Written by Canon Wing

I teach entrepreneurs and organizations the proven action steps to stand out within their market, improve the perceived value of their business, and better connect with their audience through naming, branding, storytelling, and communication platforms.

June 10, 2021

How To Come Up With A Brand Name

Today we are answering the question: How To Name A Brand. 

You may think there can be no one-size-fits-all kind of answer, and you’re right however, there are in fact some foundational truths to how to name a brand in a way that gets them stuck on you. These foundational truths hold true whatever your circumstances, your product, your service, your ideal customers, your competitive landscape. Today I’m going to talk about what branders know as the golden rule of branding. You do this, and no one, and I literally mean no one, can hold you back from conquering the market. You will rule. You will become an example of success. Every brand that achieves this result becomes a market leader for years, decades, generations even. Sounds good? Because I’m super excited to tell you how you can do it.

You’re likely wondering, what is in this magic formula for how to Name a Brand? In simple terms – it’s owning a word – better yet – owning a category – in the minds of your ideal individuals. Let’s play a little word association game together? Clear your head. Empty your mind.

What word comes to mind when you think about Volvo? 

What about Mercedes? 

What about FedEx? 

Each of these brands owns a word in the minds of their target audience. Once a brand becomes a symbol of a word, a concept like safety, personifies a word like Overnight owns a word like iPhone owns the word phone when the phone is the smallest thing it does. When you know how to name a brand so that it defines a category,  it’s close to impossible for another brand to take that away from your brand. 

Tom Fishburne the revered cartoonist said,  “The best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing.” 

And he’s so right. The best brand marketing is when the buyer doesn’t feel sold to. They don’t feel cajoled and convinced nor coaxed into buying something. And a number of brands have achieved this so elegantly, that not only do they “rule the school”, but they personify the brand concept or brand name to such an extent that they have become synonymous with the market segments. I need a q-tip, is something we’d say we really wouldn’t say “Um, you know what I need? I need a cotton swab or I need a ball of cotton on a stick small enough for children’s ears, right about now.” Brands that name their category, inspire their consumers to see this “name” in their own mind every time they think of needing this product. We actually see the q-tip branding when we say it even to ourselves.

You might be thinking this is a super hard thing to do,  when was the last time you asked to see in-line skates at a store? You most likely asked to see Rollerblades. How often have you asked a pharmacist for Band-aids? You ask for Band-aids right, not adhesive bandages? How often have you had Jell-o as opposed to a gelatin dessert? Pass me a Kleenex. Hand me the Scotch tape. Ever said, Google me? I can go on. You see how these brands have come to own, even personify, the category they operate in? To the point that people forget they are actually brands, not common nouns like we use them on the daily. These brands are unbeatable market leaders because they have named the market with their branding messages. And you know what, you can be one, too. 

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing about,” 

Benjamin Franklin said that, who I think personifies hard work and enlightenment. Let’s look at 3 such brands that have done so much to write about. Brands that own either words or categories in their ideal individual’s minds.

I had asked you, what word comes to mind when you think of FedEx? That’s a simple answer. Overnight.  Consider this, when FedEx entered the marketspace, Emery was the market leader. It is offered overnight, 2-day, 3-day, small, medium, large… simply any kind of courier service. Their tagline – “Whatever you want to ship, Emery can handle it.” FedEx struggled to create a niche for itself and time was slipping by. Then, in a badass move, CEO Fred Smith made the choice to narrow their focus to only overnight deliveries. They targeted overnight. They became the best at overnight delivery. They personified overnight. FedEx tagline at the time- “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” Today, FedEx owns the word overnight. It’s become synonymous with overnight. It’s become a generic term used for overnight deliveries. “FedEx these documents to LA.” “Oh no I totally spaced on getting these out yesterday. FedEx them to the Midwest office.” These are regular daily conversations that happen naturally which are making buying decisions based on the alignment of the brand and the need. FedEx became a market leader in the overnight delivery business in the 70s. And this has not changed in the 50 years since! That is some amazing staying power!

Let’s look at a totally different market leader in a totally different market – Google. We “google” things all the time! When was the last time you asked someone to look up something on a ‘search engine’? When did Google become a synonym for ‘search’ or ‘look up’? We don’t say let’s Bing this or let’s duckduckgo that! For rather obvious reasons we don’t say let’s Dogpile that (or maybe we do, just very few of us!). The fact is, we google whatever we need to know. Google owns the search engine category. Google personifies it. So much so that it’s been officially added as a verb to the Oxford English dictionary. ‘To Google’ means to search for information about someone or something on the Internet using the search engine Google’. And how did this come about? Apart from creating a superior algorithm and constantly updating it for its most stupendously performing core search engine, Google developed or acquired, and offered a slew of useful products and services for free to its user base. Docs, Sheets, Slides, Calendar, Google Drive, Google+, Hangouts, Google Translate, Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Street View, Google Photos, Chrome. Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments if I did/. Did you know? Google reinvented the search function by analyzing the relationships amongst websites to determine their search engine ranking, as opposed to other search engines that only considered the website content. Google continues to reinvent itself. Google continues to evolve in intuitive ways that keeps pace with the innovations in tech. Google kept developing and improving its algorithm to beat spammers, stay a step ahead of people out to game the system. The result was quality search results. People tried, and people stayed. People never looked elsewhere. 

It is every entrepreneur’s dream that their name, their brand, ends up becoming synonymous with a category of products without even setting out to. Though generic is a disliked word in the world of branding, becoming truly generic in the sense of becoming universally recognized and respected is really what it’s all about! Consider the iPhone. Maybe Apple didn’t prefix all their products with an ‘i’ with this idea in mind. And yet the lower case i prefix has become representative of the most exclusive, advanced and reliable products and services – the best in class that you can buy without a worry in the world. Over time the iPhone has become synonymous with phone; that lowercase i with quality! Dare you buy something else – you’ll have people snorting “You don’t have an iPhone?” A phone is assumed to be an iPhone, my millions and millions of people around the world, because the iPhone named the category when it named it’s product. 

So you’re inspired to own a category, make it your own. But hold on – it’s isn’t as easy as all that! Thing is, you’re rarely, if ever, going to be the first to do anything. Coca Cola has become generic in the way that having a ‘Coke’ is representative of having a carbonated cola beverage of any sort. In the US, Pepsi never became generic in the way that Coke did. Quite simply, Pepsi came later into a market that Coke already ruled.

This is great news for you, really. If you’re not the first in your category, you don’t have to pave the way and roll the first stone up the mountain. But anyone can actually create a new category for themselves! Narrow down your focus on one aspect of your product or element of your service. FedEx was hardly the first courier company; but it was the first to become the overnight courier company! Your product may have plenty of great attributes. For instance if you’re baking and selling a very tasty cookie, it may be a yummy cookie for many different reasons: it may be delicious, with a lovely crumbly texture, it may be preservative free, the packaging may be attractive, green whatever. But what is that one defining quality that you want your admittedly great cookie to be known by?  You focus all your attention on that one quality, like incomparable taste and texture for example! If marketing the cookie to a health-conscious parent, you want to stress the preservative-free angle! You want to capture the imagination of your ideal audience in a way that no one has thought to do yet!

You want your brand to be able to inspire certain thoughts, ideas, emotions in your ideal individuals – you want to be able to do this within the context of their requirements, needs, and aspirations. Those ideas and emotions need to correspond to what your ideal individuals believe about themselves. You want your ideal individuals to naturally create the association between your product, the emotion it represents and their desires.

Consider this: there are about 2.5 million registered trademarks in the US. The average vocabulary of the human being is about 50,000 words. Now you see the importance of reducing your brand to a single word, to one attribute or quality. It may involve some sacrifice but it means greater focus and targeted results. If that cookie becomes firmly associated with a word like ‘delicious’ or ‘healthy’ or ‘eco-friendly’ that is your cookie owning its category right there! 

Don’t think in terms of percentages and market shares; think instead about how big a market you can create for your product simply by ensuring that you’re giving your ideal individuals that one thing they want. Something your brand represents better than all others!

Ok, do this now: List out 3 words that could be associated with your brand, and narrow your branding focus on only one of them. 

Then express that through your name, tagline, story…everywhere. So when people see you, in the first five seconds before they delete or dive in, that one word comes to their mind. Think about it. Does your brand make a word or an emotion pop into the minds of your ideal individuals? Do you know what it is? If you can’t put your finger on it, if when you look at it from this lens it seems unclear or unfocused, go back and refine your brand messaging. The goal is when people see you for even 3 seconds. They get it immediately, they say “Ah, that’s what they are. That’s what I’ve been looking for all along. They get me. I’m in!” 

I say this to all my clients. “If it ain’t got heart, go back to the start.” It’s all about the emotion. What your brand really is: it’s an emotion. Of the three words you brainstormed, which is the emotional one? Focus on that one. To own a word or a category, you need to reach the hearts of your ideal individuals first. You need to get them emotionally invested; because that’s the hook that will truly let you own your own category!

I want to leave you with one last thought. It’s a quote by Tim Ferris. “Think big and don’t listen to people who tell you it can’t be done. Life’s too short to think small.” 

The only thing holding you back from making your brand truly own a word in your ideal individuals’ mind is your own limiting belief. It’s been done before and it can be done again. You too can own a word… own a category for your brand… that’s how to Name a Brand. I hope this has served you. Just remember the surest way to become an Inspiration To Millions is to  Love what you do and love how you do it.