Shakespeare was a great playwright, but a lousy brand strategist.

By Eric Knudson

In Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare writes, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

While I don’t want to bicker with The Bard, when it comes to marketing, names definitely do matter. Names are an important way for brands to set themselves apart and can play different roles when it comes to positioning.

Names can be descriptive.
Holds Tight Glue, Easy Off Oven Cleaner, Hamburger Helper – names like this tell you what the product is or does.

Names can set expectations.
If Nordstrom were called “John and Blake’s Discount Shoe Outlet” you wouldn’t figure on a piano player, restaurant or much in the way of customer service.

Names can target a specific audience or customer.
Most 14-year old boys can’t tell you what’s in a Monster Energy Drink, but it definitely sounds like something pretty cool that their moms would hate.

There are some more practical considerations as well. When PARSONS + CO does a naming project for a client, we start with a simple list of Must Haves for any name we’re considering:

Easy to say and spell.
There’s a reason Dr. Azpilicueta calls his practice “Green Lake Dentistry.” If people regularly struggle to say or spell it, it’s not a good name.

A reasonable version of the name is available as a URL.
Come up with a great name for your business or product? Chances are someone else has the same idea. Finding a workable URL can be a real challenge as so many of the obvious names are already taken.

The name reads well as a URL.
Occasionally names sound great, but don’t work when pushed together without any spaces in a URL. Sometimes URLs can be misread; sometimes they just look bad due to weird letter combinations. It’s hard to explain, but you’ll know it when you see it.

No direct industry competition.
If you’re starting a rental car company, don’t call it “Hurtz,” or “Ayvis.” You want a name that stands out from your competition, not one that confuses people about who you are.

No similarities to well-known national or local brands.
Starting a building supply company in Seattle? Resist the temptation to call it “Starbricks.” It might seem clever to pick a name similar to a well-known company, but it’s not a good option in the long run. (And you might get a grumpy letter from their lawyers.)

Keep the lawyers happy.
A few minutes of online sleuthing can usually tell you whether the name you’re considering has any obvious red flags. But once you have a couple of finalists, it’s worth it to hire an attorney to research the name more thoroughly. It’s money well spent – and much cheaper than getting sued by someone with the same or similar name.

The last piece of advice we always give clients who are considering names is that while a good name can be a big benefit to a brand, it’s usually more important to avoid picking a bad name.

And just be glad Shakespeare didn’t call Romeo and Juliet something like “Rocky and Julie.”

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