The 7 deadly sins of choosing a brand name

For any parents reading this, I'm sure you will agree that naming a child is one of the most daunting privileges life will ever throw at you. (Somewhat) equally, choosing the right name for your new product or service is very important. 

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According to a recent survey on brand awareness, 53 percent of consumers reported that the popularity of a brand name affects their decisions when making purchases. A great brand name can make you more money, and a bad one can actually decrease the value of your company.

Alexandra Watkins, author of the book Hello My Name Is Awesome (which made it into our top 7 branding books) warned: "When you're starting out with a blank slate, don't curse your name with any disadvantages. Every time you have to help people spell, pronounce, and understand your name, you are essentially apologising for it, which devalues your brand."

So with that in mind, here are Alexandra's seven deadly sins, which go by the acronym SCRATCH.

1. Spelling-challenged

This includes names that are not spelled the way they sound, intentionally misspelled, and the overly cute use of numbers. Some examples include: Svbtle (publishing network), Twyxt (couples app), and Houzz (interior design).

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2. Copycat

While it may be tempting, it's a sin to use a name that is a close copy of a competitor. Not only do you risk confusing your customers, but you may very well find yourself in court facing a lawsuit for copyright infringement. For example, the brand names Chatter, Jabber, and Yammer were all seemingly "inspired" by the online success of Twitter.

3. Restrictive

Restrictive names are ones that lock in your business or limit its growth. For example, 99p Only Stores now sell items that cost more than 99 pence, some 24-Hour Fitness locations aren't open 24 hours, and sofa.com sells much more than sofas.

4. Annoying

While what constitutes annoying can vary from person to person, some names just bother and even frustrate potential customers. This includes clunky coined names (like networking organisation Femfessionals), intentionally mysterious names (what products do you think Vungle, Magoosh, and Kiip make?), and names made out of combinations of initials (labelling system-maker NACKit!, named after the initials of the company founders).

5. Tame

Being boring is never a good strategy for getting your company and its products or services noticed. A good way to be boring is to use unimaginative, descriptive names - ones that say exactly what your company or product is. Examples include Cloud Now (cloud services), DocuSign (electronic signatures), and Enfagrow (toddler formula).

6. Curse of knowledge

It can be tempting to use a name that makes perfect sense to you and your fellow company founders or colleagues, but that leaves potential customers in the dark. This includes alphanumeric names (M202--an iPod docking station), foreign names that don't mean what you think they do, and names that just don't make sense to most consumers (Eukanuba pet food, Mzinga social software, SPQR restaurant).

7. Hard to pronounce

Think twice before you use names that are all capital letters (THX audio company or TCHO gourmet chocolate), that can have more than one pronunciation (food company Alter Eco), or that are the backward spelling of another name (Xobni--"inbox" spelled backward, or Serena Williams's clothing line Aneres).


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Posted by Richard Etienne.