New Yorker’s Naming and Our Review

brand naming article from october 2011 editionIt’s always exciting to see a thoughtful article about brand naming in a mainstream, American staple like the New Yorker. The article, “Famous Names: does it matter what a product is called?” written by John Colapinto in the October 3rd, 2011 edition was certainly a fascinating read from beginning to end. Tools like Mind Maps and a diverse naming team are concepts that resonate with us. And although we agree that effective brand names can do a lot of the legwork for a new product or service, there were aspects of the prose that did not sit so easy with us.

For example, a marketing professor from Columbia’s Business School (Bernd Schmitt, Ph.D.) commented that “when a product is launched its name is only part of a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign that also involves advertising, research, and social media” (Colapinto, 2011, 41). And while this is certainly true, he goes on to argue that “the name is just a starting point for a brand. The most important branding decision is more about brand strategy, distribution channels – where are the customers you want to reach” (Colapinto). However, Dr. Schmitt is not emphasizing a key part of the brand naming process. If brand name creation is done correctly, the company and the team explicitly address brand strategy and target customers during the creation of the brand name. This makes it is possible to save a large amount of money down the road because the company didn’t complete each stage of the marketing process in a silo. The more companies collaborate and horizontally structure their teams, ideas, and organization during the brand naming process, the more integrated the overall strategy and the less work that has to be done later. These issues would already be addressed during the brand strategizing that took place when the name was created. (Read more about the silo problem in management)

And, although Mr. Colapinto does defend this perspective with examples like F. Scott Fitzgerald who originally wanted to call his iconic “The Great Gatsby” the “Trimalchio in West Egg,” it’s important to realize that the strengths of a well thought out name go far beyond simple consonance and alliteration (although these can be important components). A branding strategy really should be derived and agreed upon during brand name construction. A name essentially embodies aspects of the strategy – while many people might not think much more beyond the brand name, names tend to appeal or repel them on a subconscious level.

Finally, we would argue that brand naming is a dangerous dance between creativity and efficiency. We are big believers in “out there” ideas and some of the great brainstorms that can stem from them. But trademark screening and brand name architecture design tend to be the more challenging and no less important parts of the process, especially when talking about global brands. Our team is more well-rounded because of the requirement to factor in the practical realities of IP protection and the need for global, cultural, and linguistic acceptability. While team members are creative, artsy, and right-brained, they also are grounded in the necessity of developing brand names that are legally available and resonate with different targets around the world. If managed properly, recognizing these constraints can actually sharpen rather than dampen our creative focus, reinvigorating us all and resulting in some truly amazing new name ideas that work in concert with a cohesive brand strategy and pass all legal and linguistic hurdles.

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