The word brand goes back to an ancient Germanic word for burning, the means for applying a distinctive mark to one’s property. In modern times, as industries came to provide so many different choices to the consumer, branding’s main function has evolved to identify an entity as unique in some way. Nowadays, a distinctive and believable brand name can easily become the primary driver of purchase decisions.
Like every word of a language, a brand name is a symbol whose meaning is shared by a group. What’s special about the symbolic value of a brand is that it not only identifies a unique entity but also can come to create the expectation that a given brand will reliably mark a consistent set of features, thus building brand trust.
Our trust in a brand’s ability to deliver a certain experience can come to be so strong that we use the brand name as a shorthand for the experience itself, as when we call the very best electric scooter “the Rolls Royce” of scooters.
How does a brand acquire trust and a reputation for delivering a reliable set of desired assets? Reliable performance over time plays a key role, of course, and advertising can help to get the ball rolling and keep it rolling. In effect, ads make a promise that the brand is expected to keep.
But even before the first ad appears, trust can be engineered directly into the brand through the strategic choice of a name.
Die Hard batteries and Ray-Ban glasses are perfect examples. In the most efficient and straightforward language imaginable, one promotes the idea of a long-lasting battery and the other promises sunglasses that block sunlight effectively.
Another type of example, drawing on the imagery we associate with words, is the name of the technology giant Apple. This name once seemed unconventional, but a more enduring inherent message is the promise of ease of everyday operation and of the company’s dedication to the general consumer’s needs.
Thanks to the richness and multifaceted nature of language, the possibilities are endless for delivering a distinctive message in a syllable or two. Even the individual sounds of a language can be called into play.
The highly successful brands Swiffer and Febreze alter real words with a few suggestive sounds. Swiffer sounds like “swift” and a bit like “sweep,” but there is also magic in the way the name’s pronunciation mimics the sound of sweeping. Febreze says “breeze” but prefixes the sound of moving air.
Since the 1980s, marketers have been talking about brand personality, which ascribes human traits to brands. Far more striking, though, is the way that brands become part of our own personality, serving as a vehicle for expressing who we are. The car we drive, the sneakers we wear, the perfume we use easily become conscious parts of our persona.
That may seem very extravagant on our part, yet from the very beginning branding has been used to distinguish one item from another. In the modern era, what more natural tool for asserting ourselves as unique individuals than through our choice of brands? As new brands enter the marketplace, the right brand name shapes consumer expectation and builds the essential foundation of trust and reputation.