Editor’s note: Here’s more thoughtful advice excerpted from branding expert Marty Neumeier’s book, The Brand Gap. Marty is the director of transformation at Liquid Agency.
Why are there so many sound-alike names? The short answer is this: Most of the good names are taken. Between a rising tide of startups on one hand, and a flood of URLs on the other, companies are continually forced to dive deeper for workable names. The latest trend is to push the boundaries of dignity with names like Yahoo!, Google, FatSplash and Jamcracker. Where will it end?
It won’t. The need for good brand names originates with customers and customers will always want convenient ways of identifying, remembering, discussing, and comparing brands. The right name can be a brand’s most valuable asset, driving differentiation and speeding acceptance. The wrong name can cost millions, even billions, in workarounds and lost income over the lifetime of the brand. George Bernard Shaw’s advice applies to brands as well as people: “Take care to get born well.”
Of course, some names haven’t been created so much as inherited. A good example of a heritage name is Smuckers, which marketing people have often cited as a bad name with a clever spin. “With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good,” goes the well-known slogan. But Smuckers was a good name from day one – distinctive, short, spellable, pronounceable, likable, portable, and protectable. And while the company presents it as slightly silly, the name benefits strongly from onomatopoeia. “Smuckers” sounds like smacking lips, the pre-verbal testament to a yummy jam.
Another heritage name is Carl Zeiss, the maker of optical lenses. Does Zeiss make great lenses? Who knows? But the name makes the lenses “sound” great. The word “Zeiss” has hints of “glass” and “precise,” and evokes thoughts of German technological superiority. The name works so well that it can stretch to include high-end sunglasses and other precision products without the risk of breakage.
Generally speaking, high-imagery names are more memorable than low-imagery names. Names constructed from Greek and Latin root words tend to be low-imagery. Accenture and Innoveda come to mind. Names that use Anglo-Saxon words, or the names of people, tend to be high-imagery names, producing vivid mental pictures that aid recall. Think of Apple Computer and Betty Crocker. Some of the most powerful names are those that combine well with a visual treatment to create a memorable brand icon.