December, 2021 Jason Hall

Naming In a Strategy First Agency

Many agencies will tell you they are “strategy-first” or that “brand strategy is the foundation for naming, design, etc.,” but what exactly does that mean? What I hear most often is that “the strategy must match the name;” a classic myth.

Northbound truly understands the relationship between strategy and naming. It sounds bold, but as someone who has been naming for almost two decades, you learn the connection and how to apply this relationship in the real world.

How strategy impacts naming overall  identifies the role and priority of a name

“If” you name, and, “how” you name are “strategic decisions” vs. “naming decisions,” and your agency should know this.

In the same way that your brand strategy is an extension of your business strategy, your name, design, messaging etc. is an articulation of your brand strategy (platform, positioning, CVP, etc.) and brand architecture (how your offerings are organized and relate to each other). Strategy helps determine “where and how” you place branding emphasis, and naming, design, etc. comes in to layer on that emphasis.

When you are naming at a true strategy-first agency, the strategists establish the role and priority of the name and determine what exactly we need it to do. Does it need to…

  • Not actually exist (no name required)?
  • Get out of the way and send equity to the parent brand (descriptive name)?
  • Stand out and say look at me (standalone, more suggestive, creative name, etc.)?
  • Blend in with your existing portfolio?

Branding is mostly common sense. You wouldn’t ask a designer to establish your brand architecture through design or the color magenta, and therefore, why would you ask a name to do this?

The same goes for other requests that are seemingly related to naming but are technically strategy. Clients often say…

  • I need to organize all the names in my portfolio (brand architecture)
  • I need a naming system, naming framework, naming architecture, nomenclature system (brand architecture)
  • I need naming guidelines (the written rules surrounding a naming system)
  • I need my employees to name in a more consistent way (naming guidelines)

A strategy first agency recognizes the difference between strategy decisions and naming, and will ask the right questions before beginning naming. During this phase of the work, the strategist leads and the namer supports. When you move into naming, the namer leads and the strategist supports.

Realizing that sometimes you “just want a name,” which is respectable, and Northbound is happy to deliver, however, we wouldn't be doing our job unless we articulated the role and priority of the name first.

How strategy impacts the actual creation of names rigor

Naming is an often-misunderstood profession because anyone can “technically” do it, but there is an established approach to making effective names that work in the marketplace.

The names you create should complement the brand strategy (purpose, voice, etc.) and brand architecture. You have to make fresh ideas, always (unless you need hyper-clarity and simplicity). Yes, anyone can grab a thesaurus but what usually happens is…

  • The expected language and words are not legally available
  • It sends a stale signal about your brand

Remember, you want your agency to be “name makers” and not “synonym finders.” It’s a nice “philosophy” but there's more to talk about in terms of the actual, physical making of the names and how this relates to strategy.

We have a methodology that helps break our minds on purpose. It involves a series of drills, activities, etc. that help us articulate the true essence of an offering (the strategic signal) in a new way. But that’s only half the story.

If you are serious about painting pictures, writing songs, designing buildings, etc. you have come to learn that the divine tap is also a myth and you must engage in intense rigor. This basically means that you must make a LOT of names. Think of it this way. If you spend an hour, you might find one diamond, maybe. If you spend 3 – 5 days, you will find 30 – 40 diamonds. The odds are simple. Make more, get more, get better.

In the same way that a brand strategist has to evaluate thousands of data points down to a few sentences, a namer has to make thousands and thousands of names. Of those thousand, we strategically evaluate them down to a list of hundreds. We then do some preliminary trademark screening to make sure that the names we are showing have a better chance of surviving trademark.

This is the best article I have ever read about “creativity” (a word I greatly despise). It basically reveals that the “secret” to making anything is taking a different approach and intense rigor. You have to put in the time, and you have to make a lot, if you want the good stuff.

At Northbound…

  • We think
  • We make
  • And we do it together

Let’s party.

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