Tips for Creating Brilliant Business Names

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Imagine if Yahoo! had been named TheInternetDirectoy. Or StarBucks was christened "Premier Coffees". The names would be far more descriptive than their current ones. But they wouldn't embody the essence or spirit of the companies they represent. Even if they offered the exact same goods and services, it's unlikely Yahoo! or StarBucks would enjoy the same market share they now possess if given the more descriptive, and arguably accurate, names.

Now why is that?

In short, great brand names leverage our emotions. They resonate with the experiential right side of the brain vs. the logical left lobe. And emotions carry more motivational "charge" than logic. People buy emotionally and then justify rationally. And because great brand names create mental "pictures" they equate to a proverbial thousand descriptive words. They are the zipped files, the condensed soup, the computer macros, that all expand and unfold in our minds every time they are seen or heard.

Creating emotionally charged names requires knowledge, expertise and a knack for wording. The first place to find positively charged names is in the words themselves. Words have equity and that equity can be transferred into a company or product name. For example, a company that wanted their customers to see their products and services as fresh, new and exciting borrowed the emotional charge associated with the word "virgin". That's how we have Virgin Airlines and Virgin Records. A computer company demonstrated its fresh, friendly approach to the industry with the consumable name Apple. A campy clothing company exuded adventure with its name Banana Republic. An online job board wanted to impress employers and job seekers with its massive listings? hence Monster. And need I mention Amazon? Borrowing on the attributes intrinsic to a word or phrase is a natural way to instantly instill emotion in a brand name.

But with more and more dictionary words being used, hoarded and trademarked, what's a company to do? Another way is to simply put familiar positive words into unique combinations. Witness our previous example of StarBucks. What's brighter than a star or has more mass appeal than money? Does it say coffee? No, but it sounds more appealing than "The Coffee Corral". And more importantly, company names rarely exist in a vacuum. They are on a sign above the store, or on a proposal or on a business card being handed over by a salesperson. There is contextual support that helps fill in the blank so the name doesn't have to do all the literal, descriptive explaining. That's where a lot of companies err. They make the name explain their category rather than evoke their benefits.

Yet another way of accomplishing this task is by creating a word that sounds "ish". When I say "ish" I mean it sounds like it matches the company or product- even if it doesn't make sense. An example you ask? But of course. My favorite is Viagra. It has the "V" of vigor and vitality, plus the "iagra" of Niagra. While not an existing word, it plays on existing, familiar parts and patterns of speech that create a natural flow to the name. Hence the name Viagra is, in my book, "ish". It fits the product and the category. Cialis doesn't. Which means Cialis will have to buy the emotional bond with lots of emotion-rich (and expensive) advertising. It can be done, but it will cost. A whole lot.

Borrowing existing word equity, creating unique combinations and inventing "ish" words. Just three of the ways to develop a great brand name. Try each of these techniques and if you can't come up with a name, ask a really good Scrabble player!

Phil Davis - President, Tungsten Brand Marketing

Phil's life goal of "creating environments where people thrive" reflects his desire to assist in personal, professional and business growth. Phil founded and ran a full service ad agency for over 17 years and now works full time as a business naming and branding consultant. Phil resides with wife Michelle and four energetic offspring outside Asheville, North Carolina.

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