What’s In a Name?

Learn about the five steps we use in our brand naming and renaming projects.


Sometimes your brand needs more than a facelift. It needs a new name. Maybe it’s because there’s a sudden controversy that you need to separate your organization from. Maybe ownership has changed. Maybe the whole nature of your business is evolving and the name no longer really captures what you do.

Whatever the reason, naming is not to be taken lightly. And although there are instances of great names coming from notes scribbled on the back of a cocktail napkin after a glass of wine, there is a process that yields better results. 

Here’s ours.


Step 1:

Desktop research is always the first step of our naming process. See what the competitive environment looks like. What are other brands like yours doing? How are they doing it? Who do you compete most closely with? How are you (or how do you want to be) different from them?

Desktop research can also help you identify and understand the dynamics of your target audience.

All of that begins to paint a picture of the competitive landscape and provides initial insights and decisions about who your target audience is or should be.

Part 2 of the research process is more customized. It can be qualitative (in person, like focus groups), or quantitative (usually an online survey of some sort). It sounds simple, but the way the research process is designed is critical, and it should be done by your brand strategy partner or consultant. The questions that are asked and how they are asked are key to both understanding the dynamics of the market and uncovering valuable insights. It also becomes the opportunity to start building a case for the strategic direction you will set in the steps outlined below.

 How the information is sliced and diced is equally important. You need a cohesive story to emerge at this point.


Step 2:
Positioning Strategy

All of that research lets us carve out potential positioning strategies for your brand. How is your product different from its competition, both rationally and emotionally? What are the key points that support that difference? What’s the direction for the brand’s tone, look and feel in the marketplace?

It may sound like “marketing blah-blah,” but this strategic thinking becomes the basis for everything about the brand going forward – name, logo, design elements, copy … everything. And how it’s thought through and assembled should be done by your brand strategy partner.

Once there is agreement on the positioning strategy, all names and brand identity elements downstream should be evaluated against that strategy. Remember: It’s not about what you like. It’s about what’s on strategy and what your customer responds to.


Step 3:
Naming &


If the process above has been done correctly, this part is tight and fairly streamlined. We’ve seen other agencies and consultants bombard clients with dozens (sometimes hundreds) of names. We usually end up with fewer than 10 solid contenders. All on strategy. All inspired by the positioning.

And, at this point, a brand strategy partner also can look forward (see step 5) to where that name could potentially go. What’s the bigger idea or concept behind it? What kind of executional elements immediately start coming to mind? Does it “have legs.” as we say in the marking world? Consultants often can’t look forward at this point. A brand strategy partner can.

A great name is always just the beginning. How it’s brought to life and connected to the brand’s bigger message and identity are what really make it sing.

Step 4:
Trademark Check

Your brand strategy partner or consultant is not your lawyer. We can do a quick online search, but before you get emotionally attached to a name, get your lawyer to do a full trademark check on it. We’ve seen clients fall in love with a name, just to be heartbroken when they find out they can’t use it. The earlier this can happen in the process, the better.


Step 5:

Normally, at this point, we’ve narrowed down our list of potential names to maybe three contenders. Everybody has a favorite. They all have potential. And they’ve all passed a trademark check.

This is the time to run things past your target audience. As before, we can do this quantitatively (which is especially good if “the board” needs to know mathematically which one is the best), but we always like to include a qualitative piece as well. There’s just no substitute for being able to hear people talk about what they like – and don’t like – and more importantly, why.

In an ideal world, we would go ahead and create a preliminary logo design for each name, as consumers usually have an easier time responding to a “full package” of an idea rather than names on paper. Again, a traditional consulting firm isn’t usually equipped to make this leap.


What’s Next?

Now you’ve got your name. What’s next is just as important. The name can only do some of the work for the entire brand. It is up to the artful hands of your brand strategy partner to bring the name and the strategy behind it to life.

This is where the decision to hire a brand strategist versus a consultant comes in. A brand strategy agency can take everything it’s learned from the steps above and run with it.

What does the logo look like? Is there a tagline? What’s the total brand identity and how does it come to life?

Fortunately, the direction for this is in the brand positioning work, and when an agency has done that work, it’s likely to have an inkling of how everything will come together. As the brand idea continues to develop, more research can be done to fully vet all of these elements.

So what’s in a name? A lot. But not everything. Names come from an insightful positioning strategy. And so does everything else.

Looking for an insightful and experienced brand strategy partner to help with your next naming or branding project? #wedoallofthat #youknowwherewelive. Contact Vela Agency to get started today.