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NPR segment on brand naming

August 15, 2011

This morning’s NPR segment on brand naming touches on a few important issues in brand naming. But they also missed a big consideration in getting a brand name just right.

Discussing some of the names considered for Google (BackRub) and Twitter (Twitch), the report notes how successful brands often have terrible naming candidates in their old branding folders. Jack Dorsey is quoted in the story as feeling better about the name Twitter than the other options. And for all the work and science and strategy behind brand naming, he’s exactly right to follow his gut. A name that feels right probably is. A name that makes you feel a bit excited, brave, and just slightly giggly is almost always the best name for your venture.

A name that feels safe or boring is probably not going to work as hard as it should for you. And a name that feels uncomfortable, terrifying, or off is never the one to select.

Throughout NPR’s piece, Jim Colgan and Lisa Chow kept asking people what they thought of the names “Dump.fm” and “Honestly Now.” But when trying out naming candidates, I always tell clients to ask people, “What do you think of when you hear the word [X].” If people think they’re helping you choose a name, they put all manner of baggage in their response. If you ask what they think of in relation to a word, the resulting response is indicative of what other people might think of the same word. And what clients and potential clients think when they hear your name is more important than any marketing scheme you can devise. Names are an essential vehicle for your brand story. If a name can carry at least its fair share of the branding work you won’t have to worry about telling customers anything. You can just do.

A name is just a word, until you fill it with brand equity and meaning and voice and experience. Make sure you choose the best word for the job by asking yourself and others how the word feels and what it evokes. If the answer fits your brand, you have your name.

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