m willing to bet the kitty litter is too. (If you’re wondering…that kitty litter turned out to be a pretty good purchase.)

For new brands, this can be a challenge. Business owners often ask: How can we create a brand that people will remember for all the right reasons, that will communicate what we do and that we can establish as a leader in our industry? I’ve made a list of a few key things Obsidian considers when naming and establishing a brand.

  1. The language barrier.

    Everyone has heard the classic examples of translations gone wrong: Schweppes Tonic Water was poorly translated in Italy (and who wants to buy Schweppes Toilet Water?), Kentucky Fried Chicken’s “finger lickin’ good” slogan translated to “eat your fingers off” in China, and Coors’ “turn it loose” slogan translated to “suffer from diarrhea” in Spanish.

    You may even be familiar with the most recent global gaffe – Kraft Foods’ new snack food company, Mondelez. After investing millions in the brand, a linguistics professor from Northwestern University (a mere 20 minutes from Kraft’s global headquarters) pointed out the problem. Kraft meant the word to be a mashup of the French “monde” meaning world and “delez,” loosely translated to mean delicious. Unfortunately, those familiar with Russian may also recognize the slang term for “oral sex.” Uh oh. According to Ad Age, Kraft says they did plenty of research, and considered the risk for misinterpretation low.

    If there’s any chance your brand could go global, do yourself a favor and do your due diligence first. Keep it simple, and start with a handy dandy tool like Google Translate.

  2. Create a brand.

    While it may be tempting to name a business “Catherine’s” after your daughter, consider how that brand will stand out in the ever-increasing sea of brand names. Considering that the name has been in the top 100 most popular girls’ names for the past 100 years, it may be a risky thing to do.

    Some of the best brands are built from the ground up, so consider creating one for your product or business. For example, Rolex is just a made-up word, according to the book The Best of Time: Rolex Wristwatches: An Unauthorized History. Despite not a single consumer knowing what a Rolex was, the founders managed to create a brand that is now synonymous with high-quality, luxury wristwatches.

  3. Protecting the brand.

    Do you use a Band-Aid to cover a cut? Do you sneeze into a Kleenex? Have you ever used an escalator? Do you recognize which of these things are actually specific brand names?

    While a brand becoming the standard for everything may seem like a nice idea, it’s important to protect your brand from becoming synonymous and, eventually, obsolete. “Escalator” is a classic example, as it used to be a brand name for a specific type of moving staircase. Unfortunately, it lost to the generic standard.

    Band-Aid is another brand that is working fervently to protect its name. Have you noticed that the kids singing in the commercials now say “I’m stuck on Band-Aid brand ‘cause Band-Aid helps heal me?”

Have we missed any that you’d like to add? Just leave them in the comments below!