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Does the name of a brand affect it's success?

"Remembering manufacturers make products and consumers buy brands."

We’ve all come across new brand names, and ask the question… What were they thinking!

Here are examples of how some of the biggest brand names were chosen.

Consider the fact that it's the brand name that is talked about or asked for by customers, it is important to devote attention to this part of the brand creation process: choosing a name for the brand.

What is the best kind of name to choose, to build a strong brand...? Perhaps there’s a formula that we can use to guarantee brand success...? Look at some well known strong brands maybe they can help answer that question:

  1. Coca-Cola referred to the product’s ingredients when it was first created
  2. Nike is named after the Greek goddess of victory
  3. Virgin described the founder’s experience at running a record store, ‘Complete virgins at running and managing a business’
  4. IBM (International Business Machines) has disappeared
  5. Marlboro is named after the street where their first factory was opened, Great Marlborough Street, London, UK
  6. Nikon comes from the original name Nippon Kogaku, meaning ‘Japanese Optical.’
  7. Mercedes was named after Daimler’s daughter
  8. McDonald’s named after Dick and Mac McDonald the two founders
  9. Pepsi named after the digestive enzyme pepsin, which breaks down food protein.
  10. Reebok named after the African antelope ‘rhebok’
  11. Samsung means ‘three stars’ in Korean.
  12. Audi is the Latin translation of the founder’s name
  13. Sony’s name comes from the Latin ’sonus’ which means sound
  14. Kodak, the founder liked the letter ‘K’ because it was strong and sharp, so wanted his company to begin and end with a K
  15. Xerox comes from the word xerography, derived from the Greek words ‘xeros’ (dry) and ‘graphos’ (writing)
  16. Adobe named after Adobe Creek running in front of the co-founder’s house.
  17. Apple was named after one of Steve Jobs’ fruitarian diets; he thought the name sounded ‘fun, spirited and not intimidating’
  18. IKEA is made out of the first letters of the founders name and the first letters of where he grew up
  19. Lancôme was named after Le Chateau de Lancôme, where so many wild roses impressed the founder
  20. ‘Microsoft’ because the company is dedicated to microcomputer software.

The conclusion of this quick overview is strangely reassuring: to make a strong brand, any type of name can be used (or almost any) providing there is a consistent effort over time to give meaning to this name, i.e. to give the brand a meaning of it’s own.

Does this mean that brand names need little consideration other than the usual deliberation that the name can be registered?

Far from it, by giving attention to some basic selection rules and putting effort into trying to choose the right name, will save you time, possibly several years in taking a baby brand to a big brand. The consideration of time is key: the brand has to forge it’s own territory. From the beginning you must examine all of its potential changes with a name chosen to reflect the brand’s future and destiny, not the here and now it was born into. Many companies unfortunately function the other way around.

Brand / Product name?
  • Choosing a name depends on the demographics and customer base that is assigned to the brand.
  • Take into account international markets, meanings and registered trade marks.
  • Potential opportunities across further product lines and categories; don’t restrict your brand.
  • Customers will ask for your brand by name, so connect with your demographics and make the name work for them.


The danger of descriptive names.

The majority of manufacturers want their brand to describe what the product does. (A biscuit called Biscuito; a direct banking service called Bank Direct) This shows the lack of understanding of what brands are all about and what their function really is.

Remember: Brands don’t describe products – brands distinguish products.

The features and benefits of a product will be presented to the target audience through advertisements, sales people, direct marketing, articles in specialised periodicals and the comparative studies done by consumer associations.

Consider: Choosing a descriptive name also amounts to missing out on all the potential for global communication.

It would be a waste to have the brand name merely repeat the same message that all these communication channels will convey in a much more efficient and complete way.

Note: The name, on the contrary must serve to add meaning, to convey the spirit of the brand.

Understanding that products wont live forever, they have a limited life cycle, and the true meaning of the brand should not be confused by its initial product characteristics.

The founders of Apple were aware that the market would know within a few weeks that Apple made micro computers, not needing to state the obvious with names like Micro Computers International or Computer Innovation Systems.

In calling themselves Apple, they would convey the brand’s lasting uniqueness; this uniqueness has to do more with the other facets of brand identity than with its physique (i.e. its culture, its relationships, its personality etc.)

"The brand is not the product. The brand name therefore shouldn’t describe what the product does but reveal or suggest a difference."

For more information and branding advice, contact article author and branding expert, Susan Jones, director of Living Lines branding agency on +61 410 590 737.

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