An Ownable Name
Have you entered a room, called out “Jason” and had more than one person turned towards you? Have you ever wished your name is one of its kind and rightfully identifies you to others? Relating this to the business context, brands are also developing brand names that are not only catchy and memorable, but also ownable. Fivrr, Tumblr, Flickr, Uber, Lyft, UGG and GoJek are brand names that have either dropped a vowel, replaced an alphabet or are simply a mix-mesh of made-up words. Doing so not only increases the uniqueness of the brand, but also makes it easier to register as trademark.
When developing a new brand name, many would evaluate the creations based on criteria like offerings relevance, brand attribute relevance, trademark availability, memorability, linguistic suitability etc. However, taking into consideration search-ability of the brand is something that most people have overlooked when developing a new brand name. Around 5.4 billion Google searches are made every day. Users search for brands, whether it is to identify nearest retail location, or to find out more about a new brand they have heard from one source or another. While on one hand, we will want the brand name to be unique enough to be ownable, we will also want a brand name that is easy to search.
The Search for Brands
1. Word Search
Online search has become the default and quickest way to get answers, to the extent that “Google” has become a verb. Google has indexed hundreds of billions of web pages, and with average search session lasting just under a minute, we need to improve on search engine visibility of the brand. In situation where the brand name has already been fixed, we can only leverage on SEO to increase search-ability of the brand. If you were starting on a clean slate, it never harms to consider how easy it would be for consumers to conduct online searches for your new brand.
With consumers seeking authentic brands, we see a trend towards brand names using simple words or expressions. However, using too common an expression would reduce its memorability and potentially give rise to confusion. Take “The Good Chocolate” and “The Good Chocolate Company” for example. Both brand names are descriptive expressions of its category. A search on Google for “Good Chocolate” returns more than 600 million results. Tweaking the spelling of these common words would increase its uniqueness, for example, “Chocz”. However, one should also note that consumers could misspell these unique names, ending up with non-relevant results. One good test would be getting Siri to spell the brand name. If a trained robot can get the spelling wrong, there is a high chance of a human misspelling it as well.
Another trend we see in brand names is the use of person’s name, especially in the category of beauty cosmetic with celebrity-launched brands. When a common first or last name is being used as the brand name, the category is commonly added as a descriptor to increase the ease of search and differentiation from its other offerings, for example, Kardashian Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics.
2. Audio Search
“Hey, Google, where is the nearest Samsung customer service centre?”
With Siri, Google Alexa and all other smart home living devices, searches are increasingly being performed by these AI Assistants via voice commands. As of January 2018, there were about 1 billion voice searches per month and in 2021, approximately 50% of people are researching products via voice search. With voice searches, the very first step is to get the pronunciation of your brand name right. Imagine the frustration of users when these AI Assistants reply with more questions in hope of narrowing the search, or users simply giving up on searching for your brands when they cannot get the right pronunciation.
- Sound-Alike Misspelling
With 12.4 million trademark applications, it is becoming more difficult to have a brand name that is short, memorable, cool-sounding, unique and ownable. One common trick is the replacement of alphabet while still keeping the pronunciation of the word in the likes of brands like Lyft, Wii, Krispy Kreme and Froot Loops. However, having unusual spelling of common words runs the risk of users not being able to remember the actual spelling of your brand.
- Missing Vowels
The human brain is a code-breaking machine. Wihle yuor barin can raed jubmled wrdos, it deos not maen taht we souhld gvie ohtres pulzezr to slvoe. Similar to jumbled alphabets, overdoing the dropping of too many vowels would make it hard to read. Flickr and Tumblr, both dropped an ‘e’ out of a 7-alphabet word, are still able to retain much of integrity of the original word. However, with brand name like “Mdrn”, dropping 2 vowels out of the 6-alphabet word makes it much harder for instant recognition.
- Initialism or Acronym?
Brands using initials are another common type of brand names that might cause confusion over the pronunciation of the brand name, especially when it is a new brand in the market. Do you pronounce it as initials, in the case of A.C.E, or do you pronounce it like an acronym like ACE? Take the famous Australian fur boots brand, UGG, as example. Did you pronounce UGG as “U-G-G” or “ugh” when you first come to know of this brand? With a new brand, what you want to do is to make it easy for others to remember and build up associations in the intended direction; it is never a good idea to cause confusion over what it is being called.
- Linguistic Sensitivities
Not all languages are created "equal". With English being the “world language” with the largest number of speakers, alphabetical brand names are in better positions compared to those in other native languages like Mandarin and Thai language. While it could be easily understood by many, there might still exist small issues of pronunciation between different nationalities. For example, the French have a habit of rolling their “R” while Japanese have difficulties with their “R”. This makes brand names like “Always Rare” and “RightRice” difficult to pronounce for them. Businesses should plan ahead with foresight on future market expansion plan in mind and it helps to understand pronunciation difficulties of these countries to avoid having a brand name that consumers want to avoid pronouncing.
3. Social Media Search
In today’s digital era, besides considering domain name availability, social media profile availability is equally, if not more important. With social media, the brand’s identity extends beyond brand name to include hashtags. Unless your brand is already a renown aspirational brand that everyone wants to be associated with, brands need to have hashtags that are not a pure mention of the brand name. Leveraging on major campaign or brand values is a good way to create branded hashtags that netizens would use. CocaCola’s #ShareACoke, Lego’s #LEGOIdeas and Spotify’s #InstaSpotify are hashtags that incorporated the brand names into “engagement hashtags” that netizens will want to use in their posts.
Hashtags do not necessarily have to mention your brand name. Having #brandname is only good for people who already knew the brand. With increasing search-ability, a brand’s hashtags repertoire should include some generic terms that others will be using, but yet at the same time represent what the brand stands for, like Always’ #LikeAGirl. Take Singapore Tourism Board as an example, the two key official hashtags are #VisitSingapore and #PassionMadePossible instead of using “Singapore Tourism Board”. With a generic term made official, like #VisitSingapore, users are encouraged to share photos of their Singapore experiences.
Short and easy to remember rule still holds true for hashtags. Eye-catching emoji can also be used to keep the hashtag short, like #(emoji of pizza).
Hide & Seek No More - Ways to Improve Search-ability through Brand Names
While it is known that a brand’s exposure can be improved by a whole gamut of brand activation and digital strategies upon roll-out, why not start with the brand name itself?
1. Make Your Official Pronunciation Known
VRBO started out as “Vacation Rentals by Owner” in 1995. With the research conducted by Labbrand, it revealed that the brand has already been pronounced as “ver-boh” by some of its users and it is also more catchy and memorable. Aligned with its business strategy to expand beyond owners to travelers, Vrbo underwent re-branding in March 2019, revealing a new visual identity, together with the official pronunciation of “ver-boh”. New series of advertisement and activation highlighted the way to pronounce Vrbo.
2. Overcome Language Barrier
When a key market of expansion does not have English as its native or official language, it is important to have a transliteration of the brand name in its native language. This makes it easier for consumers to remember the brand, and it also facilitates search in the language that they are comfortable with.
Labbrand developed 焙朗[bèi lǎng] as the Mandarin brand name for biscuit brand belVita to bring forth the brand attributes in a quick, succinct manner. While carrying a phonetic resemblance to its original Latin name, it also corresponds well to the unique AGR4 technique of slow baking and emotions of a cheerful start of the day.
3. Complement with Branded Hashtag
Twitter partners with brands to create custom emojis, called branded hashtags or “hashflags”, that pop up whenever someone uses a particular hashtag. With the custom emoji, it increases the brand’s Twitter presence by 420%.
Labbrand worked with Maxi-Cosi on its digital strategy including communication guidelines across the various social media platforms. Other than communicating Maxi-Cosi’s scientific expertise and credibility, Maxi-Cosi is also about telling the stories of happy babies and parenting. With that, hashtags like #MaxiCosiMoments, #MaxiCosiTimes, #ParentLife, #NewParent and #TinyLove are some of the accompanying hashtags as the brand shares these parenting stories.
If you have been playing hide-&-seek with your consumers unknowingly, maybe it is time for a switch to new game of engagement. Whether it is a new brand creation or an existing brand, it is never too late to engage users and deepen the understanding for your brand.