papers & articles

Naming in Brand Strategy


In her famous soliloquy, Juliet of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” asks, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.” However, try as they might, these two star-crossed lovers could never get beyond the familiar meanings attached to their names. The long-established significance behind both last names could not be conquered and exist harmoniously on this earthly world. Arguably the most famous quote in the play, Juliet’s statement turns out to be proven false: names carry with them more firmly fixed connotations than she realizes.

Developing brands can gain a lot from the harsh lesson learned by Romeo and Juliet. When considering different brands, we put a lot of value and connect many different characteristics to the image of a brand that all stem from the name. When we hear the name “Starbucks”, for example, images of fair-trade products are immediately conjured in our mind. Character associations are quickly attached to the name as well, such as trendy and the “anti-indie”. The name alone didn’t create the essence of Starbucks, but when the brand was being created the name needed to be able to hold further implications as the brand grew. The brand’s name unites the different aspects of the product as a whole, creating a complete package. When the name, product, packaging, and history all complement one another you’ve created strong brand essence. After all the work that goes into creating a brand-- production, marketing strategy, advertising, design, brand positioning, and brand strategy-- the naming should be less time-consuming in comparison. However, a company needs to think long-term. The naming of a product needs to characterize the product, as well as have the flexibility to incorporate new sub-brands so that the company can continue to grow. The naming process also needs to convert to packaging well. Multiple factors must be considered in naming if you want to create a brand with essence and sophistication that will continue to grow through the generations.

Naming sounds simple, but common names usually yield unfavorable results. One method is to choose a name that simply describes the product or product’s service. For a product such as a house detergent this strategy could work, but when you’re striving for cultural longevity it will benefit your brand greatly to be a little more creative. A brand that aims for a more in-depth, emotional connection with its client needs to consider different factors when choosing a name. FORMA Cultural Branding takes into account elements such as cultural myths, history, and phonetics when choosing a relevant brand name. A company can utilize different brand strategies depending on a product’s target market and the history (or creation thereof) of the brand. By choosing a name that encompasses the essence of the brand, the company is more likely to come up with an original name.

However, there are specific cases where naming a brand can be particularly complicated. One challenge FORMA Cultural Branding has encountered is naming wines, more specifically Malbecs. At FORMA we’ve worked with bodegas such as Luigi Bosca, Pulenta Estate, Catena Zapata, and The Vines of Mendoza among others. Current circumstances have made the naming process difficult because of the rising popularity of Malbecs from Mendoza. Although the grape originated in Cahors, France, the varietal has established a reputation in Argentina’s Mendoza region. As the New York Times explains: the Malbec has acquired a national Argentine identity that matches other common cultural associations such as Evita Perón, gauchos and Argentine beef.

A more popular product means more consumers, right? However, for FORMA Cultural Branding and our bodega clients, the Malbec poses a challenge: in a sea of consistently affordable and drinkable red wines all within the price range of USD 14-20, how does a brand distinguish itself from the rest? The answer lies within the story created around the product, the package, and ultimately how the client relates to the product; all factors that need to be expressed by the name. FORMA creates solutions for vineyards struggling with the issue of how to create a brand that stands out from the crowd.

For the most part, the client’s first impression is aesthetic features (name and packaging), and what’s actually in the bottle is secondary. Marketing a product made in Latin America, but whose majority target audience will be in the U.S., poses an entirely different set of questions. Should the name be in Spanish or English? If it’s in Spanish, is it pronounceable by a non-Spanish speaker? What does the Spanish word sound like when pronounced by that person? How does a brand transmit the cultural significance behind the name on the bottle? For inspiration FORMA has explored themes such as classic Argentine authors like Jorge Luis Borges, gaucho folklore, nature, and the importance of family and unity. The memorable experience you acquire by being part of a brand and the words used to express these ideas need to be transmitted by the name.

As Carol L. Bernick, the Chairman of Alberto-Culver Company, strongly attests, “If your brand name is distinctive and memorable, it can and will make the difference in winning at the shelf. It can and will make a major contribution to the longevity of the overall concept. It can and will make your advertising dollars work harder, and it will create more attention and provide more value to your consumer.” The name is one of the most important parts of the brand because it is the first impression the consumer encounters, consciously or not. Naming is one of many ways FORMA helps their clients with brand strategy and ensure the success of a company, service and product.

Carol L. Bernick. “Finding the Right Brand Name,” in Kellogg on Branding. Edited by Alice M. Tybout and Tim Calkins (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005) p. 289