What’s in a Name? Monday, Nov 17 2014 

Secrets of Crafting Memorable Brand Names
Brand naming expert David Placek reveals how he helps companies around the world select their one-of-a-kind monikers.

A Reposting of a GREAT Article!

Intel’s Pentium processor was brilliant. So was the Swiffer mop. Crafting those memorable names is all in a day’s work for David Placek, founder and president ofLexicon Branding, a Sausalito, California, firm that develops and evaluates brand names for companies around the world. He’s been at it for 32 years, and though he admits the business has gotten tougher, he never tires of working with brands.

Like many who master their craft, Placek has boiled his process down to a formula. It always starts with discussing the company’s goals and ends with a list of about 10 names that have been crafted, tested, and vetted by a small team of researchers.


I first heard about Lexicon on StartUp podcast, a show that chronicles the startup experience of Alex Blumberg as he tries to build a podcasting network. Lexicon came up with the company’s new name, Gimlet Media, and it was the one that made Blumberg finally feel official. The naming process intrigued me so much, I decided to learn what happens when a company asks Placek for help. Here’s what he said, which was nothing I would have expected.

Telegraphing an Attitude

When a client comes to Placek, he starts by asking what the company hopes to achieve. “And that’s where we’ll typically get into their beliefs and their attitudes,” he explains, “which is really important when creating a product name or when you’re creating a corporate name.”

What Placek hopes to discover, he continues, is “what roles the name has to play.” For a product, that might mean appealing to shoppers, while a corporate name is usually “multi-dimensional,” selling a product to consumers as well as investors.

Above all, Placek says, he wants to know how the name will play in the marketplace, or as he puts it, “what the future looks like from the client’s perspective.” Will it be disruptive, aggressive, or timid? This is what sets the agenda.

After gathering this info, Placek and his team begin tracking the competition to see “what territory on the map they have already occupied.” Such research also helps to “investigate the messaging around the competition” and how it’s perceived, since any hole in a strategy might be used in the client’s favor.

Of course there are times, like the case of Swiffer, when Lexicon works with companies who are developing an entirely new category. “Swiffer for Procter & Gamble wasn’t a mop, it was an emerging category of highly efficient cleaning tools,” says Placek. But he used mops and paper towels as a reference point.

Placek likens the research to putting together a landscape, or “mapping out the topography.” In knowing the competition, he says, he can brief the small creative teams who will take on the project and begin working toward his two principles:differentiation in the marketplace and “telegraphing an attitude.”

“If you’re not different, people aren’t going to take a look at you,” Placek says. “We’re all creatures of habit, we all have our own preferences.” The challenge is creating a habit for new products. If you’ve always used Johnson & Johnson sponge mops, for example, “we somehow have to do something that is different for you to conclude this [new thing] is something better,” Placek says, “and not just new, but better. We buy better around the world, even in very less industrialized countries.”

Staying Culturally Correct

Once the competitive layout is mapped, Placek begins briefing his creative teams, whose size depends on the project. But there’s a catch: “We don’t give all the same information to all the teams, because we’re after a richness” of ideas, he says. After running through several “creative cycles” internally, the teams examine the names they’ve come up with and whittle down lists using previous research with consumers across several categories. Linguists help research the names’ sound and structure.

After that, Placek has somewhere between 75 and 100 names, which go through legal clearance for trademark issues. “These days, with all the trademark clutter, we’ll put in 100 names and only get 20, argue about those, and end up with 10,” he says. “Those are the ones we take to the client and present to them, along with our rationale, which is about the creative goals, the ideal standards we set, then the legal report on those names.”

Usually, a name is selected, which will be vetted further from a language and a legal, or trademark, standpoint, he says. Rarely does a company settle on a name immediately.

Over the years, Placek has tweaked this approach to trends in the marketplace. “We live in a global world now because of the internet,” so “we added more linguists to our teams, and more of what we call a linguistic structure.” In fact, Placek has a network of linguists in 43 countries. “If we’re doing business, we care about the attitude toward that business,” he adds. If he’s working with a coffee client, he wants to know whether coffee is viewed as a luxury or a form of energy in the business’s country. “We get much more of a global perspective before we begin.”

Trademarks are also important, Placek says, noting he expanded his legal team years ago. Lexicon works with “millions of trademarks,” so it “started licensing search engines that have the right algorithms to find the right concepts; then we decided, ‘Well, let’s hire someone to do this.’ Then, along the way, we hired another person, then another. Now we have a department of people headed by a trademark attorney.”

Each year, Placek estimates, between 100 to 150,000 names are added to those databases, though he admits that number’s conservative. “We’re still staring at the same alphabet,” but when it comes to the name, “well, we want to be different and capture certain things about the company in the name, so it becomes very difficult,” he says.

Even letters must look distinctive. “Some are round and full; others are narrow and slim,” Placek offers. “For a weight-loss drug, I wouldn’t rely on big, full letters like Oand U. I’d think about slimmer letters–B rather a U; I or a T rather than an L or a U. We want to make sure that we start linguistically with something that’s lean and slim.” He adds, “getting at the cultural issues is harder.”


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