What's in a Name?

The foundation of your brand is its name. After its uniqueness wears off, it will be your brand name against the brand names of your competitors in the marketplace. So, how can you create a name that will stand the test of time?

"First, it should be able to communicate on its own without a lot of advertising," says James Dettore, president of the Brand Institute in Boston. "It has to be easy to pronounce and have neutral to positive associations around the world, or at least in various languages. Because of the high ethnic influences here in America, you still have to have a name that crosses over many ethic and language barriers."

Some extremely successful brand names include Google, Calvin Klein, Evian, McDonald's and Nordstrom.

Many companies have committed translation faux pas when they failed to cross reference the brand's name in other languages or cultures. One of the most popular instances was the marketing mishap with the Chevy Nova. The car didn't go over well when the Latin consumers, as the vehicle's name in Spanish means" It doesn't go."

More recently, marketers at Reebok obviously didn't do their homework when they named their women's running shoe "Incubus." Apparently, no one at Reebok was aware of the nightmarish nature of the name: An evil mythological spirit believed to descend upon and have sexual intercourse with women as they sleep. The company was mortified and looked into ways it could wipe out the offending name, which didn't appear on the $57.99 shoes, but on boxes.

Besides making sure that people from all or most ethnic backgrounds will accept your brand's name, it should also be memorable and easy to communicate in packaging and advertising.

If possible, the name should also complement the overall core values of the company. For instance, Pampers was a perfect name for the diaper line that Procter & Gamble launched in the late 1970s. The name is easy to say, has positive associations, and links to the performance of the product. Besides that, the brand came out at a time when cloth diapers were still largely popular with mothers. By the name alone, mothers could make the switch to disposable diapers that were more convenient without feeling that the product would compromise the comfort, or pampering, of their child.

In cases of large companies, a brand name can help propel a product or service through the marketplace. In other instances, particularly with younger brands, the descriptiveness of the name can have a strong influence on how well it's accepted (i.e., Aleve, America Online, Performa). For others, the name has no meaning at all until broader identity building programs are built around the name (such as ESPN, Foster's Lager, Tide laundry detergent). 

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