5 Principles of Successful Brand Names You need to Know

“Tell me your name and your favorite brand.”

I ask my students this same question every year I do my Brand You Business workshop. I continue to be amazed at the consistency of the brands that the students name as their favorite — Apple, Starbucks and Nike all make repeat appearances, as do regional fashion favorites and popular “green” brands.

For some students, the enthusiastic supporters, a favorite brand is more than a simple product preference: It’s a statement of character. In some way the brand has qualities they identify with, qualities that they want others to see in them. The passion these students exhibit for their favorite brand is the gold standard for measuring a brand’s success.

The brands that do this consistently — the ones that my students continue to raise their hands for — are what I call Star Brands.

brand names

Brands don’t become stars overnight. Star Brand names are the result of many smart and assertive choices backed up by a strong and successful business model. The people responsible for building Star Brands have mastered the balance of brand love and business fundamentals. Star Brands are not only loved, they’re profitable.

Here are 5 core principles every Star Brand must have:

1. Choose your brand according to your audience

We concluded above that how much customers know about a product impacts what they consider valuable.

This is why brands that cater to low-knowledge customers usually choose abstract names, or names that evoke certain moods or activities the brand wants to associate with.

For example, Nautica, the sailing-inspired clothing company, takes its name from “nautica”, the Italian word for seamanship.

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The name effectively becomes a short hand for sailing, and helps the brand’s low-knowledge shoppers associate it with certain positive images (sea, sailing, etc.). It also shifts focus away from the intrinsic quality cues of the product being sold.

Which is to say, when selling to low knowledge shoppers, sell the brand, not the product itself.

In contrast, brands that cater to high-knowledge shoppers do not rely as much on the brand name to evoke positive brand images. Instead, they keep the name low key so that shoppers can focus on the intrinsic quality of the product.

For example, Tom Ford, the designer label, is based on the founding designer’s name.

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The brand name is not shorthand for any specific brand image. Rather, it keeps the brand name in the background and highlights the quality of the clothes being sold.

Similarly, Simon Carter, the London based designer’s eponymous label, has a muted brand name that focuses on the intrinsic value of the product.

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That is, for high knowledge shoppers, it is the inherent quality of the product that helps close sales, not the brand name alone (though it obviously is a big factor).

From this, we can say:

  • Use abstract or strong,image-evoking brand name when targeting low knowledge shoppers. This helps shift focus from the intrinsic quality of the product to the brand name itself.
  • Use muted brand names if your audience is largely high knowledge shoppers. This helps them focus on what they value — the intrinsic quality of the product.

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2. Simplify whenever possible

Take a look at Forbes list of the world’s most valuable brands:

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Nearly all the top brands in the world have one defining characteristic: they are simple and easy to pronounce. They are either between 1-4 syllables long, or usually used in abbreviated form (such as IBM or GE for General Electric).

Simplifying your brand name has two benefits:

Valkee, a “light therapy” tool that runs on the Ecwid platform follows this principle in its name.

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The name is short, pronounceable, and has just two syllables. It’s easy to remember and easy to speak.

How can you make your brand name simpler? Follow these guidelines:

  • Limit yourself to 2-3 syllables per word
  • Use strong vowel sounds in the name, such as “o” (eg: Google, Toyota)
  • Keep the name short — preferably one word, at most two words.
  • Limit the use of silent letters. Use phonetic words as much as possible. Studies show that this can also make yourbrand name easier to translate.
  • Drop unnecessary suffixes/prefixes such as “the”.

3. Use descriptive adjectives that mirror what customers value

In 1985, ConAgra introduced a line of diet-focused frozen foods called “Diet Deluxe”. This name was chosen specifically because customers in the 80s and 90s cared about dieting.

By the early 2000s, however, sales were in free fall. Internal research showed that “dieting” had fallen out of favor with buyers. Instead of crash diets, customers now wanted to be healthy, not just slim.

The solution? ConAgra changed the product name from “Diet Deluxe” to “Healthy Choice”. This helped the product turn around and improve sales in an otherwise failing frozen food market.

The lesson: Using words your describe what your customers value can have a big impact on your brand name. These values are typically intrinsic quality cues your audience identifies with.

Harvest Eating, an Ecwid store, uses this principle in its name as well.

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The site, that helps people find and cook with locally grown, seasonal foods emphasizes the freshness with the word “Harvest” in its name.

Similarly, Vitality Tap, another Ecwid store that sells cleanses, juices and smoothies, uses the word “Vitality” in its brand name to emphasize the cleansing nature of its products.

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Here is a simple three step process for coming up with naming ideas:

  • Step 1: List your product’s intrinsic quality cues. Say, if you’re selling cookies, these might be the softer texture, superior ingredients, etc. Use these as a springboard for naming ideas.
  • Step 2: List your target customer personas and what they value. For your cookie company, do they value extrinsic factors such as price, or are they more concerned with taste, texture and ingredient quality?
  • Step 3: Find qualities that overlap in both the above lists. Use them in your brand name. For example, if your customers valuefreshly baked cookies that are easy on the wallet, you could use a name like FreshBakes.

4. Ask your target customers

In 1998, Coco Pops, a popular Kellogg’s cereal brand in UK, changed its name to “Choco Krispies”. The impact of the name change was immediate and disastrous: sales declined within weeks and market share dipped to an all-time low.

In an attempt to haul sales back up, Kellogg’s ran a telephone poll where it asked children to choose from a handful of names, including the original one. Nearly 90% of respondents chose the original name.

With this data, Kellogg’s pulled the trigger and switched the name back to “Coco Pops” in 1999. Sales shot up by 20% and the cereal continues to be sold under the original name today.

This is an example that shows how important it is to keep your customers’ choices into account. While you might have strong feelings or passions about your store name, your customers might not always feel the same way.

Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to run an opinion poll asking customers what they want. Here’s a three step process to do this:

  • Use Typeform to create a simple customer survey. Alternatively, use oLark or Qualarooto poll visitors dropping on your site.
  • Send this survey to all friends, family and acquaintances on your social networks. Some networks, like Facebook and LinkedIn, also allow you to poll your friends/followers directly on the site itself.
  • For opinion from your target market, run a Facebook ad campaign directing users to the customer survey. Make sure that you use Facebook targeting features to show the ad only to your intended demographics.

5. Make sure that the name is available

Lastly, before you select a name, make sure that the equivalent domain is available in a popular extension.

Unless you’re specifically targeting a local country market outside the US, your extension choice should have this priority:

  1. .com
  2. .co/.net
  3. .org
  4. .io (only for tech focused brands)
  5. Country TLD (such as .de, .co.uk, .pl, .ru, etc.)
  6. .me, .info, .tv
  7. gTLDs such as .tech, .space, .fashion, etc.

In 99 out of 100 cases, you won’t go wrong with .com, so try to get the name in this extension first.

Besides domain name, you also need to check for availability of social media usernames. Use a tool such as NameChk.com to search multiple networks at the same time for the right name.

In Conclusion

Branding theory is a vast and complicated, but for naming your store, all you need to do is understand your product’s intrinsic and extrinsic qualities, and what your target customers value. This will help you choose a short, pronounceable, memorable name that will let you stand out from the competition.

Key Takeaways

  • Every product has intrinsic and extrinsic quality cues.
  • Your target audience can be divided into low and high-knowledge customers.
  • Low-knowledge customers focus on extrinsic quality cues, high-knowledge on intrinsic cues.
  • Short, simple names work in nearly every situation.
  • Use descriptive adjectives in your brand name.
  • Pick a name that is available in a popular extension.

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