I came across a LinkedIn post linking to an article which called to question the importance of brand names for a business. Essentially it said that any name is fine for a business as it is the product performance which matters ultimately. The note cited examples of successful brands who have seeming run-of-the-mill or names unrelated to their business. For example, Lays has no relation to the category it operates in (potato chips or crisps as they are called in the UK) and yet it is successful.
In my view, there is no doubt that brand names are important. It will be a mistake to dismiss the effort in brand name generation as worthless. However, that’s only a part of the story. I do agree that product performance, customer experience and exceeding customer expectations are paramount – an evocative or memorable brand name cannot be a substitute.
The examples suggested in that note were of brands which were created in another era where the context and competition were different. Many of those businesses were established when it was common for businesses to be named after the founder. Lays (originally Frito-Lay) for example was named after Herman Lay who merged his company H.W. Lay & Company with The Frito Company to form Frito-Lay, Inc. Pears soap which has a strong equity as a transparent soap was named after its creator Andrew Pears, in 1807. The name in itself has no cues of ‘gentle & transparent’ – a marketing plank built over decades. Competition and media clutter were non-existent in those days and it was common to name any business after its founders. In my view, a business named after the surnames of founders subliminally cues trust. It conveys that the owners are staking their reputation and giving their 100% to the business. We find such examples across industries whether it is businesses which began decades ago or established recently:
– Godrej was founded by Ardeshir Godrej and Pirojsha Burjorji Godrej in 1897, and operates in sectors as diverse as real estate, consumer products, industrial engineering, appliances, furniture, security and agricultural products.
– The Tata Group was founded in 1868 by Jamshedji Tata and gained international recognition after purchasing several global companies.
– JWT was founded in 1896 by J. Walter Thompson. It has gone on to become one of the leading communication companies in the world
There are many more examples across industries. Even today, neighbourhood grocers to big business, follow this practice of ‘founder names’. The business name may not cue the industry they operate in but over time they can come to stand for something in their respective categories. So an Oberoi Hotel (named after Mohan Singh Oberoi, its founder) may not explicitly cue luxury or hospitality in its name but has come to represent those values over time.
Another common route adopted by businesses is to cue what the category represents. That approach is common in theme-based restaurants for example (Toscano, an Italian restaurant, Biere Club for a pub etc). It helps customers create a ‘brand world in their own head and set up expectations. Jet Airways is one such example where ‘jet’ cues travel, speed, aircraft etc. It is not a hard and fast rule though – Indigo is a successful airline in India where the brand name has no immediate apparent travel cue.
Ignite, a branding agency in San Diego outlined 7 Popular Types of Brand Names:
Descriptive brand names are those that readily convey the service or product offered by a company.e.g CarTrade
Evocative names employ suggestion and metaphor to bring to mind the experience or positioning of a brand.E.g Olive Garden
Invented names are fanciful fabrications that are nothing if not distinctive. E.g. Xerox
Lexical brand names rely on wordplay for their memorability. E.g. Oshkosh Bigosh
Acronyms offer straightforward, utilitarian purpose. E.g IBM, UPS
Geographical names imbue a brand with all the cultural and historical associations its namesake is known for. E.g: Adyar Ananda Bhavan
Founder names can be distinctive if positioned correctly: e.g. Tata, Godrej
Essentially, if a brand name is relevant, evocative of a promise or transports the potential customer to a brand world it can be a marketing advantage. It is as if a part of the sale is complete even before the selling process begins. In today’s cluttered marketing & media environment this approach is even more critical. New business ventures today can ill afford to take a lackadaisical approach to branding. A brand name which is memorable and offers a payoff in an instant can be a huge marketing advantage.
– Wealthy.in for an online financial investment firm conveys the end benefit
– Ola, as a brand name for taxi hailing service is easy to pronounce and memorable. A majority of its users may not know that it means ‘hello’ in Spanish but that’s fine.
However, there are instances where branding agencies over analyse a brand identity. In an attempt to showcase that there is a lot of intellectual rigour (and not just design chops) behind a brand identity, branding agencies get caught up in their own clap trap, meaningless jargon and branding mumbo-jumbo.
All said and done, new business ventures and brands should pay attention to and put effort behind crafting relevant, evocative brand names which can provide a marketing edge. Now, which business wouldn’t want that?