How to Create a Brand Name That Works

What makes a great brand name so … great? Why are names like “Joy” and “Tide” so successful—and how the heck does a name like “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” break all the rules, but still manage to win us over?

Paul Earle is an adjunct lecturer of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. He is also principal of Paul Earle & Co, a firm that works with startups and multinationals alike to develop strategies around innovation. In this excerpt from Kellogg on Branding in a Hyper-Connected World, he explains what it takes to create a new brand name that rings, engages, and sells.

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote: “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.”

The Bard was one heck of a writer, but he was way off on this one. And apparently the big rose companies agree: the international rose grower David Austin, for example, owns over 60 active trademarks (including “Juliet”). And none of its branded roses have names such as “Sewer Gas” or “Donkey Vomit,” for obvious reasons. Do you think those handles would affect your perception of smell and your experience with the rose overall?

Names, of course, matter. Here are some markers for a great name.

Product Relevance
The name should tell a story that directly or at least indirectly ties to the product itself, its reason for being, and consumer needs/wants. A great example is Peloton, the new home exercise equipment company best known for its digitally connected stationary bike. In cycling parlance, a “peloton” is a group of cyclists at the front of the pack. This name is obviously relevant to cycling and leadership, but also speaks to the fact that via the online community, home cyclists are connected to each other—a “virtual pack.”

Another great example is the name for New England’s football team: the Patriots, which honors the region’s key role in the American Revolution. You may not like the team or Tom Brady, but it’s a great name. I shake my head when I see new sports franchises pick names that have nothing to do with their home cities. Exhibit A: Las Vegas’s recent selection of “Golden Knights” as the name for its new pro hockey team, pushed through by the owner because he was formerly in the U.S. Army and that was the name of its parachute team.

Huh?!? Wouldn’t a moniker such as “Aces” or “Blackjack” be more of a fit, and more engaging?
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