linked in facebook twitter rss

  • Interbrand
  • Brandchannel

your chance!
your chance!
Choosing a Powerful Brand Name
Also of Interest...
     
  Tom Blackett Choosing a Powerful Brand Name
by Tom Blackett
October 10, 2005

If you are searching for a name for your new product or service, what guidance can you get from the world’s leading brands? Business Week and Interbrand’s "100 Best Global Brands" rankings show the world’s leading brands, according to their value. In the top spot for 2005 was Coca-Cola, with a value of US$ 67.5 billion, a sum that approximates to 50 percent of the stock market value of its owner, the Coca-Cola Company. Following Coca-Cola come Microsoft, IBM, GE, Intel, Nokia, Disney, McDonald’s, Toyota and Marlboro; these brands make up the world’s "top ten" by value.

Interestingly, these top ten brands cover the full scope of naming possibilities. There are family names, like Disney and McDonald’s; initials, like IBM and GE; semi-descriptive and "associative" names, like Microsoft and Intel; and abstract names, like Nokia and Marlboro. Taking the complete list we find that family names are by far and away the most prominent, with 46 of the 100 brands named after their founders. Next are abstract names and semi-descriptive or "associative" names, with 21 in each group, and then come initials, with twelve.

 
 

Many of the family names are concentrated in such sectors as finance (Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs) and fashion (Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel), but they are to be found in most industries, as Mercedes-Benz, Gillette, Kellogg’s, Pfizer, Harley-Davidson, Wrigley’s, Hertz, and Heineken show. Abstract names occur at random (Toyota—Toyoda was the family name, Gap, Canon, Nivea), as do semi-descriptive and "associative" names (Citi, Volkswagen, Motorola, Caterpillar). The same applies to initials (BMW, UBS, KFC, MTV).

So it is difficult to infer a pattern—much less a model for successful naming—from the world’s 100 most valuable brands. However, there are some general principles for choosing a new name upon which we can draw.

The first is to do with family names. As we have seen, these make up 46 of the top 100 brands. They are spread across industries and are by no means confined to "smokestack" or "heritage" businesses. They tend to be associated with products and services where the personal touch and continuity over the years are both seen as important. Authenticity is therefore an important attribute that family names help express. Perhaps the lesson here is that family names can be most effective in areas where the product or service is innovative and unfamiliar, and where consumers need that extra degree of reassurance to buy for the first time. The presence of a personal endorsement in the brand name (and therefore the implied accountability) can provide the trust that is needed to prompt the purchase decision.

Abstract names (those without any obvious descriptive content when it comes to the nature of the product, its use or benefits) are potentially strong marketing and legal properties. They can create powerful differentiation, which, if backed up by products and services of high quality and value for money, can lead to strong and successful brands. Precisely because such names lack any descriptive content, they are relatively easy to register and protect as trademarks. However, they need to be explained to consumers at launch.

Semi-descriptive and "associative" names contain a clue about the product or service and are therefore more user-friendly. The reality is that the world abounds with such names (Kwikfit, Dunkin’ Donuts, Mastercard, Duracell… the list goes on). Semi-descriptive and "associative" names have become the "lingua franca" of international branding. Because they are relatively easy to understand, they simplify the task of positioning the product or service concerned, and therefore, they allow the advertiser the luxury of developing "brand personality," thus strengthening differentiation at an emotional level. But semi-descriptive and "associative" names can sometimes prove difficult to protect as trademarks.

Initials are perhaps the most difficult form of brand name in which to create meaning. They tend, almost entirely, to be business rather than product brand names, and used by organizations that are confident they will be understood (International Business Machines contracted its name to IBM many years ago; Imperial Chemical Industries also condensed to ICI) or who are happy to shelter under relative anonymity (LG, for example). The truth is that very few companies or products would choose the initials route if they were new to the market. Initials lack information, differentiation and personality; they are also notoriously difficult to protect as trademarks.

So which is the right naming strategy for you, as you ponder the launch of your new product or service?

Your first duty is to the customer, because if you look after the customer, as the saying goes, the business will look after itself. This means that you must strike the right balance between explaining what the new product is about, and creating differentiation to secure future purchaser loyalty. It is the role of advertising to explain features and benefits as the first phase in any new product launch; it is the role of the name to capture this information and to provide the platform for developing brand personality. Perhaps, therefore, you might be better served by an abstract name?

It is perhaps no coincidence that two of the fastest growing brands in the world—Samsung and Apple—have abstract names. They both have excellent products, and this is the most important factor. But their names, which are highly distinctive and memorable, provide an extra competitive edge, and in crowded marketplaces this can make all the difference.

 
   
   Tom Blackett is Deputy Chairman of the Interbrand Group.



 
 commenting closed Add Social Bookmark bookmark  print
 suggest topic  recommend ( 26 )  email

  brandchannel brandspeak archive   2014  |  2013  |  2012  |  2011  |  2010  |  2009  |  2008  |  2007  |  2006  | 2005  |  2004  |  2003  |  2002  |  2001
 
 
Dec 19, 2005 Feeding the brand: New adventures in podcasts, RSS, ring tones and digital radio -- Nick Wreden
  Podcasts, RSS, ring tones and digital radio offer endless ops to communicate the brand in the 21st century.
   
 
Dec 5, 2005 Can Americans Do It Better? -- Vincent Grimaldi de Puget
  Why is it so hard for the Detroit manufacturers to get it right? A little bit of brand management could drive GM a long way down the road of solvency.
   
 
Nov 21, 2005 Capturing young minds with compelling content -- Nic Jones
  Developing an active relationship with your young market means creating engaging content.
   
 
Nov 7, 2005 Does your brand have hand? -- Karl Treacher
  The quickest way to lose loyalty? Offer to do whatever it takes to please the customer.
   
 
Oct 24, 2005 Tragedy Has a Language All Its Own -- William Lozito
  Words can be as powerful as a natural disaster, or would that be tragedy? A look at the descriptive power of words.
   
 
Sep 26, 2005 Protecting Your Trademark Far from Home -- Cassiano Golos Teixeira
  Managing a mark across global markets can be tricky and costly.
   
 
Sep 12, 2005 Hip-Hop Culture Crosses into Brand Strategy -- Joseph Anthony
  Big corporations cross over to cash in on the hip-hop craze sweeping the US.
   
 
Aug 29, 2005 Nurturing a brand strategy in retail operations -- Linda Anderson
  How can a brand help nursery and garden retailers reap rewards?
   
 
Aug 15, 2005 Goodwill Hunting: Financial Value of Marketing & PR -- Doug Albertson
  The value of goodwill in gaining return on your marketing investment.
   
 
Aug 1, 2005 Marketing Metrics and Package Design -- Ted Mininni
  How can a good package help deliver return on investment?
   
 
Jul 18, 2005 China shops for new US export: global brands -- Carl D. Howe
  Lenovo buys IBM's PC business, Haier bids on Maytag and CNOOC bids for Unocal. China is on a shopping spree for US brands.
   
 
Jul 4, 2005 The Value of Technology in Managing Brands -- Kent St.Vrain
  Can the technology platforms used by finance and operations help marketers too?
   
 
Jun 20, 2005 Miss Silverbird International: Brand extension or brand arrogance? -- Uche Nworah
  Miss Silverbird International competes on the crowded stage of world beauty pageants.
   
 
Jun 6, 2005 Can Automakers Make Us Dream Again? -- Vincent Grimaldi de Puget
  The real strategic issue is that young grads dream of Silicon Valley rather than Detroit. GM and Ford not only compete with Toyota and Renault, but also with Google and Pixar.
   
 
May 23, 2005 Attracting Consumers through Package and Product Innovation -- Satkar Gidda
  Those that have the courage to innovate will sweep the board over the “me too” brands.
   
 
May 9, 2005 Overpowering the Brand Cynic -- Maureen P. Wall
  Overcoming the cynics among your ranks.
   
 
Apr 25, 2005 Can China’s heritage brands be saved? -- Doris Ho
  Can China’s heritage brands compete against tough international goods and services?
   
 
Apr 11, 2005 In Pursuit of Brand Loyalty -- Jean-Léon Bouchenoire
  Do customers lack loyalty or have brand owners betrayed their brand promise? Demonstrated by examples from the car industry and fashion houses.
   
 
Mar 28, 2005 Are You Brand Worthy? -- Kim Castle
  How strong is your commitment to brand? Four questions to find out if your business is in fact brand worthy.
   
 
Mar 14, 2005 Open Source Branding: Invite customers in -- James Campbell
  Brands should drop the subtle psychological bullying and try genuinely interacting with their audience.
   
 
Feb 28, 2005 A human operating system for your brand -- Jean-Claude Saade
  Customer relationship management: In defense of an honest relationship with consumers.
   
 
Feb 14, 2005 Beyond Royalty Revenue: Measuring ROI from licensing -- Stephen R. Reily
  In an era where accountability for marketing resources is at an all time high, how should we measure the full range of benefits from licensing.
   
 
Jan 31, 2005 If marketing is not important to you, what is? -- Vincent Grimaldi de Puget
  A combination of strategic and organizational approaches to marketing is central to competitiveness and survival.
   
 
Jan 17, 2005 Kids’ Brands: Staple, fad, craze or classic? -- Nic Jones
  An appeal for categorizing kids’ products by distinctions between fads and classics.
   
 
Jan 3, 2005 Would you buy polluted water? Reflections on brands and sustainable development -- Vincent Grimaldi de Puget
  Is sustainable development good business sense? From junk food to environmental ruin, many brands are laughing in the decline of our planet and mankind.