Having a complicated, boring, generic, or sound-alike name generally won’t stop an organization from achieving success, but it definitely can impede growth and be a drag on potential.
Obviously, if you’re starting a new organization or providing a new service, naming should be one of the first branding components you consider, and it’s a great (and inexpensive way) to create differentiation.
If your organization has a name that you believe is undifferentiated or not memorable, you may want to consider modifying it or changing it. While your current name may have some equity with certain audiences, it may be costing you more than what you could gain with a new name.
Great names have certain qualities. Those include:
- Memorable – sticks in your brain and stands out in the marketplace
- Meaningful – aligns with what you do or provide or with the personality of your organization
- Readable – easy to spell and certainly easy to pronounce
- Distinctive – unique and creates separation from other like organizations
If you have a big marketing and branding budget, your organization can overcome a bad or dull name with compelling messages. But most nonprofits don’t have that luxury. As such, having an unforgettable and unique name is a strategic advantage and demonstrates good stewardship.
Here are some things to consider when developing a distinctive brand name:
- Literal or descriptive names are easily copied and imitated, which can lead to market and audience confusion.
- Obscure and emotional names create separation and natural interest in your brand (think Google, Yahoo, Apple, etc.)
- Generic and copycat names cost more to build, aren’t compelling and will likely drown in the sea of sameness.
Generating a name that lasts for generations.
I’ve personally been involved in naming projects for over 30 years. The approach I’ve developed for naming has been successfully employed for everything from Fortune 500 companies to small, local nonprofits (and everything in between). The following seven-step process outlines what I consider to be the best practices for generating a strong and lasting name:
The first three steps of this process outline the criteria for the ideal name.
- Define the essence (meaning, spirit, heart and soul) of the organization, product or service to be named.
- List the qualities (traits, personality, distinctiveness) the name must represent.
- Identify the perceptions and expectations the name should create for those who will come in contact with it.
- Create a range of possible directions guided by the above considerations.
Step four can be done as a group or as individuals who then reconvene as a group to share ideas. The efforts of step four should generate anywhere from 50 – 100 names.
- Screen each potential name through the following:
The first phase of the screening process will require a group to discuss the denotative (literal meaning) and connotative (suggested meaning) of each potential name. From this list, there should be no more than 25 names for which you will conduct legal and linguistic checks. So, these are the steps in the initial screening process:
- Denotative meaning
- Connotative meaning
- Legal check
- Linguistic check (for international organizations)
The names that make it through the first screening process (usually 10 – 15) should then be further challenged, with the remaining names going through a scoring process based on the “great name qualities” listed above:
This is usually done by having each member of the group score each individual name on a scale from 1 to 5 (one being the lowest), then calculating the highest scoring names to arrive at a “Top 5 or 10″ names.
- The final step includes talking with sample members of your target audience —conducting primary research on each existing/potential name to test if the name:
- is in sync with overall objectives and goals of the organization?
- commands attention?
- is in sync with the organization’s image/key messages?
- has any negative/positive connotations?
While your name is important, your brand cannot survive on your name alone.
How your brand is executed and the strength of your name are both vital components for a successful and sustained branding effort. A great brand name can serve as an anchor for your cause, a symbol of your story, a point of difference, a memory trigger, or just an element that provides an “extra kick” for your branding program.
But no matter how boring or good your name is, it can always be made stronger with a more distinctive logo (see my last blog entry, Make Your Mark, for pointers on creating powerful logos).
How about your organization — do you have a name that puts your organization in the best position to DO MORE GOOD? If so, share it and inspire us all. If not, maybe it’s time to get busy?
— Bill McKendry