That’s quite a leap. Two actually. Neither is easy. Both are required. And, they’re are two of the hardest leaps (or steps) in developing and choosing a new name for a company or product.

I have presented thousands of names. And there’s an odd thing that happens after every presentation. Nothing. After I present the last name in the presentation, the room falls silent. They know that’s the end of the presentation. I’ve said as much. But still, it’s silent. The most animated, talkative room will fall silent for a solid 15-30 seconds. They might go longer, but I always break the silence – typically, with a joke about the silence. Why does this happen? Why would a room full of managers, marketers, business owners or product developers – who have been anticipating this hour for a long time – not be bursting at the seams with comments, ideas and opinions?

I suspect it comes down to expectations. I think most people reviewing names at this stage, are expecting more of a finish line and not another set of decisions – expecting to see a brand, their brand among a list of names, or words. This happens sometimes – where a name just jumps out as the clear winner. And, this is also where I get nervous. There is always a level or two of trademark searching still to conduct, at this point, to be sure the name is usable and protectable. So, seeing a single name embraced that soon can be risky. No, we want a short list now – a list of six to eight of the group’s favorite.

We always set expectations – explaining much of what I’ve typed so far. I’ve explained to groups the paradox they’re going to have to work through. They want a brand. But, the names can’t be brands yet. If they are, that means they’re someone else’s brand… and of course, can’t be theirs. So, these names have simply got to be 100% non-brands, at this stage. The challenge is envisioning the words as names, and the names as brands. It’s tough for even very experienced marketers.

Over the 19 years I’ve presented names, I’ve come to accept that this process will not change much – that clients will fall silent at the end of the presentation, then say things such as “Wow… that’s a lot to take in” or “I’ve got to digest these” or “Lots of good stuff… what now”. If I don’t suggest it, someone will always ask that question – about the next steps. And, without fail, others in the room will have that look of having been thrown a rope – adding “Yeah, how do you suggest we go about selecting from this list?”

My recommended approach for a group to choose their top six to eight names is a follows:

Do nothing for 24 hours. Well, at least not much. Don’t make any decisions. Limit or avoid discussing the names with others in or out of the group charged with making the selection.
Go back to the creative brief. If the team (client and agency) did a good job with the creative brief it is just as good of a tool to review names as it was to create them. Evaluate the names against the criteria and the creative directions.
Eliminate the names that just aren’t working. If you’ve got a list of 20-25 names, knock out the five to ten names you know are not candidates
Spend time with the remaining 15 or so names. Envision them in context, e.g. packaging, on the website, etc. Add the likely corporate or product descriptor or legal entity, e.g. Inc, LLC.
Regroup and discuss the names. After 24-48 hours, get together with the group responsible for selecting the names. By now, everyone will likely have their top three – five names. Focus the discussion on the names that don’t have consensus. If there’s a name that’s on your short list but not others, make a case for it. You may see something – a design opportunity, a connection to the positioning – that your colleagues did not see. Along those lines, be open minded to same cases made by others.
Half the battle is simply understanding that you’re building a brand – not picking one. It’s a bit like your home. Ever noticed that you buy a house, but go home? It takes the decorations and landscaping and more than that, it takes living in the house – holidays, parties and, well life for a house to become a home. A brand is the same way. The name isn’t the brand. It’s just a part of it. Follow a process and months later, you’ll look back at that list of names and wonder why that brand didn’t just jump of the page… it seems so obvious now.

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