Do brand names matter?

Here are some of the common beliefs we deal with day in and day out


How should entrepreneurs decide the brand name when they are about to launch a brand? (Psst, please note we said about to launch a brand, not about to launch a product, since they refer to two totally different events.)

Here are some of the common beliefs we deal with day in and day out:

a. ‘I want my brand name to be short.’

By short, we presume you mean monosyllabic: like Coke.

But Alpenliebe, even in an impulse-buying category known as toffees, has four syllables to be pronounced by the unsuspecting buyer, who has no clue what it means (“Love in the Alps”)… and yet, it is a market leader, thank you.

b. ‘I want my brand name to be different from the category names… it should not be generic.’

For many years, the world’s richest person has been a man owning a brand with one of the most generic names you can think of: Microsoft.

And one of the few service brands from India respected worldwide has an even more generic brand name: Jet.

(It’s like naming a toothpaste brand ToothPaste.)

c. ‘My brand name must connote the category, like Dunkin Donuts.’

But Parachute moved from kitchen to bathroom to dressing table with a brand name totally unconnected with the category… so there!

d. ‘An ethnic/family/Indian name will prevent my brand from becoming global.’

The hip redefiner of do-it-yourself furniture (Ikea) is merely the first name (Ingvar) second name (Kamprad) village (Elmtaryd) and district (Agunnaryd) of the founder.

Does it change your opinion about the brand when you realize that Lakmé means goddess Lakshmi in French, and that there was an opera by that name that debuted in 1883 and had 1000 performances by 1931?

e. ‘My brand name must not have negative meanings in any language.’

Would you stop using them if you knew Siri means ‘bottom’ or ‘buttocks’ in Japanese, or Lumia means prostitute in Spanish slang?

f. ‘I want my brand name to be freaky like Nike.’

Nike is the Greek goddess of victory, not a freak.

Confused? Here’s further proof. Advertising agencies and brand consultancies that are meant to help you may be confused about their own brand names. Shocking but true!

The funniest incident relates to a Chlorophyll client-friend (most of our clients end up as our friends since we find the distinction between personal and professional life arbitrary and impossible… but more on that later!) who was being wooed by an international agency.

During the pitch the client-friend said to them, “Since you are here to help me with my brand communication, please explain to me the meaning of the four alphabets in the brand name of your agency… because Chlorophyll made a presentation on their own brand name.”

The sad end to the story: there was utter silence.

Nobody knew what the four letters in their own brand name stood for.

If those who are meant to help you appear confused themselves… what should you do? Here is one simple tip.

By and large, brand names that connote the category are easy to comprehend. Toys R Us. Dunkin Donuts. YouSendIt. Delhivery. Shoppers Stop. Simple. The receiver knows exactly what the brand sells. With one drawback: such a brand name immediately restricts what your brand can do in the future.

Toys R Us cannot sell cars. Dunkin Donuts can’t sell pizzas. Delhivery is unlikely to connect with consumers in Mumbai.

Secondly, you lose an opportunity to communicate your brand philosophy by restricting the entire meaning of your brand to one product.

On the other hand, brand names that reflect a philosophy instead of a product category may not immediately communicate what they sell. Orange. Meru. Mint. Vistara.

In fact, most consumers would get engaged with the brand, in trying to find out what the name stands for. It certainly offers the employees an opportunity to talk about their brand’s philosophy.

Because the brand name refers to a philosophy and not a product, the brand gains immense flexibility in entering new categories.

The most famous brand on earth got its name from the fruit that fell on Newton’s head. Yes, Apple’s first logo in 1976 had Newton sitting under a tree. With that brand name, it can point to its philosophy of thinking differently and sell anything from computers to cars.

Samsonite (from Samson, who had supernatural strength) can extend from luggage to everything outdoor, including shoes.

To me, this is the simplest criterion for choosing a brand name: choose a brand name that reflects the brand’s philosophy.

Freaky, hatke, young… these are confusing criteria. Your freaky may not be the same as the consumer’s!

(PS: This is the simplest but certainly not the easiest route. Because you, the brand owner, must first be clear what your brand stands for.)

Right. Hope this helped.

Kiran Khalap co-founded Chlorophyll brand and communications consultancy in 1999 (www.chlorophyll.in). He claims his night job is writing fiction (his two published books are Halfway Up the Mountain and Two Pronouns and a Verb) and his weekend job is rock climbing.

In this monthly column he will share his insights on all things related to brands and branding that brand owners can act upon, rather than create a forum for intellectual entertainment.