Names don’t matter. How you get there (and how you use them) does
Tom Dabner, creative director and partner at SomeOne, talks about the challenge of naming brands, and his experience of renaming a $1bn international health-tech company following a merger.
Naming is a tricky business. Whether for a company, a product, a discovery, a newborn. Anything you have to come up with a name for will come under scrutiny and criticism the moment that name is announced.
Opinions will form, many not based on anything more than some remote memory trigger. Yet, that’s what will stick with them. What’s more, that company, product, person, will very likely be connected to that name for a very long time. Sometimes forever.
So you’d better get it right, right? But, what makes a name ‘right’? What makes a name ‘good’? And how hard is it, really? Many of you reading this have probably named your children. And that worked out alright. Your friends and family loved it when they were introduced to Sonny–Rae shortly after they were born. And let’s be honest, nobody is going to tell you your child’s name is less than perfect.
Your brand, however, is a different story. Naming a brand isn’t necessarily more complex than naming a person, but in many ways there is much more riding on it... There are more people who will have an opinion, and more people who will feel like they should have been consulted. The challenge becomes not only about finding the ‘right’ name, but involving the right people in its creation.
How you get to the name is often more important than what you end up with. As well as who comes along for the ride. Because at the end of the day, it’s the tens, hundreds or thousands of people that have to live with it that matter the most.
The name itself isn’t really important. What is, however, is its ability to stick. To last long enough to sink in, become familiar and eventually become synonymous with the organisation it stands for.
We recently rebranded and renamed a $1bn international health-tech merger. A challenge that involved consolidating multiple existing brands into one. Brands that all had their own legacy, story and meaning for different people who already interacted with them.
Magentus, as they are now called (cue cries of ‘what the hell does that mean?!’), develop digital products that integrate into the workflow of tens of thousands of medical practitioners worldwide. Including managing 60% of all medical data for the NHS. On top of that the company has thousands of employees. So it’s fair to say that any change would affect lots of people. Most knew a change was coming, but few, if any, knew what that change would look or sound like. And this can be both exciting and a point of contention for people on the inside.
Let’s get back to the name. No, it didn’t come from some magnificent stroke of genius, no it’s not inspired by a lesser known Greek God, and no it wasn’t picked to coincide with Pantone’s 2023 colour of the year. That was a fluke.
What it is though, is a result of carefully managed mass stakeholder (employee and collaborator) contribution. Of course, not everyone can come up with a great name, but to badly paraphrase Ratatouille, ‘A great name can come from anywhere’.
We opened it up to various groups across the business(es). People from a range of departments, skillsets, backgrounds. So we could understand their perspectives. With conscious guidance. And that is the key here. We defined the brief (kept it simple), provided various thought starters (loose, but guided), and then we listened. We did this over several rounds, each time narrowing the search. The majority get knocked back for a host of reasons (registration potential, similarity to competitors, etc.), but a handful are justthe right amount of ‘right’.
As experts in brand, it’s our job to help guide teams involved toward the most ‘right’ solution, not necessarily to always have the right answer ourselves. In the end, what sealed Magentus’ fate as the new name were a string of factors that, without input from people who live the brand, would not have existed:
- The vast majority LIKE it. They can remember it, they can talk about it.
- It’s a portmanteau of known industry tropes*. It makes sense to clinicians.
- It’s close enough to an existing word, while also being new.
And because of these things, the resulting outcome is that, internally, employees are championing the change. Which has a knock-on effect externally. Because brand success builds from the inside out.
So, next time you’re tasked with naming (or renaming) something. Don’t start with ideas, start by asking who it matters to most.
*Magentus is a portmanteau of ‘magenta’ (a distinctive colour closely associated with medical imaging), ‘genomics’ and ‘us’ (humanity).