Although Interbrand’s ‘10 most common naming mistakes’ article is featured by Google as a top resource, it is more about getting the reader to think that naming is too difficult to do, so they’ll engage a specialist branding agency to help them to choose a name, than guidance for people looking to make a better choice of name themselves. Here is a list of the 10 Mistakes the Interbrand article mentions
- Treating Naming as an afterthought
- Forgetting that Naming is as strategic as it is creative
- Underestimating the importance of a good creative brief
- Confusing the need for information with the need for differentiation
- Overlooking complex trademark issues
- Ignoring global implications
- Thinking everything needs a name
- Making it emotional
- Underestimating the story you need to tell at launch
- Ending the verbal identity process at a name
Interbrand is a respected marketing consultancy, specializing in brands and branding management, and operates out of 24 offices in 17 countries. Although it won’t be obvious just from reading their list what the article has to say about these mistakes, the references to brand strategy and story, are not likely to be helpful to a small business owner aiming to choose a name, without the help of an agency.
Many Agencies Make These Mistakes
Interestingly, some of the mistakes the article highlights around trademarks and checking the meaning of the name in other languages are mistakes many branding agencies make when choosing a name for their clients. They invariably leave the legal dimension till the end of the project which is a clear sign that they don’t understand the entwined nature of names and legal availability.
Otherwise, they would do trademark checks on names before handing over to their clients. But they don’t do the most basic trademark checks. I can understand that they’d leave more extensive searching for the client to arrange themselves. However, most agencies hand over a name they’ve only checked out on Google, domain and company registers. It happens all too often that as soon we run checks on the trademark registers the names put forward by the agency for their clients are immediately knocked out. So instead of getting 5 or 6 names, they end up with just one name that merits a full search.
Interbrand is a worldwide agency. It was founded by John Murphy, who pioneered the art of brand valuation, that is, measuring the accounting value of a company’s brands as assets. He stimulated the development of branding as an aspect of business, and the agency has traditionally combined branding with intellectual property because they clearly understood the connection between the two. This understanding is sadly lacking in the small business sector in most parts of the world today.
It’s to address the gap that exists between brand creation and brand protection that I’ve introduced a new product, Brand Tuned, to support the small business end of the market to access IP expertise during the branding process.
For most business owners that don’t want to hand over a naming brief to an agency, and want instead to tackle the naming project themselves, it may be useful to attend my upcoming Name it Right! webinar.
Three Most Common Naming Mistakes
The 3 most common mistakes people make when it comes to choosing names which are noteworthy to mention here are:
Firstly, not giving yourself enough time to choose a name. The Interbrand article refers to this as treating naming as an afterthought. However, the problem isn’t so much that people treat naming as an afterthought as that they often need a name in a hurry because until they have a name, they can’t get on and implement their plans and set up that new business, or embark on that project. So, my advice is to either give yourself more time and focus on other aspects of your projects that don’t rely on you having the name sorted. If it’s possible in light of your business model, go with a temporary descriptive name while you test your concept. Then if it succeeds, rebrand. That might give you a year or more in which to come up with a good name to suit your business.
The second major mistake people make which the Interbrand article doesn’t highlight at all, is that they fall in love with a name and persist with it, despite the name not being available because someone else has already trademarked it. I’ve come across business owners who persisted with a name despite being made aware that someone else had already registered the same name as a trademark. In such cases I suggest the business owner sets aside a sizeable budget for future litigation, or for trying to buy the brand from the current owners, or for rebranding if all else fails.
And last but by no means least, the third most common mistake is to choose a name that’s too descriptive to function as a trademark. Descriptive names describe the goods or services too blatantly to be capable of being trademarked. Clubcard is an example of a name that was developed for Tesco’s loyalty card program by a big agency which they have not been able to trademark.
Descriptive names include British Telecom, Business Networking International, World Wide Fund, Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank etc. These businesses with descriptive names had to rebrand to find a name that was ownable. In such cases, businesses either have to choose a totally new name, or, sometimes they might be able to use initials. BNI, BT, and HSBC are examples of this. However, initials are not a good choice of name, except perhaps for the large well known household name brands like the ones in this example. Also, problems arise when the initials you want to use are owned by another brand. This happened when both the World Wide Fund and the World Wrestling Federation wanted to rebrand to WWF. It resulted in decades of disputes between the two entities until eventually, the World Wrestling Federation rebranded to WWE.
Descriptive names cause huge problems when it comes to naming and is one strong reason agencies should involve a trademark lawyer on their team if they’re picking new names.
The reason problems arise around such names is that most people believe that the more a name says on the tin what it is that their product or service does, the better. So they try to choose descriptive names.
However, if you choose utterly banal non-distinct names that are not ownable you miss the single biggest opportunity that is available to a brand to stand out.
Descriptive names are weak because they are not ownable. That means they are generic terms that everyone else who offers similar products and services need to use.
Such names don’t challenge, excite, or mentally stimulate us. They require little imagination. And they reveal nothing about the personality of your brand (other than exposing your lack of creativity). When you draw from a limited pool of descriptive words, you sound like everyone else, making your name blend in with competitors’ names.
Examples Hotels.com and Booking.com
Hotels.com spent a fortune trying in vain to register hotels.com as a word trademark. Recently, the US Supreme court has muddied the waters by allowing Booking.com to trademark its name. The court overruled the US Patent and Trademark Office’s finding that the .com name was too generic to merit protection.
The general rule in trademark law is that “generic” words that refer to an entire category of goods or services, like “car” or “computer,” cannot be protected under the law because that would give an unfair advantage to the trademark holder.
So, even though Booking.com has secured trademark protection, it is still much more difficult to enforce your trademark rights when you have a name that is borderline descriptive. They may not be able to trademark the name in other jurisdictions, so, your brand protection costs are going to be a lot higher than if your name was totally distinctive like, for example, Google.
If you’re choosing a name then sign up to my webinar where I’ll be explaining how to go about picking a name for your brand.