We are only a few weeks away from Mother’s Day and inevitably this will be preceded by a frenetic burst of TV advertising from companies with names like Moon Pig or Funky Pigeon.com that undertake to send personalised greeting cards on our behalf. It is, it seems, essential to have a silly name to operate in this sector and I worry for Hallmark as it tries to join the party, like an elderly uncle in a pin-striped suit turning up uninvited at Tinie Tempah’s after-show bash.
This got me thinking about brand names generally and how difficult it is to come up with a good one. However, while the options may appear endless, most fall into one of five categories:
Calling a spade a spade
This route is popular with business owners and brand managers who lack imagination. Examples include Moneysupermarket.com, Autotrader and, most blatant of all, I can’t believe it’s not butter. The beauty of going down this route is that you don’t have to spend lots of money explaining to prospective customers what you do. The downside is that unless you spend lots of money to grow your market share quickly, or innovate continuously, you may be overtaken by competitors with stronger brand equity. It also makes it difficult to expand your range beyond the space you have defined so specifically. Arguably, Facebook fits in this category (Facebook is the colloquial name for books given to new students in US universities to help them get to know each other), so there is no doubt it can work if you have great product and keep innovating.
The blank sheet of paper
Many multi-nationals like Tesco, Adidas and even Starbucks began life with names that meant nothing to their customers. [Interesing hirstory lesson: after buying a shipment of tea from T E Stockwell in 1924, Jack Cohen took the first three letters of the supplier’s name and added the first two letters of his surname to make the Tesco brand.]
The fact that they do now is testimony to years of consistent investment and brand building. The blank sheet of paper option is appealing in that your brand comes with no baggage and can become whatever you want it to be. However building a brand from scratch takes time and money and unless you have a strong physical presence in the high street, this approach to naming could slow you down.
In my opinion, this is the best approach and also the most difficult to get right. Brands like Innocent, Lush and Google have names that distil the essence of what they are about without spelling it out. They manage to communicate something about the product and the company philosophy in a single word. This approach is also wonderfully flexible. As long as Innocent uses natural, fresh, unadulterated ingredients, it can expand into any food category it chooses, Google’s name alludes to the company’s intellectual horsepower (only someone pretty smart is going to name their company after a Googol, an obscure mathematical term for a one followed by 100 zeros) and mission to organise almost infinite quantities of data in cyberspace.
We all like the idea of having our name over the door – Jo Malone, Dyson and Vivienne Westwood are examples of the many successful brands that are named after their creators. As a general rule, this works best in design driven categories where the individual has a distinctive creative vision that unites their offer. Of course, sometimes the brand and the person are one and the same, as in the case of Jamie Oliver or Delia Smith, but unfortunately, unless you are a visionary designer or a recognised leader in your field, calling your company after yourself is vanity rather than branding.
Which brings me back to Funkypigeon.com. In an age where the search engine is king, there’s the temptation (particularly if your business is online) to call your brand something completely unexpected or even plain daft in the hope that people will remember it long enough to tap it into Google. This approach is not without merit, particularly if you are the only product in your sector doing it, but it’s an easy tactic to copy. If your competitors also have random names, prospective customers will find it hard to differentiate between you. Perhaps there is hope for Hallmark after all!