Would Ingvar Kampard Elmtaryol Agunnaryd have been as strong a name as Ikea?

Is a brand name important?
Pictured: Would Ingvar Kampard Elmtaryol Agunnaryd have been as strong a name as Ikea?

Having worked on numerous brand naming projects over the years, Niall Corcoran understands the potential pitfalls around choosing a name, as well as the advantages that picking the right one can bring. Here, he shares some of his key tips on naming brands and companies.

“Whatever brand name we choose doesn’t really matter as the brand, in time, will be defined by the service we deliver”. This was a quote from a senior executive in an organisation whose brand we worked on recently. In some respects he is right. A brand like Siemens, which has a strong global presence, hasn’t been limited by its name.

However, if you don’t get it quite right you may have to spend more money promoting it, trying to make people remember and like it and be prepared for possible commercial problems, confusion, negative association, trademark infringement and restrictions to your future growth and diversification.

From our experience there are a number of useful things to consider when working on a name.

Try to avoid common names or words as there will inevitably be lots of existing associations with them. Oddness works. Odd names – for example, Google and Twitter – tend to stand out. This doesn’t mean oddness for the sake of it. Clearly the tone of the name must fit with the industry sector or audience. Try to pick evocative names, as they help give personality and make an impact on our senses – think Innocent or G�.

Remember it’s a name not a descriptor. Don’t try to describe the product or service in the name as it will restrict your company’s future development and growth and it’s not the name’s function. Leave that to the rest of the brand communications.

Names that stand out, evoke feelings or help create a new space for a brand to live not only help you cut through the noise but generally need less marketing support or spend to generate awareness and develop an emotive connection with customers.

They also help you avoid some of the very serious and often costly mistakes in creating new brands. Trademarks are becoming an even bigger factor in brand names. Infringing on someone’s trademark is a more commonplace issue often only discovered after the fact, after the company has spent a lot of time, energy and money building a new brand. Descriptive or commonly used names or words are more likely to run into trouble as at the heart of trademark infringement is the question of confusion. Will this new name cause confusion with an existing name, is it too close or is it in their ‘space’?

An important consideration for any company that is considering launching a new brand in international markets is brand associations or connotations. A word or name that may have a positive meaning in one market may have the reverse in another.

A recent example is Kraft’s naming of its global snacks business Mondelez. No sooner had the brand been launched than there was discussion online as to whether the name in Russia is associated with a vulgar sexual term, as pronunciation of Mondalez (“mohn-dah-LEEZ”) sounds similar to a term used for oral sex. Russians were querying whether they would be comfortable going into their nearest store and asking for their favourite chocolate bar from Mondalez.

Big brands like Coca Cola and Nike have realised the importance of names when entering markets like China. Many have changed or ‘localised’ their names to work better with the local population or to make a stronger, more positive connection. In China, Coca-Cola is called Kekoukele, meaning tasty, fun and Nike is Nai ke, meaning enduring and persevering.

Social media has become an essential ingredient for many companies when planning to market themselves. A useful tip when creating a new name is to see whether it is available across all the social media platforms you are considering using, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Vimeo, etc. One very useful website for this is Knowem.com, which is a simple go-to source to check whether your new name is available on these social media platforms.

In recent years, a number of well known Irish brands have been renamed, including Quinn Healthcare to Laya, the training wing of Fas to Solas, and the ESB’s domestic supply to Electric Ireland.

So, are these great names and does it matter? Does Electric Ireland help convey the message that it is now a broader energy supplier, providing gas and not just electricity? Solas comes from the public sector’s general predilection for acronyms (Seirbh�s� Oideachais Leanunaigh agus Scileanna), but are there not already too many existing associations with the name, including light bulbs, a christian centre, a radio station and a charity, and is it the right tone for the new brand? Laya in fairness can claim uniqueness as I cannot think of any other associations in Ireland and it has meaning (standing for “looking after you always”) but does it not feel a little bit contrived?

No doubt, all of these brands will go on to be successful as the brand is much more than a name. Many bad names have gone on to be successful brands due to the support of big marketing budgets, good products and services. And equally so, I’m sure many great brand names haven’t stood the test of time because of business failures. But, having a great name can be the first step in creating a world class brand. Would Legot (meaning “play well”) have been as strong as Lego or Ingvar Kampard Elmtaryol Agunnaryd as Ikea? Would Telekinesys Research Limited been as strong as Havok in the gaming space?

You don’t always have to have big marketing budgets to create stand out brands. Having a name that is a positive point of distinction can help.

Niall Corcoran is commercial/brand director of design and brand agency Creative Inc.