Simon Wright, MD, Greenwich Design and Co-founder of The Chemistry Works

Choosing the right name for your brand is one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make. Whether you’re a small start-up business or a large corporate, it’s likely that every stakeholder will have a strong opinion about what the brand should be called. But before coming up with a bold and unusual brand name, there are two key things a business needs to consider:

  1. Will my target audience understand my business/product/service from the brand name?
  2. If not, how much time and money do I have to invest in helping them ‘get’ who we are and what we do?

The alternative, a ‘descriptive’ name, can often seem quite boring. However, the benefits of not having to invest significantly in advertising to explain what you do can outweigh the downsides. In fact, we have calculated that for a large corporate business, choosing a non-descriptive name can cost as much as £30m in advertising to educate their audience about their product/service. Clearly, the sums will be less for a small local business, but there’s still an extra layer of work in educating customers.

That’s not to say that there aren’t issues with descriptive brand names too. As they are often based around words in common usage it can be difficult to ‘own’ a name and there can be confusion with other brands, even in different categories. It’s also increasingly difficult to find a descriptive name that hasn’t already been taken.

Whatever you choose, a short snappy and notable name is a good place to start. Part of the challenge is to make a name memorable. Think about why someone should buy from you and what you’re offering. Sometimes this can be summed up nicely in someone’s name; if the head of the company is well known it can be a neat way of encapsulating a company’s brand values.

When do you know it’s time to change?
Although there may seem few reasons for a company to change a brand name – and strong reasons not to – activity such as repositioning, expansion of services, merger or acquisition may make it necessary.

Having built up your brand in the eyes of the consumer, it rarely makes sense to abandon that investment and start again from scratch. Norwich Union (now Aviva) is one of the few companies that have made it work.

A couple of big name brands – Post Office / Consignia and Kelloggs Coco Pops/ Choco Krispies – even returned to their original name following public outcry.

What can be useful – or even essential – is a brand refresh. It’s imperative that brands remain relevant and interesting to their target audience. This is about the visual imagery of the brand rather than a name change. A great example here is the RAC which changed from a traditional, establishment-looking logo and branding to a modern, contemporary look and feel that resonated with both existing and new customers, keeping its name the same.

Whether you go for a quirky or descriptive name, longevity is key. This is the foundation from which you’ll build your brand in years to come so, like RAC, you need to be in it for the long-haul.