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Naming for Growth
When it comes to the name, early-stage companies barely explore the power of a strategically structured name. Want to know where to start? We’ve got you covered. The naming process introduced here focuses on extracting the maximum potential from your company’s name communication. The methodology was developed by Isis May, creative director, and Tarcila Zanatta, graphic designer, with illustrations by Matheus Lufiego, at Scharf studio.
The process of turning an idea into a viable business model goes through several steps that can overlap each other, which often leads to an overlooked brand structure. Amid these iterations, the name often comes from founders’ predilection, which is not necessarily a problem — but is definitely a challenge to not have a clear strategic choice, nor to belittle the potential opportunities and risks.
As a result, costly future problems will surely arise, such as lack of clarity in navigating the product or services offered, discrepancies of meaning in different cultures, confusion and distance from the target client, inconsistency in marketing pieces, and so on. Furthermore, the name does not come alone: it is never independent or isolated, and it requires a set of other elements to support its value properly.
When should your company go through a naming process?
If it never did, the answer is immediately after finishing reading this article. As time passes, the greater will be the effort and expense required to correct a dysfunctional name. Time is the preponderant metric in building the company’s image in the public’s mind. The sooner the better.
In an ideal reality, naming should occur as soon as there is a minimal framework in the business plan, being the first step in building the brand strategies, and preceding the visual identity (logo, colors, typography…).
The naming should start the brand construction, as its guidelines and success parameters will be shared with all later elements. Its process uncovers potential issues, weaknesses, opportunities, and qualities to maintain. For it, each point of contact will be dissected considering types of relationships, prospects, investors, partners, clients, and non-clients. The result is a set of authentic attributes and actionable insights that will build the perception of the business, both internally and externally.
This framework works for almost any type of company. However, when it comes to startups, it is crucial to adjust the weight of the references under consideration. Particularly in these cases, the potential competition and settled market are likely to be inconsistent — most of the time they present extreme immaturity in their communication system, or feature outdated name strategies. This is almost certainly because a weak name is a symptom of weak businesses, which do not cover market needs and then leave a gap for smart startups to develop.
That said, startup names should be heavily aligned to its core offer, the motivation why it started. The chances of innovating, adapting, and pivoting are significant and will transform how the startup is marketed, while the essence remains solid.
☞ The recipe for a good name
There is no quick answer to this, but we count on a series of creative tools and clear parameters to decide with confidence. A good name has two constant factors:
Consistent meaning + Cohesive hierarchy
A name is the condensed address of everything that is done within the company, and the people who compose it. The meaning is perceived at the same time by all senses, but mainly by sight and hearing.
At Scharf studio, we compartmentalize this perception in screenings: rounds of creation and evaluation of spelling and pronunciation variations, sound symbology, objective and approximate cultural uses, market behavior, etc. This makes it possible to access the quality of meaning in depth: we will know if a name sounds good, what it means to sound good, how to best reach each audience, how remarkable and distinctive it is, its potential for graphic presentation. A pre-assessment of legal availability is also made, which does not replace the work of lawyers, but has a strong preventive function. It all serves to make an informed decision on the name.
The next step is to develop a system of support words: the name architecture. Therewith, the main name is subject to tests of modularity and future potential, asking how the company will grow and adapt later. Then, rules and guidelines are set for the support words, directing sub-brands and extensions, application in domains handles of social media, and so on. We call these words brand surnames and nicknames and we will explain them soon.
Naming companies is almost like naming a person
To continue, let’s define a couple of concepts:
Brand is what is perceived from the company, through communication in all senses: verbal, visual, sound, etc. It refers to the communication of a company and its offers;
Company refers to the organization that offers products or services.
Companies and brands can overlap or not, in a simple or complex way depending on their structure, as in the case of umbrella companies and sub-brands. Apple is both a company and a brand. iPhone, Ipad, and Macbook are brands, but not companies. This will influence the way we think about name architecture.
Both companies and their brands are commonly connected to inherently human attributes. The perceived qualities are the result of the collaboration of individuals that compose the company or brand, with emphasis on those in leadership positions. In branding, this is put into use when creating and directing strategies, through personas, tone and voice, positioning, and naming.
The name identifies and designates the company brand and its related brands, and it can be composed in the same way that a person's name would be: with a forename, a surname, and sometimes even a nickname.
Forename: the main name; it has the function of differentiating it from the other members of the group, class, and type.
Surname: identifies a belonging or origin to a certain group, class, and type. It complements the meaning of the forename.
Nickname: a descriptive, familiar, alternative name. It can be a shorter, affective or popular name.
Example 1: IBM Services
IBM is the forename, Services is the surname.
IBM is known in the media as The Big Blue, its nickname.
Example 2: Tesla
Tesla is the forename, Motors or Energy are the surnames.
TSLA (stock market) or The Electric Car Company are the nicknames.
Naming à la Scharf studio
The naming process will either result in well-informed maintenance of the current name or a renaming. In both cases, this name will be part of an integrated architecture, developed to organize the existence of the brand. Among the dynamics and deliverables of this process, we have:
1. Naming Brief and Creative Alignment
Define what the company is, how it wants to be known and how it will be named in different situations;
Identify what the company does not want to be or the reputation it wants to avoid.
2. Name Architecture
Organize what the company offers and how it will grow;
Map how the customer understands what is being offered.
3. Linguistic and Cultural Screening for International Feasibility
Research extensively how people from different cultures perceive the names chosen;
Check if there is the same or a similar word in other countries, to control associations even when the trademark is possible.
4. Sound Symbology Alignment
Test spelling and capitalization using knowledge borrowed from psychology and linguistics.
5. Domain Availability and Guidance
Study and define the best approach for online presence.
6. Preliminary Trademark Screening
Check availability at the relevant competent registry institutions.
Final Delivery: Naming Creative Report.
Record of the process added to actionable insights and guidelines.
Post-Naming: long-term maintenance
As much as the name is part of the brand’s core, which means that it must be long-lasting, that doesn’t imply that it will be necessarily immutable. When created, the name has to be accompanied by a series of instructions for use, and expansion. Therefore, it is beneficial for it to be revisited from time to time, in conjunction with the business and brand strategies. Even the most established brands receive changes, such as:
Dunkin’: formerly Dunkin’ Donuts, dropped its ending in order to align with its strongest offerings: coffee and snacks. Donuts is part of its history, but it no longer represents the business model.
Tesla: the mother brand was called Tesla Motors for nearly a decade, but grew to cover offerings outside cars. Now, the main name has been reduced to just Tesla, with the sub-brands Tesla Motors and Tesla Energy.
Mcdonald’s: In Brazil, many customers pronounced its name in a characteristic way, which was absorbed by the brand’s marketing: Méqui is the self-given nickname as part of the national expansion strategy.
If you need some extra reasons to convince someone else to dive into a naming process, here’s an objective snapshot:
Be innovative on all fronts, including branding;
Facilitate and reduce marketing investments;
Help customers navigate the company structure of offerings;
Create positive and clear associations;
Increase flexibility for future product and service expansion;
Build and protect brand equity;
Minimize legal expenses.
In conclusion, naming is about past, present, and future, all together. Strong brands and names affect the power dynamics when a company is acquired or merged, while a delayed naming is exponentially more expensive, more difficult, and more complex. Brand architecture is not limited to large companies — any company or institution needs to assess which brand strategy will support future growth.
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