Shakespeare wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.” Argh, Billy. These days, there’s money in a name, that’s what. Businesses are bought and sold on the basis of brand equity.
Multinational companies like Kraft, Nike, Black & Decker, Apple and an endless list of others spend a fortune on branding. How can you, the small to medium-size business owner, compete?
What Exactly IS a Brand Anyway?
The short answer is that it’s your customer’s perception of who you are as a company. Properly executed, your brand consistently communicates your core values and creates a positive customer experience at every point of interaction, from website to packaging to customer service.
Think of Apple Inc. Right away, the very name conjures images of cutting edge design and easy-to-use high-tech. Clean, uncluttered ads with lots of white space. Perhaps even the spectre of founder, Steve Jobs, dressed in black. You might think of Apple as being cool, hip and “anti-PC”. Millions of Mac users are fiercely loyal to Apple. They’re early adopters of technology, first in line when a new product is launched. And why do we still say “Mac” users instead of “Apple” users? Branding!
Brands as Products
Procter & Gamble epitomizes the concept of brand as product: Tide laundry detergent and Crest toothpaste are two examples. The consumer’s perception of these products has been carefully crafted over the years through mass marketing, advertising, sampling and other means. The company has registered these brands’ names as trademarks in order to protect their use and value.
Brands such as Kleenex (a registered trademark belonging to Kimberly-Clark) have become such widely accepted household names that the brand name is now more common than the generic term (i.e., facial tissue). This is not necessarily a good thing, since the brand name “Kleenex” is no longer associated directly and exclusively with Kimberly-Clark in the consumer’s mind.
Big Brands, Big Bucks. Why?
Product brand development is expensive. Agency fees, research, focus groups, creative brainstorming, testing, legal searches all contribute to the cost. It’s not unusual for the process to take a year or longer. Coining a brand name or developing a corporate slogan starts at about $25K and can easily run into millions for the large companies mentioned above.
However, the potential equity and brand recognition more than offset the expense. Still, how can business owners with shallower pockets get the job done?
If you do an online search for keywords such as product naming, corporate taglines, branding, etc., you’ll get pages of results with the major agencies ranking at the top. Farther along, you’ll find some freelancers who specialize in these areas. Rates are all over the place, from as low as $197 to $7500 plus. More importantly, their samples range from “sucks” to “stellar” and the quality doesn’t necessarily depend on the price.
How to Get More for Less
If you can’t spring for the big name namers, hiring a freelancer can be a very cost-effective way to go. Just make sure that you know what you’re paying for. Many clients don’t realize how much has to happen in the background to come up with a single word or phrase result. And not all writers have the kind of experience or innate talent to be effective namers.
Here’s a checklist to help you select the perfect freelancer for your naming project.
Creativity. Look at samples of work done for other clients. Are they memorable? Evocative? Or completely bland and meaningless?
Experience. Does this freelancer even HAVE actual work samples? You’d be surprised how many don’t.
Originality. There are lots of “name generators” available online – software programs that devise slogans based on the words you feed them. It’s pretty easy to tell if a machine, rather than a human, has created a given tagline. There’s a decided lack of flair. No life to the words. Be sure that your freelancer is using his or her own imagination and skill, rather than relying on machine-generated ideas.
Linguistic ability. If your brand name needs to work in more than one language, does this freelancer speak that language or understand your target market’s culture? If not, does he or she have access to qualified linguists to help with this aspect?
Legal availability. Many freelancers submit ideas to their clients without having conducted preliminary trademark searches for availability. While no substitute for appropriate legal counsel, preliminary searches on US and/or Canadian databases can save a lot of time, expense and narrow down the choices. There’s no point developing artwork for a brand name that’s potentially not even available.
Domain name searches are also important if there’s any possibility that the brand name will be used as a URL in future.
Process. Competent, experienced freelancers will be happy to outline their process for you. Although everyone has a different way of working, it should include these fundamentals:
Discovery questionnaire or interview. A good freelance naming specialist will want to know as much about you, your product, competition, market, brand personality and expected outcome as possible. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to point out examples you admire or despise! You may also be asked for product literature, past ads or other collateral material that will help your writer do the best job for you.
Submission of first draft ideas. It often takes a lot of experimentation, push and pull before client and freelancer arrive at a final solution. Be patient. And beware if a freelancer is unreasonably attached to any one suggestion or is defensive and hostile toward constructive criticism.
Rationale. You should expect to receive a written rationale for each name or phrase the freelancer suggests. This will show you if he or she has really understood what your name or slogan is meant to convey. If the discovery phase has been done properly, the rationale will reflect that.
Revisions. Freelancers usually specify a certain number of ideas; perhaps, 3 to 5. This may not seem like many but it’s very common to spend days thinking about a good slogan and then a true gem emerges that’s difficult to improve on because it’s memorable, creative and fits the strategy perfectly.
That said, if you don’t like any of the ideas for some reason, good freelancers will work with you until you’re happy with the final choice. The more specific feedback you can provide, the better the results. Simply stating you don’t like it without saying why will help neither you nor the freelancer.
Timing. Although it does happen, it’s rare that a brand name or slogan emerges fully developed and totally wonderful within minutes of starting to think about it. Most often, a mental incubation period is required. Once the discovery questionnaire and all the research have been completed, the writer usually does some mind-mapping, free association or other creative brainstorming then lets everything sit and percolate in the background of the subconscious.
How long it takes for the idea to surface depends on many variables, but do try to give the writer at least one week to come up with the first round.
Finding a professional wordsmith to coin your brand names and corporate slogans or taglines is a wise investment of time that can pay you back for years to come.
Lou Anne Reddon is a freelance copywriter, editor, French translator and bilingual proofreader who has been inventing her own names for things from an early age. She worked in advertising/marketing for two of Canada’s leading retailers and was credited with setting new creative standards for both.
During her tenure, she devised brand names, developed corporate slogans and liaised with legal counsel on matters related to misleading advertising and intellectual property issues in addition to writing in a high-volume pre-press environment.
Since 1996, she has been freelancing for a number of clients primarily in the manufacturing, construction, retail and food services/grocery categories. Newly acquired skills include writing copy for websites, social media profiles, sales letters, auto-responders, e-books and creating information products. In 2008, she and her brother, Frank Reddon, self-published a hardcover book he wrote on British rock group, Led Zeppelin.