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10 Commandments for Getting the Most Out of Your Naming Firm

OK, you've bitten the bullet and decided to hire a naming firm for your next branding initiative. You've researched and vetted several firms, and you've picked one that feels like a good match.

It's not an insignificant investment, and there's a lot riding on it. So what do you do now?

Some companies think that once they've hired a brand naming specialist, their job is essentially over: They can sit back and their naming company will go off into its mysterious black box, do all the work, and (voila!) they'll deliver that one perfect name. (In truth, some naming firms foster such illusions.) Others think their naming agency will need constant oversight and direction in order to deliver on its mission.

The reality is somewhere in between. It's important that you find a naming firm you trust, then let it do its job without second-guessing or trying to manage the creative process. Otherwise, you'll be thwarting the very capabilities that attracted you to it in the first place.

On the other hand, there are things that you as client can do that will vastly improve your naming agency's chances of getting it right. Here are 10 commandments to follow.

1. Honor thy positioning, and keep it holy. A clear vision of your brand's positioning is the driver for all branding efforts, including naming. If you don't have a positioning statement, develop one before starting the creative process (with the help of your naming company, if they're up to it). And take your time. Nothing is more important.

2. Thou shalt gather intelligence. Your naming consultant will want to know everything about your brand: its mission, customers, competitors, capabilities, benefits, projected expansion into other areas, and so on. You can enrich and streamline the discovery process by gathering pertinent information ahead of time, including a list of all of your key competitors' brand names and the results of any naming efforts you've conducted internally (including comments on what worked and what didn't).

3. Thou shalt know thy internal naming team (although not in the Biblical sense). Identifying your naming team members may not be as simple as it sounds. For instance, you may think your naming team is your marketing team, or the group of people you picked to work on this project. In truth, your naming team is everyone who needs to sign off on the new name (but ideally no one else; see Commandment 8). Even the CEO is part of your naming team if you're going to need his or her approval. Which leads us to the Fourth Commandment...

4. Honor thy team members, and keep them in the loop. It's a common story: A name is selected after months of strategizing, name creation, and legal vetting (and perhaps focus-group testing); it's presented to the higher-up who has final approval... and it's nixed on the spot because that person has different ideas; now, name creation is back to square one.

The moral of this story: don't let any naming decisions be made by proxy. Make sure your entire naming team is in the loop every step of the way and, ideally, at all meetings with your naming consultant.

5. Thou shalt keep thy mind open. It's easy to poke holes in just about any name. Many have negative associations (think Banana Republic or Snickers). Some aren't intuitive to say or spell (see Flickr). Others are long (Travelocity anyone?). If you focus on the negative, you may fail to recognize the gem of a name that would be perfect for you—even though it's not "perfect."

You might also straitjacket your naming firm during name creation so completely with your dislikes and prohibitions that you'll miss out on bolder, richer naming territory they might otherwise explore. Which leads us to...

6. Thou shalt look for what's working and not lose sight of the promised land. Remember what your ultimate brand aim is, and focus on what's working for you in name candidates that are presented. You'll get better work out of your naming firm if you can explain what's resonating—rather than just what to avoid.

7. Thou shalt have no other gods before thy customers. It doesn't matter who else likes or dislikes your new name if it doesn't resonate with your customers. So don't focus on idiosyncratic reactions to names from your internal team. It's not going to matter to your customers if the proposed name reminds you of your ex. What matters is what it reminds them of. That leads us to the next commandment...

8. Thou shalt not let spouses, admins, friends, neighbors, or anyone else who isn't on thy naming team into the decision-making process. Selecting a good brand name is hard enough when there are lots of internal stakeholders. It's practically impossible (and guaranteed crazy-making) if you solicit the opinions of others who aren't on your team. That's not to say focus groups can't be useful sometimes. But that's a structured exercise designed by experts to elicit very specific types of feedback from your customer base. It's not a group free-for-all.

9. Thou shalt sleep on it. The naming company loves the name, but you don't. Sometimes the most disruptive and effective brand names are going to seem pretty scary or weird at first. Don't reject them out of hand. Keep an open mind. Good names have a way of growing on you.

10. Thou shalt remember the Golden Rule (of naming). If there's one naming principle that's written in stone, it's that powerful brand names intrigue people and spark their imagination and emotions. They draw people into your world and lend themselves to a brand story that can build over time. Keep that in mind during name selection, and you won't be tempted to choose a brand name like Bargainland over one like Amazon. You don't want a flash in the pan: You want a name for the ages.

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So there you have it. Follow those 10 commandments, and if you've chosen your naming company well, you should wind up with lots of interesting names that meet your brief. May the best name win!