You try to name a new product. The CEO's spouse laughs at your idea. A competitor has trademark rights to a similar name, anyway. Then there's the domain problem: the dot-com, dot-net, dot-co, even the dot-biz are all taken.
Oh, and it turns out the name means "fart" in Cantonese.
Naming is hard. If you've ever been tasked with finding a name for a company, product, service, or feature, you already know that. Hosting a brainstorming session and thinking up a few dozen creative ideas is easy. But getting a diverse team to align on a handful of letters that are strategically optimal and legally available—and won't inadvertently offend an entire country or culture?
That requires more than creativity. It takes rigor and a process. It takes experience.
That's why, when a new brand name is needed, companies large and small—even those with in-house brand teams—reach out to boutique naming agencies, experienced naming consultants, and branding firms with "verbal identity" capabilities.
Not all self-styled naming specialists are created equal, however. These days, advertising agencies and PR firms, freelancers on Upwork and Fiverr, and online crowdsourcing platforms are all equally likely to profess their brand-naming expertise.
So, how can a marketer in need of a name separate the real namers from the self-proclaimers?
In my 15+ years as a professional namer, I've worked at global agencies and smaller shops, I've been an independent consultant and I've been head of naming at HP. I've built naming teams, hired (and fired) naming consultants, and sat on both the agency and the client side of pitch presentations. Through that experience, I've picked up indicators that help me determine whether a namer is the real deal.
In addition to meeting obvious, baseline criteria, such as a solid reputation, track record of success, and reasonable pricing, good brand-naming consultants have the following five characteristics.
1. An Experienced, Dedicated Team
To ensure depth of exploration and diversity of ideas, you'll want more than one namer coming up with ideas for your assignment. If you hire a solo consultant, he or she should plan to bring in at least one or two additional professionals for name-generation. But more isn't necessarily better; focused effort from three or four experienced namers will prove far more valuable than an hour each from a dozen novices—which is exactly what some of the larger agencies may try to sell you.
2. A Lack of House Style
Unless you're in need of a specialized kind brand-naming (such as a pharmaceutical name or a < a target="_blank" href="https://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/12/world/asia/picking-brand-names-in-china-is-a-business-itself.html">Chinese brand name), make sure the consultant you're considering has diverse experience—in both industry and name type.
Agencies that consistently produce one style of name—abstract, real-word names, for example (such as "Apple" or "Virgin"), or vowel-impaired coined words ("MVMT" or "Abrdn")—may not be able to modify their approach based on your needs, preferences, or the requirements of your project.
3. A Robust Prescreening Process
Before names are presented to decision-makers, they should go through preliminary trademark screening. That quick and relatively inexpensive step helps avoid a worst-case scenario: finding out that a favorite name candidate is unavailable because of legal concerns.
Similarly, most naming projects should include linguistic checks, in which names are reviewed for negative meanings, connotations, or pronunciation challenges in relevant languages and cultures. Although such steps can't guarantee a name's viability, they can uncover obvious problems before it's too late.
Many agencies outsource prescreening steps to experts. Others provide in-house solutions. Either is fine, but the lack of a clear and robust plan for prescreening is a dead giveaway of a know-nothing namer.
4. Presentation Skills
At some point, your chosen consultant will likely present brand names to your boss or your company's leadership. The best way to share new name ideas is in a formal presentation—never via email—and an experienced naming consultant will know how to provide rationale and context for each name and for the naming project overall.
Because such presentations may reflect on you, be sure you're confident in the quality of the consultants' work and their ability to present it.
5. A Plan to Drive the Final Decision
You're hiring a naming consultant to produce smart, creative name ideas as well as help your organization decide on the best name. How that decision gets made can depend on everything from company culture to personalities on the decision-making team.
Ideally, your consultant will ask questions about that up front or early in the process: How many people will be involved in the decision? Will one person have final authority to select the name? Who has veto power?
If you have specific concerns about getting a name across the finish line, share them and see how your consultant responds. Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach to driving the final decision, experienced namers know how to plan ahead and mitigate foreseeable challenges.
* * *
The right brand name can help your company, product, or service stand out from the crowd. It can increase the odds of your customers' remembering, understanding, and admiring your brand.
Just as important is what it can help you avoid: embarrassment, legal challenges, cultural blunders, and premature rebrands.
The right name means putting your brand's best foot forward. Find the right brand-naming consultant—one that meets the criteria outlined in this article—and you'll be well on your way to finding the right brand name.
More Resources on Brand-Naming
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