What's in a name: how to choose an iconic brand name

26 June 2023

A strong brand identity begins with a strong brand name. So determining your brand’s name has a major impact on your success as a company. How then do you come up with a name that conveys your brand values and feels like a household name to consumers? Discover how our research and creation can help you anchor your new name in your customers' hearts.

selection process

Finding an iconic brand or product name: how does one go about it? You could do as Adolf Dassler of Adidas did and base it on your name. Or you get an app to generate a suitable name like health & wellness brand Hims did. Or do as fruitarian Steve Jobs: he allegedly came up with his brand name after working in an apple orchard. 

But if you want a brand name that will guarantee to capture your target audience's mind and heart, you’d better take a more tested approach, for example by engaging the experts at iO. We are ready to listen, dive into your DNA and draw up the right strategy and roadmap for your question. 

How do you find the right brand name?

Brands are emotions. Or rather: they appeal to our emotions, not to our ratio. Seeing the Apple logo or hearing someone mention Oatly or Disney triggers a spontaneous emotional response in you: pride, happiness, and trust … . Thanks to the core values and personality traits a brand has appropriated through through-through and consistent communication, we attribute certain (positive) feelings to a name. 

That is what your brand name should accomplish. It should reflect the identity of your company, product or service. But more than that: it should have the emotional markers you want your company’s identity to trigger in people. So start your quest for that legendary name with a thorough investigation of your DNA, as our researchers, strategists and copywriters can do for you. 

  • Know who you are. First, we take a close look at your corporate identity. Together, we conduct an audit to determine what values, mission and unique advantages your brand conveys. We formulate an answer to what your right to exist is, and why you are relevant to your market. 

  • Know who your target audience is. Are you a b2b service provider, or do you deliver to the consumer market? Do you appeal to people who want to try out your brand or product, or do you want to win over existing users once and for all? By clearly defining target groups and creating personas per target group (sub)segment, you know exactly who your brand or product name should appeal to.

  • Define your core values. Together, look at which of your brand attributes you best convey in your name. The name LEGO, for example, is derived from the Danish 'leg godt', meaning 'play well'. With it, founder Ole Kirk Christiansen wanted to convey that LEGO encourages children to use their imagination.

  • Audit your competition. Knowing who you are is one thing. Knowing who you are in relation to other players in your market really puts you firmly and distinctively in your brand shoes. Thanks to a strong analysis of the competitive landscape and the expectations of your target audience, we determine how your brand personality relates to the DNA of other players. And we also detect potential name conflicts. You really don't want your brand name to resemble your competitor's.

  • Brainstorm and create with copywriters. Now it's the copywriters' turn. They celebrate their creative reins and come up with a series of name proposals that best translate your chosen brand personality. From those proposals, create a shortlist of contenders. 

  • Select and evaluate. From the first batch of proposals, select the most suitable brand names. We evaluate whether they convey your corporate identity and key brand characteristics. If necessary, our copywriters submit a second batch of names iterating on the ones you’ve . Of course, you can also put your contenders against a practical yardstick. Immediately check the availability of trademarks and domain names, and investigate whether the name is not already copyrighted and whether there are other legal objections. But you can also make other practical considerations. For instance, Jeff Bezos reportedly chose his brand name because it started with the letter ‘A’ and would therefore always appear at the top of alphabetical lists. The fact that the river of the same name is the largest in the world certainly played into his considerations: after all, it was and is Amazon's ambition to be the largest retailer in the world.

Test your brand name through market research

However you arrived at your shortlist, make sure you thoroughly test the proposals you’ve withheld before announcing the new name to the world or developing a logo. Name testing is an essential part of branding. We check how your customers respond to your new name. Through qualitative research and/or quantitative surveys, we test each nominated name for impression, attractiveness, recognition/clarity and how well it can be remembered. 

Qualitative research methods. We present the nominated names one by one to focus groups or question respondents in individual interviews: do they perceive the name as positive, can they remember it easily and what associations does it evoke in them? But we also check how easily people can pronounce or spell the name. We also check what meaning or message respondents attribute to the brand name. This way, we discover whether a name matches the brand identity and whether it resonates with the target audience.

Quantitative testing methods. We survey your target audiences via online surveys or questionnaires and present them with several name options. We analyse the results and pour these into statistics. That way, we quantify which name options perform best. We also measure which impressions stick and which associations people spontaneously make. By asking the right questions, this (online) quantitative survey also allows us to find out whether a name might be confused with those of competitors or existing products or services.

Check the emotional value

A brand is first and foremost an emotion: it is what people feel about a product, service or organisation. No matter how rational we think we are and how consciously we think we make decisions, the opposite is true. On average, we make 35,000 decisions a day, 90% of which our brain makes on auto-pilot. 

A trusted brand or well-chosen product name allows us to make our buying decisions from our autopilot or intuition in complete safety. That is why it is important to test whether a new brand or product name also resonates subconsciously and emotionally with your target audience. 

To that end, we present respondents with a series of positive and negative emotional adjectives such as stimulating, predictable, fresh, subdued, complicated, and sterile ... Next we ask them to use these response words to describe how they experience the brand name under assessment and how (un)appealing they find a name.

By having them indicate the most appropriate and least appropriate adjectives within this list, we build up a series of emotional associations that a concept - in this case, the brand name - evokes in the respondents. We can also apply this emotional value to the visual representation (such as a logo), copy the concept and further style of elaboration in further design phases.

Check cultural connotations

Name tests are crucial to avoid blunders that cost you money as well as damage your brand reputation. Blundering with a brand or product name happens to even the biggest names. When carmaker Chevrolet introduced the Nova to the Latin American market in the 1960s, sales were slow. The reason? In Spanish, 'no va' literally means 'it doesn't drive'. Not exactly an attractive name for a car. Microsoft had also not done its homework properly. In 2010, it released a new smartphone for young people and christened it Kin. The product flopped, partly because of the name: 'Kin' means 'ban' in Hebrew and 'death' in Chinese. Oops! 

So test your name proposal with each of your (sub)target groups, especially if they belong to different cultures and nationalities.  

Coming up with a brand name that fits your corporate identity requires a thorough understanding of your corporate identity, your key brand attributes, your target audience and the competitive landscape. Want to create a brand name that resonates with your consumers and helps you build brand recognition in the market? Don't hesitate to contact us. Our experts are at your service.

Elke Hubens copywriter iO
About the author
Elke Hubens
copywriter iO

Senior copywriter with the iO content experts team, Elke Hubens is well-versed in most writing genres. With her creative, commercial, and journalistic pen, and her strategic insight, she connects the story of your target audience with that of your brand. Thus, she’ll help you make a difference with your customers.

David Dockx
David Dockx
UX strategist / service designer iO

As a researcher and strategist David helps organisations create meaningful digital experiences. He develops and validates services and products, focusing on the added value they bring to the target audience.

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