Picking the ‘right’ brand name from a trade mark perspective

Publication May 6, 2016

Why your brand name is important

A brand name or trade mark is often one of the most important and valuable assets that a company owns. Or to be more accurate, a good brand name is often one of the most important and valuable assets that a company owns.

A brand name is how you communicate to customers that your company is providing the specific goods and services on offer. People pick products based on brand names so a well-chosen brand name can create a world of difference between you and your competitors. These brand names are protectable and the strongest form of protection is through registration as a trade mark.

Things to think about

Successful brand names which are also easy to protect as trade marks are:

  • Distinctive: The world is already full of brand names, and the market is becoming increasingly congested on a global basis. You need a name that stands out in a crowd of competitors. Remember that what is distinctive will vary depending on your market place. Take APPLE for example, not so distinctive in the food market, but oh-so distinctive in the consumer electronics industry.
  • Original: By this we mean different from the brand names of other people, including your competitors. Stay away from brand names which are similar to someone else’s brand name. For one thing you may possibly be sued for a trade mark infringement, but from a commercial point of view, a brand name is unlikely to add value to your business if people don’t immediately associate the brand name with your company.
  • Memorable: There’s no value in a brand that no one can remember. Try and think of a name that is easy to say, spell and remember.

Tensions and considerations

There is often a temptation to pick a brand name which describes the product or a particular quality of the product. The advantage? It’s self-explanatory, easy for customers to remember, and it tells your customers what you’re about. The problem?  If the brand is descriptive of your products, it is also likely to be descriptive of your competitors’ products, so it won’t differentiate you in the marketplace. Descriptive names are also difficult to protect by registering as trade marks and also to protect against third party use.

Some of the most valuable brand names are coined words. Think of Google, Walmart, Exxon and Starbucks. The advantage? Coined words are inherently distinctive as a trade mark and are unlikely to have already been used as a brand name by someone else. The problem? A coined word is not always easy to say or remembered by  consumers.

Other successful brand names are arbitrary words. These brand names are known words with a meaning, but the meanings have no connection with the products being offered. Think Blackberry, Shell and Amazon. The advantage? It’s unlikely that your competitors would have thought of the same word, so it will stand out in the market.  The problem? If the words are so far removed from the products you are offering, consumers may struggle to remember it or understand it.

Always remember your marketplace. What will work in one market may not work in another. For example, a coined word full of peculiar letter combinations may not be successful in the food industry because consumers may favour brands that are relatable and trustworthy. In the pharmaceutical industry, however, potentially it’s a case of the more exotic and unusual the word, the better.

Who got it right?

A quick look at a list of the world’s leading companies will tell you who ‘got it right’ with their brand names.

WALMART, TOYOTA, ALLIANZ, SHELL, EXXON, NESTLÉ, AMAZON, SANTANDER, TESCO, VERIZON, TOTAL

These brands all mean something to consumers now, but when they were first developed they were new, distinctive and original.

Key take-away message: Research. Pick a brand name which is not being used by others, that is distinctive and memorable for the market you are operating in, and avoid choosing a name which directly describes your products.


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