Brand Names Equal Brand Meaning

Larry LightJuly 5, 202221434 min

Brand name creators specialize in finding just the right moniker for your brand. They always provide all sorts of rationalizations as to why the selected brand name is so crucially important. Some people say that the brand name is the most important, decision for effective brand management. When both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times report on brand naming on the same day, it is either a slow news day or brand naming is suddenly top-of-mind.

Brand names are important. But what the brand stands for is most important. For decades, Americans celebrated occasions special or not, by taking pictures using Kodak film. Kodak moments were emotional glue, captured on celluloid. Kodak’s prize color film became the title to a Simon and Garfunkle song, Kodachrome. Kodak became an iconic American brand: but that brand was a made-up name. Nobody discussed the hidden or special meaning of Kodak. There were no fancy name developers sourcing documents for the perfect name. It was a simple, easy to pronounce, 5-letter, made-up word that could fit on a small box.

Some brand names happen by accident, like Google, which was apparently a spelling error.

Some brand names happen because it is a name of the child of the boss, like Mercedes, or a pet (Snickers, named after a horse). Some brand names happen because it is the nickname of a child, like Tootsie Roll. And, there are the family names, these work too: Mars (Mars Bar), Ford Motor Company, W.L. Gore (Gore-Tex), Hearst (newspapers), Wrigley (gum), Dyson (vacuums, hairdryers, etc.), Kellogg’s (cereals), Chanel (fashion, fragrance).

We know, and, hopefully, love these brands. We know and, hopefully, love them because of the relevant, differentiated and trustworthy experience they each deliver. The brand’s promise and essence make the name meaningful, not the other way around. How we communicate the name creates interest in the brand. Delivering what we promise builds brand credibility and loyalty.

Brand naming is a serious, and seriously expensive, business. It requires resources and creativity. A name affects the logo and the slogan. But, don’t get carried away.

According to many in the naming business, a perfect brand name that conveys everything about the brand and the user is a necessity. Reducing a brand message to a single word is simplistic.

One brand namer interviewed in The New York Times said, “You try to create a language and a name that taps into the psychology and sells the product.” Another said about automotive naming, “It’s thinking how the brand should be positioned in the marketplace, identify the car’s essence.” And yet another name consultant indicated that when his company develops names, it seeks “sound symbolism and letter structure”. He added, “The brand name is a vessel that carries ideas into the marketplace.”

Mercedes. Google. Amazon. Disney. Apple. L’Oreal. McDonald’s. These are among the top most powerful brands. They became strong because they were made strong. These names were not born out of trying to capture the key brand message in one word. Nor were they created for considerations of sound symbolism or as a vessel structure to carry a brand idea.

Brand names are sometimes changed. Kentucky Fried Chicken moved to KFC to put distance from the word “Fried”. Minnesota Mining and Minerals, another well established organization changed its name to 3M. Most people do not know what ESPN originally stood for. Nor do viewers care. Sometimes a brand will need to change a name after a disaster, such as ValueJet, which became AirTran after a crash. Some brand name changes trigger a strong emotional response.

Something different is happening in retail. The Wall Street Journal tells us that real estate developers have decided that one way to survive the changes wrought by online shopping is to ditch the word “mall” on their properties. Mall is now a malignancy on the retail landscape. Just in case you are not tuned in to this, “mall” is so 1970. A property re-brander stated, “The mall needed to de-mall.”

Sometimes names do need to change to adapt to changes in the marketplace.

So, instead of “mall”, multiple venues retailers are switching to names like The Shoppes, The Promenade, Crossing, or Quarter. Mall is now a negative, retail apocalypse word, as are its cousins, Galleria and Pavilion, which are also being banished from the shopping lexicon. Brand names now need to convey “upscale, multi-purpose, leisure-time consumer destination”.

Mall brand name changes are happening because “Retail, especially in the context of mixed-use projects, is as much about place, experience, entertainment, wellness, and community as it is about shopping, and the word ‘mall’ doesn’t embody those qualities.” However, the Mall of America, which is a place, an experience, has entertainment and shopping is not buying into the fall of the mall mentality. Others are also not making the switch, as it would “undo years of brand recognition and brand value for little return.” And, as one customer said, “When I call my friend Christine, I say let’s go to the mall” regardless of what it is now called.

The promise and delivery of relevant and differentiated expectations is critical. This is the number one priority.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Larry Light, CEO of Arcature

At The Blake Project we are helping clients from around the world, in all stages of development, redefine and articulate what makes them competitive at critical moments of change through our in-person or online strategy workshops and engagements. Please email us for more.

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