Four years ago, I wrote an article for car magazine Top Gear NZ about how cars get named. To research it, I interviewed William Lozito, who was president of a company called Strategic Name Development (bonus points if you can guess what they do). SND had done research on the connotations people have with every letter of the alphabet:
"X and Z are the holy grails of consonants," says William. "They are perceived as innovative, masculine, and complex. Whether they always had that reputation or whether they achieved it through innovative products carrying those letters, I couldn't tell you -- it's a bit of a chicken and egg situation.
"L, F, W and V, on the other hand, are considered to be feminine letters, which makes sense if you think about it: L for Lady, F for Female, W for Woman..." he trailed off, leaving me to wonder what V could possibly stand for.
With cars, those connotations are critical -- but online, other considerations have become even more important. I'm the chief marketing officer for a virtual world for kids called MiniMonos, and the process we went through to come up with a name is relevant to anyone creating a new online brand.
We were originally going to call the company MonkeyFun: straightforward, self-evident, and as explicit as, well, Strategic Name Development. In what seemed like a setback at the time, but what actually turned out to be a huge positive for us, the owner of MonkeyFun.com refused to sell.
So we tried alternatives. I spent days on GoDaddy checking name availability: MonkeyIsland, FunMonkeys, MonkeyWorld, World'o'Monkeys, MonkeyRama, Monkeylicious... it went on and on. None of the domains we liked were available, and none of the available domains sounded interesting or exciting to us.
I'd love to tell you that an expert like William advised us about MiniMonos, but the truth is we stumbled on it; "MiniMonos" means "Little Monkeys" in Spanish. In one of our hundreds of iterations we gave it a go, it was available, we all liked it, and it stuck.
In retrospect, our choice of name proved to be an unanticipated SEO asset. Here are three lessons we learned about choosing a new brand name in a digital world:
1. Use unique strings. If you run a Google search for "monkey fun," you'll find almost 20 million results, referring to almost as many distinct topics or websites. If you do a search for "minimonos," you'll find us, plus one or two references to speakers (evidently small, or "mini", mono speakers are the opposite of large stereo speakers).
2. Use memorable strings, or own the adjacent landscape. "Google" is an easily memorable string. "Foursquare" is an easily memorable string. "Twitter" is an easily memorable string.
"MiniMonos" probably isn't quite so easy. In addition, we deal with kids, who often struggle to spell normal words. But because our chosen name wasn't close enough to any other name to create confusion, we've also managed to stake our claim on the adjacent search landscape: "mimimomo," "monimini," etc.
3. Make your name phonetic. Really, Nissan? "Qashqai"? What were you thinking? At least Volkswagen had the good grace to build their whole ad campaign over how difficult it was to pronounce "Touareg" (even the guys at Club Touareg had a hard time with it).
Nissan and VW might be big enough companies with big enough marketing budgets that they can introduce a whole new word that doesn't sound anything like it's spelled, but for the rest of us, it's best to stay hooked on phonics.
What have been your experiences coming up with new brand names? Let me know in the comments section or on @kcolbin.