May 26, 2009
A while ago, I wrote a blog post on the power of names. I won’t repeat it here, except for the fact that, while branding may not be a priority for you, choosing a name for your business or product (even your domain name) is often the single, most important business decision you will ever make.
In this blog post I submit five characteristics of great brand names, which I call the five “S’s.” They are characteristics I encourage you to follow when coming up with a solid, long-lasting, and highly profitable name.
For starters, let me point out that the best names are names that are short, easy to pronounce, and easy to remember. They have considerable mnemonic value, which often translates into financial value.
A mnemonic is a device - such as a word, symbol, or sound - intended to assist in recall. If a name carries some mnemonic value, it will increase traffic, sales, and value to your business on its own. The more mnemonic a name is, the more valuable it is.
There are various reasons for this.
First, due to the growing overload of information on the web, people no longer have the time to search the Internet let alone pages upon pages of search engine results in order to find exactly what they want.
Sure, search engines will always have a place.
But more and more people would love to skip irrelevant search engine results. Many will in fact attempt to reach websites directly by guessing and typing plausible domains into their browsers.
(How often have you done this? I do all the time.)
Either that or, when do they use the search engines, they will search for specific names, especially those they remember or deduce, first - and do so before they try to search for something too generic or general, which might force them to wade through pages of search engine results to no avail.
Think about it. How easier would it be if they knew of a name beforehand and typed it into a search engine? How much more relevant would search engine results be?
You guessed it, a lot more.
When a current news item, hot topic, major event, or popular controversy crops up, the Internet becomes inundated with people looking those terms up.
Search trends often include brand names, too.
Your objective, therefore, is to choose not only a good brand name but also one that burns itself into the mind of the marketplace. The brains of the people in your market. That’s the power of being “hooked on mnemonics.”
Nevertheless, while the availability of good brand names is shrinking, here are five basic guidelines to follow. Try to follow these as much as you can. I call them the “5 S’s of Naming” (and yes, using the letter “S” is a mnemonic), which are:
First, choose a suggestive name, one that communicates the main benefit if not at least the nature of the product, business, or website. Benefit-based names have a multitude of advantages beyond ease-of-recall, including credibility.
Studies show suggestive names that instantly communicate what the product or business is all about, what’s their purpose or benefit, in one fell swoop, can rapidly increase desirability, believability, sales, and of course, brand equity.
Look at some of the strongest brand names out there. You will notice that most of them tend to have a name in which the main purpose or benefit is suggested.
For example, “Jiffy Lube” means a fast oil change. “Band-Aid” means a bandage that comes to your aid. “Duracell” means a battery cell that’s durable and longlasting.
Benefit-based suggestiveness applies particularly well to domain names. Why? Because if a brand name is already taken, you can resort to its core benefit or purpose instead.
For example, if you sought a financial planner and were given a bunch of URLs, would you choose nafep.com (which is an actual name, by the way)? Or InvestRight.com?
Second, make it easy to pronounce and hard to misspell. If you must spell it, then scrap it. The moment you’re forced to spell your business, product, or domain name when asking people to look you up, you’ve lost them already.
Think of the people trying to find your business, your product, or your website - whether they use a search engine or not. Make it easy for them to do so and avoid anything that impedes the proper spelling of the brand name.
For instance, avoid numbers, hard-to-pronounce words, or acronyms. Unless you are IBM, AOL, CNN, BMW, or some other, already well-known brand, avoid acronyms or initials at all costs - they are probably the worst of the bunch.
In short, make the name intuitive. I’m not just talking about unique names, either. Avoid generic words that are easily or commonly misspelled, which may impede traffic.
For example, if you have a wedding planner site, would you call your business “Marriages Made Easy”? Or “Weddings Well Done”? The two are good, but “marriage” can often be misspelled with one “R” instead of two.
(If you already have one and it’s too late, hopefully it’s not too late to register the misspelled domain to capture additional traffic - lest they go to a competitor, much less a site that might be less favorable, like some adult site.)
On the other hand, if an acronym makes a name easy to pronounce, easy to remember, and shorter, then go for it. In fact, this is the third guideline.
The shorter it is, the better it will be. For example, which one would you remember the most and have the least amount of trouble (or potential for error) in typing into your browser: YetAnotherHierarchicallyOrganizedOracle.com? Or Yahoo.com?
Long names can be counterproductive as it diminishes its mnemonic value. “Federal Express” is now FedEx. “FedEx” means a courier that express-ships your packages, federally. But since they now ship around the world, FedEx makes better sense.
Or take a look at “Kentucky Fried Chicken,” which is now KFC. I don’t know why exactly they changed the name, but I surmise that it’s because of the word “fried,” which tends to communicate unhealthiness in a now health-conscious society.
But be careful, if you’re brand-new and decide to use an acronym, make sure to avoid confusion. It’s best to choose an acronym that’s memorable or easily pronounceable.
Take the aforementioned Yahoo!, for instance. Or SHIELD, which means “Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division.”
(Sorry. Couldn’t resist. My love for comic-book heroes slipped through.)
Or better yet, start with a regular name first, build your brand, and then shorten it, if appropriate - although that may be an expensive proposition. Remember, IBM wasn’t always IBM, but “International Business Machines.” AOL, America Online. Etc.
The fourth guideline is to use repetition. Repetitious sounds are pleasing to the ear and add a singsong quality. As the adage goes, “Repetition is the parent of learning.”
By making the pronunciation simpler, repetition, such as with rhymes and alliteration, helps to turn names into mental “hooks.” And by making the name esthetically pleasing, studies show you also increase credibility, too.
If you can make your name rhyme, you’re going to create a name that will almost instantly create an indelible mark on people’s minds. When the need for your solution arises, people will naturally think of your name first.
Which is the whole point of a good, memorable brand name.
Don’t forget alliteration, also known as “head rhymes,” too. It’s all about repetition. For example, NoBrainerBlinds.com, Coca-Cola, SiteSell.com, Krispy Kreme, Google, and so on have that pleasing, singsong quality.
Also, strong-sounding or “choppy” consonants (like the sound of “P,” “D,” “T,” and “K”), used particularly at the beginning, help recall by adding emphasis.
They are called plosives. And according to naming expert Steve Rivkin, “It makes linguistic sense to start a brand name with a strong-sounding consonant or a plosive.”
One thing to be careful of is to choose a name that’s not too specific, limited, or constrained. Otherwise, it can literally paint your product or business into a corner.
Remember the names I mentioned earlier that were later changed to their abbreviated versions in order to shorten them? Rebranding is often a very costly exercise, and you want to avoid that as much as possible.
But this also applies to names that, while they may be relevant today, could become irrelevant, incompatible, or impractical in the future.
In other words, don’t choose a name that’s time-sensitive, situational, inflexible, or linked to something else - such as a current event, another brand, or some fad or trend.
If things change (and they will), will the name still apply? Will it still be relevant? Can it lose its commercial value? Will you be forced to change if you decided to expand?
A scalable name is a name that’s evergreen, extensible, easily modifiable (without any costly overhaul to the brand or depreciation in brand equity), and compatible with future changes, additions, partners, or markets.
That’s why it’s important that, while the name may be suggestive, don’t make it too generic. Some unique names may not be as suggestive, but they can certainly become some of the most memorable - and profitable - brands.
A few good online examples are Google, Twitter, Hulu, etc.
Or in some cases, and for the lack of a better word, some names can be “uniquified,” either by:
- A combination of suggestive words, such as WordPress, FaceBook, ClickBank, PhotoShop, MicroSoft, etc;
- A generic, suggestive name made unique, like Kleenex (cleanliness), Windex (washes windows), Sensodyne (toothpaste for sensitive teeth), Natrel (naturally filtered milk), iPhone (self-explanatory), etc;
- Or a completely different name that may not be related but is indirectly associated with its core benefit, idea, or purpose, such as Ivory (white soap that’s luxurious), Godiva (specialty chocolates that’s “sinful” to eat), Raid (insecticide that’s as efficient as a military raid), etc.
Bottom line, make sure you stay away from names that are unattractive, confusing, easy to misspell, obscure, too long, inflexible, and can be easily forgotten or ignored.
Bad names not only can impede your business’ growth, but it can also kill your credibility, cost you in lost sales, and become counterproductive.
In essence, make it easy for people to find you and do business with you.
Like a brand that burns an owner’s indicia on its livestock, choose an easily recognizable brand that burns itself into the brains of your market. For the more you do, and the more memorable you are, then the more profitable you will become.
Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter, marketing strategy consultant, and instrumental in some of the most lucrative online businesses and wildly successful marketing campaigns to ever hit the web. For more articles like this one, please visit his blog at http://www.michelfortin.com/ and subscribe to his RSS feed.