How strong brand names tell stories

Emily Penny

Becolourful – Don't be noisy, be interesting

Almost every project I’ve worked on recently has involved naming as an issue. Usually a pretty big one. Consulting on brand names has become a large part of what I do.

Names have always been a significant part of branding. Historically, products were identified by the name of the business owner: Cadbury’s. Sainsbury’s. John Lewis. The name was a personal guarantee. Then came the logos. And every business needed a logo. In an era of printed brochures, adverts and websites, there was space for a logo to sit proud.

Logos became fetishized through the 1990s and the 2000s – and to a large extent still are. The age of the logo involved unnecessary sub-branding within corporations, and undecipherable monograms and squiggles for every small business. A pop star even became a symbol.

For packaged goods and businesses with physical touchpoints, logos are indeed important. But in an age of mobile devices and social media, when shopping is done online, not from the shelf, and there are only 73 x 73 pixels to display an avatar in a timeline, there’s much less point to them.

Online businesses are investing in interaction and content design. Re-brands commonly involve the simplification of brand marks. Think of Airbnb, Google, In the interests of user experience, simple flat word marks with key-line symbols are prevalent for tech brands.

What’s become much more interesting is naming. Names are the new logos. The primary element of brand expression.

Branding by Brand Opus

Words are enjoying a renaissance in branding. Justifiably. Consumers want to know what brands stand for. The value of content is high, not just on digital media, but on pack too. Graphically, a brand has to be well presented simply to take part, but to compete today, names and messages are where the creativity needs to go. These can win battles before audiences even see the visual design.

Good names are the start of a story. If, as a business owner, you have to stand up and pitch your product or service to an investor – or have fractions of a second for the label to register with a consumer – you need a name that will draw the audience in and flow seamlessly into your story. A good name should work hard to support you.

Ugly Drinks branding by Identica. Pukka branding by The Space Creative.

The trick is in knowing what the brand ‘stands for’, not simply what it ‘is’. This will lead to names that are much more interesting and transcend clichéd category descriptors. In beverages, Vivid with branding by Brand Opus, Pukka with branding by The Space Creative, and Froosh with branding by Pearlfisher are great examples. All are satisfying visually and vocally, and hugely evocative too. Ugly Drinks with branding by Identica is consciously provocative.

Froosh branding by Pearlfisher

A strong name should be central to the creative concept. Branding is most powerful when words and visual elements work together. The name and mark for the charity Mind is an elegant marriage of word and image, with a clear message too. Designed by Glazer in 2003, it was surely ahead of its time. Branding for David Hieatt’s brainchild, Do lectures, is similarly focused in concept, and bursting with purpose.

Names can be surprising and delightful with it. Look Mum No Hands, the name of a retail space dedicated to the needs of cyclists in London, stands out and sets the tone. With naming and branding by OPX, its memorable typographic fascia on Old Street has even become a landmark for black taxicab drivers doing The Knowledge.


Look Mum No Hands branding by OPX

In this age of the supremacy of words, creating or employing a distinctive typeface is a smart branding move. Media and campaign brands know that type is a way to stand out while maintaining a focus on content. A consistent visual device that’s endlessly flexible. Think of Channel 4’s typeface, designed by Neville Brody, and Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign (FCB Inferno).

I’m also a fan of symbols and metaphors, such as animals or objects: accessible ideas that bring together the verbal and visual. Twitter is an example. Similarly, the name of holiday comparison brand is playfully relevant and suitably upbeat. The recent brand refresh by L&CO affords the brand a handy shorthand icon.


Icelolly rebrand by L&CO

It is important for brand names to be easy to say, easy to understand and firmly rooted in the purpose of the business. For start-up businesses, for charities – for any business I can think of, in fact – a strong name will directly determine levels of audience engagement.

Brand owners must use the name as an opportunity to start a conversation and stand out. No amount of beautiful graphic design can compensate for a bad one.

Tips for brand naming

1. Establish a brand platform. Consider your brand positioning versus the competition, your proposition for customers, and the attitude and tone of your brand.

2. Know what you’re selling – now and in the future – and where. How might the brand grow and stretch? Avoid names that might be restrictive or inappropriate.

3. Work collectively to generate lots of potential names focusing not only on the product but on your core purpose and benefits to consumers. Try different approaches: descriptive, evocative, symbolic, wordplay, even a phrase. Be prepared for it to take time.

4. Don’t be too quick to judge. Consider what you want the name to achieve. Create a scorecard to assess your long list of name options. Think about the meaning, look and sound of the name. Say the name out loud. Say the name in the context of a conversation. Does it still work?

5. Check your shortlist of names for trademark availability at and that you can register a website domain name you are happy with too.

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