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January, 2019 Craig Motlong

Brand naming: the best and also-rans of 2018

A good name can help a brand differentiate, elevate, and communicate. A bad name is brand baggage you don’t need. Every year brings a host of interesting, creative, and well-concepted brand names for both companies and products. And every year also brings a bunch of big swings that don’t quite connect, leaving names that are too clever, obscure, or trying too hard.

Names have power, which makes naming an art and a science. A name you fall in love with may not be ownable, or work internationally, or may be too close to someone else’s IP. There’s a story behind every great name, and often stories behind the not-so-great. When you name something like a media company, for example, you might end up with a Medium, but you just as easily might end up with a Tronc or an Oath.

So here are some names that caught our eye this past year, for better and worse. These next three brand names stole the show.

MuSEAum (formerly the Australian National Maritime Museum) – Naming cultural institutions is more challenging than it looks. Some achieve international fame, such as the Met, the Louvre, and the British Museum, while others… well, they describe the kind of culture one can expect (museum, theatre) and where on Earth it might be located (Seattle, Bogota, Sri Lanka). If you try to get too fancy, you risk confusing or alienating the people you want to visit. Here in Seattle, we’ve had the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame become the EMP Museum and then change its name to the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP for short) as it’s struggled to articulate its purpose.

By those criteria, the Australian National Maritime Museum is a perfectly functional name. But by changing its name to MuSEAum, it breaks out of the expected and feels fresh and playful. Part aquarium, part history museum, part interactive exhibit, the new name encourages people to leave their expectations at the door and play.

Shippo – A cloud-based shipping software company could have chosen any number of functional, descriptive names. But Shippo seems intent on disrupting the world of shipping the same way Slack shook up the world of corporate IM. A powerful, playful experience worlds away from the legacy interfaces of the USPS, FedEx and UPS, Shippo creates an impression of simplicity starting with its name. Searching for shipping rates, tracking, and printing labels for packages are prosaic activities, but Shippo implies a personality that helps make those activities more enjoyable.

Conichi – Years ago, a company specializing in reducing the friction of business travel would have created a name designed to fit into a corporate hierarchy; something like Travel Ease or Sky Concierge. Today, the same idea needs to appeal to like-minded entrepreneurs as well as company travel managers and people who like to book their own travel, which is most of us. Conichi represents a fragment of one of the most internationally recognizable phrases in Japanese: konichiwa. Unpacking the name further, it communicates Japanese efficiency, international travel, and friendly experiences. That’s a lot of bang for three syllables.

We did mention naming is hard. The following names fall into a different category…

MoveWith is a fitness and wellness coaching service, but at first blush it sounds like an unfinished thought, or two-thirds of a tagline.

Cloud services are notoriously amorphous and difficult to describe and articulate, but Pulumi sounds like it would be more at home as a quick-service restaurant.

Weight Watchers may have had some legacy baggage, and we completely understand wanting to broaden their approach to wellness, but changing their official name to WW feels too reductive.

Of course, with enough awareness and penetration, every name has a chance. We’re taking a wait-and-see approach to Dunkin’, even if we mentally add the Donuts every time.

At Northbound, we understand how critical naming can be. We’re brainstorming, researching, crafting, judging and vetting new ones every day. We’ve sifted through all of the challenges that face a modern name, and know how to guide you through the minefields to arrive at a name that helps your customers find you, and understand your brand purpose.

If you have questions, need advice, or just want to talk names over coffee, feel free to drop us a line.

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