Why It's Important To Know How To Sell A Name

Our job isn't just creating a name; it's facilitating a decision, and helping everyone on the team feel comfortable with it.

It’s not enough just to come up with a good name; you also need to know how to sell it. Very often, the best names are not the “safe” ones; they’ve got to be 100% non-brand in the beginning, and that can be scary.

Part of what makes naming so challenging is that your client wants a brand. But the names can’t be brands yet. If they are, that means they’re someone else’s brand… and of course, that means they can’t be yours. Sure, you want to be Kind, or Apple, or Honest Company. But naming your company "Nice", or "Pear", or "Goodness Company" is not going to get you there. 

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. This is part of what makes descriptive or obvious names so tempting; they’re easier to envision. But they can also be tremendously limiting. This is where it really helps to have an experienced namer in the room -- because it’s not enough to just come up with a great name -- you also need to get buy-in on something that can feel scarily nebulous. Do you really think everyone in the room believed “Uber” was the right name, the first time it was proposed? We're willing to bet not. 

Fortunately, we have lots of experience with verbal hand-holding. We’re good with words, and we think pitches are fun. If you’ve read a few of our articles, you’ve likely noticed that we’re pretty adept at analogies - we find they work very well for helping people wrap their brains around the reasons a name will be good or bad. Pitching names is a little different from pitching other kinds of creative work, as a name can feel very high-commitment. Creative campaigns come and go; names endure (or so we hope!)

If you find yourself in the position of presenting names, here are a few tactics we've found helpful, over the years:

  • Know the competition.  One of the first steps in our naming process involves getting a lay of the competitive landscape. That helps us brainstorm names that will stand out, but it also helps us answer questions at presentation time. For example, "why yes, we DID consider XXX, but given that your primary competitor is named XXY, we recommend going in a different direction."
  • Have examples. Much like the "Kind vs. Nice" example shared above, using existing brands to demonstrate the power of a name type can make the new name feel a little less abstract and make its potential easier to grasp.
  • Explain the benefits of having an ownable name. By ownable we mean that it has been screened both for trademark conflicts and for common law usage. We always pre-screen names before we present them - and that means we've killed a ton of names that would've been awesome... but the client never even gets to see them. Our job isn't to showcase our creativity; it's to deliver an ownable name. Communicating the value of a name that is yours and yours alone and then establishing how very challenging it can be to obtain such a name goes a long way toward shutting down those "what about this name? what about that name?" conversations.
  • Provide a variety of options. We typically present upwards of 20 names. These names are chosen from a list of hundreds and hundreds of names, which we've screened as outlined above. We always aim for a mix of name types and word types (within the creative target area outlined by the brief) -- because while we may know naming, our clients know their businesses far better than we ever will. It's up to them to choose the right name. We provide options we're proud of, then back off.
  • Listen. Listening is ALWAYS a superpower. It's not our job to convince; it's our job to guide, and that means understanding and addressing concerns, questions, and feedback. If somehow we haven't managed to hit the mark with at least one of our names (it happens every once in a blue moon), we're going back to work - and we need to know what resonated and what didn't, and why.
  • End with suggested next steps. Here are ours.
Good luck, and feel free to reach out if you have any questions or need some help. We really love this stuff, and are always happy to come on board or point you in the right direction.

Topics: guidance, naming