Category Archives: Branding

Naming Tips: Number 11 in a Series

The activity of naming a brand usually requires generating as many ideas, and then name candidates, as possible.

In order to find just the perfect, available name – whether you’re naming a company, a product, or a service – can be arduous and time-consuming. If you, like me, believe “quantity first” is the practical approach, consider exploring on-line name generators.

There are so many naming aids on the Internet that I’ve not even begun to discover what might be available.

But here are a couple of resourses I’ve recently discovered that are worth blogging about.

The first is called Seventh Sanctum and it’s an authority site and directory for name generators of all types, both ones they’ve created and scores of others.

The URL is:

Not all of the name generators listed are appropriate for brand names, but almost all are so simple to use that you won’t waste much time seeing if three or four of them might be of some help. Quality of results vary – some just generate random strings of letters. But there are some surprisingly fruitful ones. Explore, even the ones you’d normally shun. Like the “Fantasy Place Name Generator” at

Seventh Sanctum even provides directions for constructing your own generators. So if you have collected different types of words for use in naming like I have, you might be interested in making them databases you can call up and mix and match with other data-based word collections.

Then I’d try Word Mixer for a different type of name generator. You input up to five words that are relevant to your naming project and the on-line program gives you back a list of several dozen new words containing those you’ve inputted. Here’s their address:

If you know of other naming resources that you believe The Branding Blog should explore, please use the comment section below to guide me to them.


Martin Jelsema

Branding Basics – Step 8

So now you have one or two names you believe are absolutely perfect for the business. Now comes the frustration. 

You search the USPTO (that’s U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) on-line database ( only to find someone else already owns the precise set of characters you’ve chosen for your name, and they are competing in the same industry category. 

Or you may find by searching the Department of State databases in the states you plan to do business that there’s a competitor using the name.

It may be desirable that your name also be available as a domain name. (There may be a better domain name for your website than you company name depending upon how people will reach your website. You may want a domain name that speaks more directly to how your prospects think about your product category or keywords.) 

Creating a name that is available for trademark, domain name and state(s) incorporation registration can be frustrating and time-consuming.

I get more naming business from entrepreneurs who have fallen in love with a name they can’t own, and can’t move past it. They get stuck and just can’t generate any more adequate candidates. Since I’m not emotionally involved, I can continue generating appropriate candidates ’til one meets the criteria and is available. It sometimes takes multiple iterations.

But even if you’ve performed a successful preliminary search doesn’t mean there’s an end to it. You would do well to then go to a trademark attorney or one of several firms specializing in making comprehensive name searches. They will first search every state and territory. They will search databases with alternatively-spelled configurations for phonic infringement. They will review international trademark databases if necessary. 

You may be able to adopt a name that someone else is using if it’s in a different industry classification, or you may be able to buy a name from a registered owner if necessary.

Once you’ve found a name that you can legally use that meets all the branding criteria, it would be a wise move to trademark it, and to register it with the Departments of State in the states you will have a physical presence.

Developing and protecting a viable name is probably the single most important branding activity you will perform. That name will represent your company for many, many years. It will develop into an asset of great value over time – assuming it lives up to your promise.

So here again, I admonish you to brand smart from the start.

Next time we’ll look at logos.

Martin Jelsema

How Can “Plus” Differentiate a Brand?

As I’ve admonished anyone who’ll listen, the key to building a successful brand is to differentiate your company or offering in such a way that you stand out from competitors, and that your differentiator will be hard to imitate.

So, what do you think of those companies whose name states their prime business and then goes on to dilute their primary focus? Is this good branding? Does it differentiate or just confuse? It’s like being in thier prime business is just not enough.

I’m thinking of companies like Bed, Bath & Beyond; Brakes Plus, and Containers & More.

Did they rationalize that “more” differentiates them? Or were they afraid they’d miss customers if they really niched, so they “hedged their bets” with a name expansion?

Jack Trout, author with Steve Rivkin of Differentiate or Die, states that “breadth of line” is a difficult way to differentiate. It costs lots of money, competitors with money can copy this strategy easily, it blurs what the brand represents.

For really big box chains, having lots of inventory may be a customer plus in and of itself, but most of those stores – Home Depot, Pep Boys, CompUSA – never claimed to narrowly focus in the first place. Their differentiation is a combination of breadth of line, lower prices and customer service. Within their retail categories – home improvement, automotive after market, and hi-tech electronics – they can and do focus.

I’d like to hear from you on this subject: Is adding a name expansion helpful in establishing a solid brand? Does it dilute the company’s primary differentiator, or does it enhance it?

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips: Number 10 in a Series

As you would expect, there are a lot of resources on the web that can be useful in developing lists of name candidates.

Some are branding sites, but most are concerned with language. I’ve just listed here four I’ve found intriguing and occasionally fruitful in generating brand names.

The Webmaster Toolkit site has a really easy search tool that internet marketers use to search for keywords for their web pages. I find relevant words and phrases, those actually used by searchers when looking for items through the search engines. Even though you’ll find their pop-ups a little distracting, this search tool provides lists of words and short phrases that will provide name candidates.

Then there a multitude of language-related sites that can be useful. The following websites contain links to on-line dictionaries and other word-related resources.

Use Wisdom is an authority site with access to many word-related resources. Warning: you can spend literally hours chasing links here.

iTools set of Language Tools also links up with a multitude of on-line word-related resources, as well as providing dictionary and thesaurus help directly from the site.

OneLook just provides a dictionary search, but what a search it is! When you type in a word or phrase, it can poll up to 900-plus on-line dictionaries.

Martin Jelsema

More on memes

Last week I blogged about memes as a means of branding. Memes are icons or phrases with universal meaning such as the red cross of the Red Cross organization.

I suggested that some marketing advisors embraced the idea of associating a product or service with an existing meme such as Prudential has done with the Rock of Gibraltar. I then stated that I’d be very careful in associating your brand – or incorporating a meme into your brand as Prudential has done – because the meme by its very definition is not unique.

I still hold to this premise. But I must expand my thoughts to say that a meme can be a really powerful brand element or association if you’ve created it. In other words, if you’ve established and promoted your brand through a unique graphic, audio or text element that has become a meme through your presentation of it, and through people’s acceptance of it, you’ve got a winner.

Another way to say it: you’re practicing viral marketing. (As an aside, is it a coincidence that viral and virile have the same root?)

So if you’ve created “where’s the beef?”, or a bald-headed, house-cleaning genie, or “you’ve got mail”, you may be gaining brand equity. (Just a warning, though, the toy bunny with a drum is most often associated with Duracell even though he belongs to Energizer Holdings.)

Still, finding a unique way to express the essence of your brand is vital, whether that icon or tagline ever becomes an authentic meme.

Martin Jelsema


Branding Basics – Step Seven

With your brand platform and an idea of the brand personality you believe to be attractive, and even compelling, to your target markets, you’re ready for the next creative step.

It’s the step most entrepreneurs begin with. Step Seven is name development.

For some, this is the fun part. For others, it’s just frustrating and energy-sapping. (If it gets to you, I can help. But you really should take a crack at it first so you’ll appreciate just what it takes to create a compelling name that’s not been adopted by someone else, and also meets your established criteria.)

First thing is to identify exactly what you are going to name.

Is it a single business that has no aspirations about going global? Is it a company you are naming, or is it a product line, a subsidiary, a family of products or a single service?

For companies with multiple product lines, and models and styles within them, you may need to establish a naming hierarchy early on just to make sure you won’t be confusing customers later on.

Perhaps you will be naming a product that will be replaced by newer versions in a year or two – like software.  If so, you’ll want to establish that ground work at the outset so you can establish continuity.

After clearly defining what you will be naming, it’s time to establish the criteria you will use to create and evaluate brand name candidates. Criteria for a particular offering can come from the list below. Not all need be considered and you may wish to add one or two of your own depending upon your branding project.

Each name candidate must (should) answer the following attributes in the affirmative:

  • Is it meaningful?
    Is it unique?
    Is it relevant?
    Does it suggest a benefit?
    Is it memorable?
    Is it appropriate?
    Is it easily pronounceable?
    Is it descriptive?
    Is it in good taste?
    Is it short enough?
    Is it vital?
    Will it “have legs” over time?
    Does it appeal to all stakeholders?

Now some will say that imposing criteria prior to generating name candidate lists will limit the quantity you’ll have to choose from. This may be true, but if those generating candidates have some direction and focus, my experience says you’ll get plenty of quantity and the quality will be much higher. (I related how I learned brainstorming from Alex Osborn while at BBDO circa 1959-60 in the blog entitled Naming Tips: Number 8 in a Series)

Next, you should distribute the tools you’ve previously developed – brand platform, brand personality document, description of what is to be named, and the naming criteria – to your naming team. After a day or two, get them together to answer any questions they may have and then have them clear a day on their calendars to brainstorm names. Give them at least two or three days, preferably a week, to “percolate” their own ideas.

On the appointed day, reserve a conference room with several whiteboards, appoint a person to record all the ideas so everyone can see those ideas and “hitchhike” on those that generate a spark. Remember, no negativism or discussion of ideas. There is no judgment taking place here; that comes afterwards. Go for quantity.

If you don’t have a group of people to brainstorm names, you might consider some of the resources available on the Internet that help you generate candidates, usually without paying any attention to criteria, though.

There are some tricks, tips and techniques to naming that can be beneficial in extending the brainstormed list. They can also be used if you’ve had to generate name candidates with no help. I’ve documented a couple of dozen of them in this blog – see the series Naming Tips under the category Name Creation. Once you have found the absolutely most appropriate, compelling and memorable brand  name candidate, you’re ready for Step Eight. And plenty of frustration.

Naming Tips: Number 9 in a Series

In the book, Strategic Brand Management, author Kevin Lane Keller provides some criteria for a brand name.

The problem is two of those criteria seem contradictory.

To gain and keep high marks for brand awareness and recall, Keller wants a name to be “familiar and meaningful”. But to establish brand recognition, the brand needs a “different, distinct and unusual” name. He concedes “tradeoffs must be recognized”.

But there are several ways to combine the familiar and the different: to satisfy both criteria fully. Here are three methods.

Begin by developing a list of familiar words relevant to the product to be named. Usually these are words that might describe a benefit or perhaps a desired emotional response. They might be descriptive, allegorical or suggestive. Just build as long a list as you and your thesaurus can accumulate.

  • Tip 1: Now, for those words that end in a silent “e”, substitute “a”, “i”, “o”, “u” or “y” for the silent “e”. This is especially effective for verbs and single-syllable words.  Here are some examples: hype=hypa, groove=groovo, rake=raku. You may also substitute short, vowel-beginning syllables such as “an”, “or”, “ite”. More examples: style=stylant,  save=savio, crane=cranus. But note how the word itself is retained without the silent “e”, so familiarity is retained while the added suffix makes it unique.


  • Tip 2: From the same list, select those words that begin with a vowel. Now experiment with adding a single consonant or if you’re into linguistics, a phoneme, to the beginning of the word. Thus, element=Nelement, Apollo=Capollo, Oslo=Voslo, arch=Sharch. Again, the original word is retained and the added phoneme gives it individuality.


  • Tip 3: Here you deliberately “misspell” words to create a new, trademarkable name: Qwest, Ikon, Duque. At first a customer will have a little trouble recognizing the word, but once they’ve pronounced it, they’ll remember, particularly if the original word carries a relevancy to the product or company itself.

So there you have it, three ways to have your caki and feat it, tu.

Martin Jelsema

Branding Basics – Step Six

Now you have a working document, the brand platform.

It is the “creative brief” as well as the strategic structure for the brand. From it can spring consistent and relevant branding elements and associations.

So now, and only now, are you ready for Step 6: using the brand platform to flex your “creative” wings. Actually, this step enhances and expands the brand platform from the customer’s point of view. It helps establish the consumer-brander relationship.
Based on the information you’ve collected and the decisions you’ve made and documented in the brand platform, Step 6 is the way of expressing the essence of your brand.

You begin to crystallize the brand in concrete ways that will help you devise messages and images that coherently and concisely represent your most compelling position.

There are several vehicles used by branding experts to perform this last foundation step.
One that has gained popularity in recent years is to develop the brand “story”.
The brand story speaks to the corporate vision for the brand, but usually in more personal terms than is expressed in a conventional business plan. It might contain a history if applicable. It might describe the “spark” or idea from which the product sprang. It will certainly be written from a customer’s point of view (assuming customers and prospects are the major stakeholders in the brand). It will likely paint a picture of the features and benefits in a way to differentiate the product from competitive offerings. It might only be a page in length and usually no more than three.
Another approach to expressing brand essence is to describe the product in terms the customer would probably use. This may come from focus group research or just informal discussions with customers. But the idea is to express brand from the customer’s point of view.
Then there are some “fun” techniques that may be appropriate for some brands. These are scenarios developed after asking the question, “If this brand where a wild animal, which one would it be and why?” Variations include “if this brand where a celebrity…” or “if the brand were a city…”. Once there’s some consensus, the scenario is put to paper.
The purpose of setting the brand essence on paper, no matter the technique in arriving at it, is to provide a foundation and guidelines to help in developing a consistent and on-target expression of the brand.  
Now, after performing these foundation steps, you’re where most entrepreneurs begin the branding effort: creating a name.

Yes, naming is Step 7, and I’ll share some observations about names next time.