What's in a name? Hours of work, as Mike Pile knows. As president and creative director at verbal identity firm Uppercase Branding, Mike and his team specialize in naming companies, products, flavors, scents, colors, programs... practically anything!
After a strategy session with the client about the image that the company wants to cultivate, Mike's squad of expert namers generates thousands of possibilities, which they then whittle down to a few hundred options that they present to the client. Along the way, they may consult resources as varied as the thesaurus, the surfer dictionary, and the gem dictionary.
The objective: to create names that will ignite conversations with prospects. The firm also provides the all-important intellectual property screen and research, so you don't fall in love with a name only to discover that it's already been trademarked by someone else.
I invited Mike to Marketing Smarts to discuss how a brand name is different from the brand itself, the process for choosing the right name (or suite of names if you're naming multiple things), and his expert tips based on years of helping companies to distill their brand essence into a simple, memorable word (or two).
Here are just a few highlights from my conversation with Mike:
Naming is a bit like pearl fishing: to find the gem, you've got to open a lot of oysters (06:27): "It'll take any company in our space a week to three weeks to four weeks to develop sometimes thousands of names, but it'll take six to eight months to get it approved.... We try to present not an overwhelming number of name candidates, but enough so there's a choice, and then we support each of those name candidates with as rational and as objective a set of criteria that we can so that those names can be judged on their merits."
To find the right name, you have to ask some philosophical questions (07:15): "We have an initial meeting (sometimes two) with our clients and establish a core brief...who, what, where, and why, what are the pain points, what are you trying to communicate? When it gets to naming in particular and verbal brand identity in general...that road map needs to be distilled and distilled and redistilled down to its very essence. We have a couple of approaches we use....
"If you were to establish five key words in a search engine, what would they be? If your brand-to-be was a superhero or a celebrity, who would that be? And so we take that core brief and try to distill it down into one to five keywords, key terms, key ideas."
Cancel the group brainstorming session for coming up with name ideas (08:26): "We don't believe in brainstorming.... If you put four people to six people in a room, you'll get a hundred ideas over the course of two hours. If you charge each of those six people with the task of generating a name against a certain set of criteria and put them in separate rooms, they'll come back with 6 to 10X the number of ideas...so we'll generate thousands of ideas."
Inspiration is everywhere (09:00): "We use stimulus anywhere from...a billboard...to dozens of thesauri at the office. We have dozens of dictionaries at the office, the surfer dictionary, the cowboy dictionary, encyclopedias, the Web. There are some tools like concatenation that you can use, putting a column of 100 ideas in a column A and a column B, so there are multiple ways to do it. Most people find it tedious after a half an hour, but we happen to enjoy it."
Mike and I talked about much more, including naming for B2Bs in highly technical or traditional industries, and how to whittle down your list of possible names (they can't all be winners), so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!
Music credit: Noam Weinstein.