The name of an organization is a critical piece of a brand identity. It represents an organization in a very intentional way. A name has a direct impact on an audience’s likelihood to remember and engage with that organization.
When you think about brands in the social sector, what names come to mind? Commonly recalled names include: Doctors Without Borders, United Way, TenTree, and Patagonia. These brand names were built on a strategic naming foundation, specifically designed to be accessible and memorable.
In this post, we will guide you through the basics, the process, and best practices of building a brand name for both new and existing organizations.
Getting started: Motivations for naming or renaming.
There are a few situations where organizations will need to begin the naming process:
- Starting a new organization
- An evolving mission requires a rename and/or rebrand
- Diverging from a parent organization and in need a new identity
- Have come across a trademark issue and are legally required to rename
In any circumstance, it’s important to acknowledge that naming your organization can be an emotional process. In the case of rebranding, organizations may be concerned over losing brand equity and their existing audience. However, in our experience, names built with a strategic foundation in mind often serve the organization to better connect with their audience and can propel existing brand equity forward in a new way.
While an important part of your organization’s overall brand, a name doesn’t have to do all of the heavy lifting. It works together with your messaging and visual identity. That’s why it’s typically better for the name to hint at what your organization is about, rather than attempting to describe it.
A new name can redefine who your organization is and begin a new chapter. Knowing that there are guidelines to follow in your brand naming process, you can feel assured that your naming journey will guide you toward an identity that will resonate with both you and your audience.
What makes a name memorable?
There are essential core qualities to a great brand name. Constructing a brand name that is memorable starts with understanding the fundamentals of human memory. This is the concept of a “sticky name”. These ideas come from the book Hello My Name is Awesome by Alexandra Watkins, framing the qualities of a sticky brand name into SMILE guidelines.
- Suggestive — evokes something about your brand
- Meaningful — makes an association with the familiar
- Imagery — aids memory with evocative visuals
- Legs — lends itself to a theme for extended mileage
- Emotional — moves people
The most memorable and effective names will represent more than one strategy. Let’s take MADD for example. This nonprofit’s name is an acronym that stands for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Acronyms are not typically classified as memorable. The seemingly random combination of letters are difficult to remember and lack the ability to evoke a feeling in the audience.
However, in the case of M-A-D-D, the name is pronounced like the adjective “mad”. It’s a sticky, memorable name due to its ability to remind you of the apparent, impassioned emotion of the people behind their mission, evoking why their organization matters. They are hitting not just one, but multiple qualities on the SMILE test: suggestive and emotional.
How are brand names built?
Briteweb’s Senior Naming Strategist, Chelsea Herman, has worked on several award-winning brand and naming projects for companies, organizations, programs, and funds across various nonprofit and for-profit sectors.
Chelsea describes the naming process as part science, part art. It is primarily a creative endeavor, yet still maintains a method to the madness. Briteweb’s approach to naming and renaming projects is adapted to each client’s unique needs, however, everyone experiences a similar process of building a brand name.
Chelsea shares how brand names are built in five phases:
1. Start with a discovery deep dive.
This phase is kicked off by reviewing the organization’s unique selling point, mission, audience, brand positioning, and so on. The team participates in a workshop full of exercises to initiate the creative process. These exercises help unearth captivating themes that will inspire the creation of possible brand names.
2. Develop a large list of potential brand names.
From the discovery process, the naming strategist pays very close attention to words and themes. They will explore dictionaries, thesauruses, idioms, metaphors, and language origins to create super sticky names. A large list is developed and presented to the team, each name paired with a rationale.
3. Reflect over the long list and identify favorites.
Each team member will then privately rate the names on a scale from 1-5, as well as choosing their top favorites. Keeping in mind that this is an emotional process, allowing a full 24 hours to pass helps to analyze this list with a fresh mind. Sometimes the names that you disliked initially will feel differently to you the next day.
Don’t expect to reach full consensus across the organization. Sometimes the most impactful names are met with resistance, especially initially. Be prepared to take a risk.
4. Create a shortlist and conduct a vetting process.
The team’s ratings will reveal 3-5 standouts. Those top names go through a vetting process and, if needed, get passed off to a lawyer to ensure there are no trademark restrictions. Sometimes these top names do not pass the vetting process and will be disqualified. Eliminations could be due to legal reasons or because a deep dive into Google revealed the name already exists. It can certainly feel disappointing to eliminate a favorite name, especially for reasons outside your control. Nevertheless, this process is crafted to build out a treasure trove of ideas that will ultimately lead to the final winner (we promise).
5. Secure your brand name.
Once approved, the team can decide a name that they feel excited about and begin a launch strategy for the brand name rollout. At this time, the organization announces the brand to their audience, introducing a name and identity designed thoughtfully with their community in mind.
If this is a new name for an existing organization or initiative, engage your audience and let them know change is coming. Help them to understand strategically why it’s best for the name to change, and what it signals for the next chapter of your organization. Prime them to support you and be enthusiastic about the name when it launches. Then reveal it with a story or campaign to celebrate the moment.
What does building a brand name look like in practice?
Uncharted, previously known as Unreasonable Institute, was a client of Briteweb for a rename and rebrand. Chelsea was the naming strategist on this project and recalls their rebrand journey beginning with hesitancy and closing as a triumph.
In a Q&A with Uncharted, they describe, “Unreasonable was a strong brand, so there was fear that we might not get back something as good, or something that we can identify with as much. Change is uncomfortable for anybody.”
With guidance from Chelsea and the team, they dove into the renaming process with gumption. Their hesitancy was replaced by excitement when experiencing the naming workshop. They had a strong grasp on the vision and identity of their new brand. When Uncharted’s favorite name choice didn’t pass Legal due to a trademark issue, it was a roadblock that left them understandably disappointed. However, the work that was put into the discovery phase of the process was still brimming with potential. The theme of navigation was identified, which ultimately led to the ideation of their final name: Uncharted. It’s original, sticky, and a name they felt proud of.
They executed a thoughtful and effective brand rollout, introducing their audience to their new identity. Their rebrand was received with booming support and allowed Uncharted to step confidently into their organization’s newest chapter.
If you’re seeking guidance in your brand naming process, we’re happy to be a support. Connect with us to learn more.Get In Touch