Hello My Name Is...

Ace the Naming Game

Hello My Name Is...A great name can propel a brand to the top of its category. Some of the most successful recent launches in wine and spirits owe much of their success to a great name: Cupcake, Skinny Girl, Stella Rosa, Red Stag. However, naming a new wine or spirits brand is a particularly challenging exercise.

Developing a name that will resonate with consumers, meet our branding objectives and be legally available requires creativity and stamina. Also critical to success, and often overlooked, is the importance of a solid process. A strong process includes these components:

  1. Adequate time: While some aspects of naming, legal clearance and visual branding can be parallel pathed, the proper sequencing of work within a realistic timeline greatly improves the chances of an optimal outcome.
  2. A solid creative brief: Clearly define your strategic objectives at the beginning, and focus the creative work in the most fertile areas. Also define the evaluation criteria for prospective names.
  3. Decision-maker buy-in: Get all key decision makers to buy in to the creative brief, including evaluation criteria, up front.
  4. Continuous legal input: Involvement of your legal team from the beginning, with input at key milestones, reduces the chance that your top name choices will all prove unavailable.

The Power of a Solid Creative Brief

Don’t Start with Brainstorming. As tempting as it is to dive right into the creative process and brainstorm about naming ideas, remember that the best creative is built on a solid foundation. Work together with your branding agency to craft a strong brief. Include:

      1. Timeline:
        Ideally your preferred name should pass an in depth legal search before your begin visual branding. Name exploration, list building, editing and preliminary legal approval of the short list will take six to eight weeks. I’ve seen clients attempt to parallel-path name generation, visual brand development and legal research. In too many cases, the team got excited about a name, launched into package design based on that name, and then found out there was a legal concern with the name. Too deep in the package design process to backtrack, the name ended up with an awkward modifier that diluted its strength. Far better to start early enough to allow legal to do their homework before investing resources in design development.
      2. Guidance from legal:
        Will the name need to be available only in our category or in all CPG categories, nationally or globally? While we certainly don’t want our creative process to be driven by the legal team, basic legal requirements should be on the table at the beginning. This channels the creative work into name ideas that are most likely to gain momentum within your organization.
      3. Strategic objectives for brand:
        • Price target
        • Consumer profile
        • Distribution channels
        • Competitive landscape
        • Brand essence
      4. Criteria for evaluation:
        his distills all of the objectives into a “must have” checklist all parties can refer to continually to keep the process on track.
      5. Type of name:
        • Descriptive names tell what the product is or does (NetFlix, Chocovine)
        • Suggestive or Evocative names evoke a state of mind (Barefoot Cellars, Virgin Atlantic)
        • Invented names create new proprietary words (Snapple, Agilent)
        • Experiential names suggest the experience the product will bring you (Cupcake, Explorer)
        • Each type has its merits and its challenges, and we’ll go into more depth about these territories in our next issue of Elixir. It’s tempting to say, “Explore all possibilities,” but some types are better fits for our category, your organization’s risk tolerance, and your brand objectives. For instance, invented names are easiest to trademark, but may require more marketing support to convey meaning to consumers.

Get Management Buy-in

Verbal branding concepts are vulnerable to subjective evaluation based on individual tastes and comfort zones. With no context, even the savviest senior managers may default to what is familiar, short-circuiting your efforts to break through with a big idea.

The antidote to this is a well-crafted brief with clear evaluation criteria that all decision makers agree to before the creative begins. Better to uncover objections early on and retool the brief than to spend valuable time and money only to find out the boss thinks you’ve gone off the rails. Buy-in at senior management level on the evaluation criteria will keep everyone strategically focused throughout the process.

Build Legal Checkpoints into the Timeline

Your creative team can, and should, do a very basic search on each of their recommended names. A Google search, online trademark search using TESS and review of available web domains eliminates names that are clearly unavailable. However, the research needed to fully vet a name requires a legal team with expertise in the area. Get broad guidelines at the beginning, and then have them review your top 20 list early in the process, before you become attached to favorites.

If a name is unlikely to pass on its own, discuss options for inventive spelling or logical modifiers such as “Vineyards” or “Spirits” that don’t dilute the impact of the name. These can take a great name and make it proprietary enough to gain approval. If this approach doesn’t work, go back to your list and find other strong candidates to pursue. It’s far better to move to a second choice name than to adulterate a great name with an awkward or cumbersome modifier that takes the ring out of the concept. These compromise names are tough to live with for the life of the brand.

Evaluate The Frontrunners Against Your Criteria

You should now have a short list of names with great potential, each of which has passed the initial legal review. As a team, review your original creative brief and evaluation criteria. Which names best capture the brand essence, connect with the consumer target, are sticky and have depth? This is your short, short list. Consider presenting them to senior management in the context of a preliminary package design. If budget allows for this, it will help the whole team fully understand the concept and potential of your name choices.

A Well-Planned Process To Develop A Break-Through Name

Great brands lean heavily on great names – names that represent big ideas and capture consumers’ hearts. Sometimes these great names pop into our heads and skate through the legal vetting. Much more often, though, a great verbal brand is the result of a solid creative brief, clear criteria, collaboration with the legal team, and an adequate timeline. Watch for our next issue of Elixir. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of different types of names in the specific context of wine and spirits. We’ll also explore the four qualities every great name must have.


A cool tool and an interesting article about verbal branding.

Explore synonyms, visually and fluidly: Visual Thesaurus is a low-cost tool that we find helpful – it clusters related words into subgroups of nuanced meaning. Click on a word in the cluster and it expands to show its synonyms. Try it free here.

The Appeal of Off-beat Product Names: In a study by a Wharton marketing professor focusing on a broad range of consumer products including jellybeans and colored sweaters, the researchers found an overall positive reaction to names that gave little information about what a flavor or product color was really like, such as Millennium orange or Snuggly white. Read it here.

Ace the Naming GameSterling Creativeworks

Leave a Reply

Subscribe to receive branding insights and new work. We promise not to overload your inbox, and we won’t share your contact info, ever.

Receive quarterly branding insights and new work.

© 2014 Sterling Creativeworks | 707.257.0207