Selecting a name for new or reenergized brands is often more complicated than it appears. The brand name should be differentiating, memorable, and easy to spell and pronounce. It needs to be trademarkable and depending on the target audiences, work well for different languages and cultures. For some sectors, the name can be playful and whimsical whereas other sectors require a name that projects authority and gravitas. There are situations where the name must meet additional requirements as well. Companies in a crowded marketplace, for example, may need a name that’s especially unique and evocative, whereas established businesses with ill-fitting legacy names must find an elegant way to better meet their needs while preserving existing brand equity.
Whatever the scenario, there are lessons to be learned by looking at the names adopted by real-world companies. To help demystify naming and its varied criteria, we’ve deconstructed brand names that recently appeared on the scene, evaluating why they do – and sometimes don’t – work.
There’s been a lot of buzz around a new healthcare venture recently founded by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase. In March, the organization announced its brand name: Haven. It makes sense that three huge companies with no previous experience in health insurance have chosen a name that conveys security and trust without offering any specifics. Haven suggests that the founding companies are optimistic and aim to provide refuge from the chaos afflicting the healthcare arena. The name also offers a good lesson in planning for the long term, as it doesn’t force the organization down one path of the other. It doesn’t hurt that Haven is also short and sweet, making it a winner on multiple fronts. We were a bit surprised that this name was available to trademark, but this brings up an important point: don’t be afraid to try for a more obvious name, as you might just be able to protect it.
Brooklinen is a bedding company formed by Brooklyn residents Rich and Vicki Fulop that offers a range of bedding products. Brooklinen is a great brand name – for now – since it unifies two disparate concepts to convey a particular feel. First, the reference to Brooklyn implies an urban lifestyle and next generation of home accessories. Linen of course then tells you exactly what the company makes. Although we really like the name, it restricts Brooklinen to one geography and category, problematic if the company ever expands its offerings or changes its location. Since it’s difficult to predict what the future will bring, why choose a name with such high potential for getting stuck?
In recognition that payments are increasingly digital, Mastercard announced in early 2019 that its written brand name will no longer appear on its logo. Now, the company relies solely on its iconic symbol as its primary identity. This move signals that Mastercard has achieved an enviable level of brand recognition whereby people recognize the company by its logo alone.
To be clear, Mastercard didn’t change its name; it simply no longer uses it all the time. Given that banking is going mobile, why hang onto the card part of Mastercard at all? We like Mastercard’s new logo but think the company is missing an opportunity to influence the conversation around payments and spearhead more lasting change.
Based in Moscow, Sputnik 1985 is a streetwear brand currently making a name for itself with clothing inspired by Russian street culture, including bold prints, nihilistic messages, and Cyrillic typography. Sputnik 1985 projects a retro, tongue-in-cheek vibe and communicates rich visual and cultural meaning. The company takes ownership of its history, equating the company’s brand with something that’s now old but was once the first of its kind.
As a consumer clothing brand targeting the urban youth market, Sputnik 1985 can get away with this brand name! (Conversely, we imagine it wouldn’t go over as well for a new security technology.) There’s some risk that Sputnik 1985’s audience won’t know what the original Sputnik was all about but even so, it might not matter.
While this brand name change didn’t technically take place in 2019, we’re not going to split hairs. Dunkin’ Donuts announced in late 2018 that it was changing its name to Dunkin’ and dropping the Donuts part. Dunkin’ isn’t getting rid of donuts or the colors and font on its logo and packaging. However, with its coffee hugely in demand, Dunkin’ no doubt requires a name that suggests more than baked goods.
Dunkin’ apparently tried to address this dilemma by adding a coffee cup to its wordmark in the early 2000s. However, the coffee cup is now gone and its new single-word name provides a more streamlined solution. Given that Dunkin’ has abundant resources and options for expansion, it’s smart to adopt a name that doesn’t box it into a corner. This move follows in the footsteps of other brand name simplifications such as Federal Express to FedEx and International House of Pancakes to IHOP.
As illustrated by the brand naming examples detailed above, there’s a multitude of different scenarios for developing, choosing and committing to a name. Because the naming process can be highly complex and there’s no one-size fits-all formula, choosing a memorable and strategic name requires informed as well as creative thinking. If the five companies above teach us anything, is that’s brand naming is dynamic. Cultural messages, competitive offerings, and companies’ brand identity and value proposition continuously evolve, making names that are fantastic right now potentially passé at some point down the road. It will no doubt be interesting to see how the names above stand the test of time.
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