The brand name tells us what the product or service is called. The design mark offers a visual cue that helps identify the brand. Together, these two brand elements start to build the brand identity which is composed of a word or words, colours, design, logotype and symbol. In essence, you are giving an identity a name and then giving the name a face. The challenge is developing a brand identity that will stand-out against the 3,000 brand messages that we are exposed to daily.
Developing a brand name today is almost impossible with so many products and services entering the marketplace every day. I tried to find out how many brands exist today in the world but wasn’t successful. The World Intellectual Property Organization report that in absolute terms, trademark demand quadrupled from just under 1 million applications per year in 1985 to 4.2 million trademark applications by 2011. In developing countries such as China, India and Brazil the rise in trademark applications is exploding. So in the last four years there has been approximately 16.8 million new trademark applications. To put this into perspective the Oxford English Dictionary contains 171,476 words in current use. There is a great demand for unique and memorable names if you can find one that you can protect.
What’s in a Name?
History will tell you that many brand names wasn’t strategically developed as we would like to think, based on brand values and beliefs, target audience, and competitive edge. The good one’s however stick because they sound and fit the image they portray and reflect on their customers.
Many historical brand names came from the name of the person who founded or invented the product like Walt Disney, Ford, Bayer and Nestlé. Then there was the brand names derived from the product formulation or attributes such as Coca-Cola that came from its two “medical” ingredients: “Coca” came from the coca leaf which is used to create the cocaine the drink originally contained and “Cola from the Kola nut, which provided the drink’s caffeine. 7-Eleven convenience stores got its name to promote their long-operating hours which was unique in 1946. While some people think the GAP clothing stores came from “gay and proud” the original owners saw an opportunity in filling the generation gap with clothes for both adults & children.
The easiest brand names are words that tell or signal to you something about the product or service such as Twitter, Walmart, Airbus, Second Cup, Burger King, Netflix and Nescafé.
With the explosion of e-commerce and internet companies, there is over 100,000 new domains registered daily, adding further pressure and demand for unique brand names. With limited number of trademark names available companies have become creative by misspelling names like Flickr, del.icio.us, nwplying, Digg, Topix and Google. Googol is the word that defines the large number of 10 to the power of 100. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brinn liked the name because it reflected the large amount of information its search engine could retrieve except they made it further unique by misspelling it.
Then there are just plain great names like McDonald’s, Amazon, Apple, Fox, Yahoo and Starbucks. Stay away from brand names that are too difficult to say or spell – simple names have the best chance of sticks in consumer’ minds especially when they are bombarded with brands all day long.
A unique and memorable brand name is important but make sure the name doesn’t carry any negative connotations especially in another language. The Buick LaCrosse was changed to Buick Allure in Canada because LaCrosse was slang for masturbation, among other things in Quebecois. The soft drink Fresca, when translated to Spanish, turned out to be slang for “lesbian”. Well, niche marketing is a strategy I am not sure this was their intent.
The typography in your brand name can be as impactful as a graphic. The most obvious element is selecting the right font. To frame the opportunity, you need to define how you want your customer to feel when they see your brand name/logo. Do you want to show your brand as playful, sensitive, strong, masculine, young, old, futuristic, loud, sophisticated, or solid – the list can go on and on. If your brand is a law firm or bank you may want a traditional typeface with a conservative serif font that instills trust and confidence. If you are a technology brand you might want a modern typeface with sans serif font all in lower-case. Some great examples of unique typography are Google, Coca-Cola and Disney. These brand names communicate a look and feel that has become quickly recognizable.
Designing a Mark or Logo
While the trademark name might not tell us anything about the brand the design mark or logo can. The logo design can convey aspects of a company’s personality or attitude. For example, Target Stores with its memorable and fun red bull’s-eye or the twittering blue bird for Twitter or the iconic Nike “swoosh”. Other iconic and memorable logo designs are Mercedes-Benz three-point star, MTV’s constant changing colour, patterns and images in the over-sized M, Rolex’s pointed crown that symbolizes royalty, victory and perfectionism and Shell’s bright yellow and red shell.
Colour plays an important role in communicating a feeling or emotional connection to the brand. Red is the colour of fire and blood symbolizes energy, excitement, youthful and passion. Brands that have used red successfully are Red Cross, Coca-Cola and Target. Yellow is the colour of sunshine and is associated with joy, happiness, intellect and warmth such as Veuve Clicquot Champagne, Sun Light and Caterpillar. Green is the colour of nature connoting growth, harmony, health and commonly associated with stability and prosperity. John Deere and Starbucks have used green successfully to distinguish themselves. Blue the colour of sky and water has a trustworthy, dependable feel and is often the colour for banks and insurance companies. Then there is black and white which most brands use in some capacity but used as the primary brand colour can be very powerful, confident and sophisticated. Brands that use black or white that come to mind are Guinness, Chanel, Gucci, Nike and Apple. You can also use colour to differentiate from entrenched competitors assuming that the colour matches the brands personality like ING bank with its distinctive orange and T Mobile with its bright pink.
Protecting an Asset
Making a brand name or logo design too distinct or in the moment can also lock it into a time period that will quickly date it. Over a hundred years many brands have tweaked their names and logo designs to keep current with culture changes and the brands evolution such as John Deere, Bayer, Shell, and Pepsi to name a few.
If you can’t trademark your name or design mark keep looking for one that you can. As a trademark, your name provides a propriety and legally protectable method for identifying your goods or services from the competitors. Don’t waste your time if you can’t protect your identity. Without a trademark you have nothing.