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NAMING: The Most Important Element of the Financial Services’ Branding Mix

One of the primary goals of the art of branding is to help a brand cut through the marketplace clutter and achieve visibility, credibility and acceptance. Naming is the important first step in the branding process. The better the name, the more potential it offers for effective, lower-cost branding that can help build visibility and brand recognition. The right name serves as the springboard for implementing an effective branding strategy and can play an important role in creating a strong emotional connection with the target market.

Unfortunately, there is no simple formula for creating a good name. There are, however, a few basic guidelines. A good name is both distinctive and memorable. It should be relevant to a company’s industry and mission, and reflect its corporate culture. A company should also consider if the name can be trademarked and if the corresponding URL is available. After that, there are a lot of options and approaches. The right name is the one that best suits your company and situation.

Naming Categories

Descriptive Names do exactly as they say and describe what a company does. There is little doubt about what services you can obtain at businesses such as Asset Management Company; U.S. Bank; Insurance Company.com; American Funds; and Bank of the West. It is easy to cost effectively promote these names because they explicitly address a marketplace need and there is no need for lengthy explanations. On the other hand, it is often quite difficult to gain trademark protection for these names because trademark laws preclude trademarking any word that is considered “descriptive.”

Names with Provenance most commonly derive from the names of individuals or places. Such names are distinctive and easy to trademark. The financial services business has a disproportionate share of companies branded with the names of founders and/or partners. A few prominent examples include Goldman Sachs, Cantor Fitzgerald, Dreyfus, Oppenheimer, Morgan Stanley and Brown Brothers Harriman. Many think that a family name personalizes an organization and offers customers the reassurance that credible individuals stand behind the corporate claims and representations.

Created Names are often the last resort of marketers struggling to create a truly unique name that will confer immediate brand personality. When it works, a creative name can be a powerful corporate and legal asset. When it doesn’t work, it can be a corporate millstone. To illustrate, in the 1920s, Duncan created the name Yo-Yo. Since then, the word has become a part of the lexicon as both the name of the original object and as a verb signifying up and down movement. More recent examples of names that have permeated the culture include Google and Yahoo!

Associated Names are essentially metaphors that relate the corporate name to a familiar reference that imparts favorable attributes to the brand. For example, names such as Passport Account and VISA convey immediate benefits that facilitate positive brand positioning.

A Car by Any Other Name

The automobile industry offers a perfect illustration of how companies use different approaches to naming to help motivate a purchase decision. European companies usually use descriptive names and a glance at the trunk badge tells the buyer volumes—engine size, body style, fuel injection, length of wheelbase, etc.

In contrast, domestic automobiles use a variety of naming devices in the hopes of generating positive associations that will favorably influence prospective buyers. There are created names such as Alero, Integra and Xterra. Animal names are also popular. By using associated names such as Falcon, Viper, Firebird, Impala and Mustang, manufacturers try to represent some of the attractive characteristics of the vehicle. Model naming has even ventured into deep waters with the likes of Sting Ray and Barracuda. Just envision those high-powered Detroit marketing types brainstorming to arrive at the name Plymouth Duster. Were the runners up squeegee, mop and vacuum?

Heal Thyself

The pharmaceutical industry has shown that they understand the power of naming. Not long ago drugs were marketed primarily to doctors and the names were simply recitations of their chemical compounds. To the consumer these names were uninformative, unpronounceable and sounded extraordinarily medical. Now that drugs are aggressively marketed directly to the consumer a new era of savvy naming has recently blossomed. A pill is a pill, but give it an appealing name and it can become a gold mine. A created name like Viagra is distinctive without sounding like a drug. Benadryl, Sudafed and Claritin are easy to pronounce and remember, yet retain a scientific overtone. Names like Allegra, Boniva and Levitra are both distinctively named and lyrical. The pharmaceutical industry has repeatedly demonstrated that they understand how naming can help them increase their sales appeal within different target markets and make their pills so much easier to swallow.

Waiting in the Wings

The financial services industry has yet to fully focus on the importance of naming. Financial company names, much like those in the auto industry have been…well, all over the lot. Historically there have been descriptive names—e. g. Cash Management Account; and created names—e.g. SPDRs—that have been effective. In general, however, the industry has been woefully deficient in mastering the art of naming.

The Bottom Line

Evidence of the importance of naming is the proliferation of specialized “name consultants” in recent years. While the purported objective of these firms is always to create nomenclature that reflects their client’s corporate culture, the results are far too often more influenced by their own culture and preferences.

A powerful name links the organization and its product/service offerings to the customer. A name is the most important element of the branding mix. It is a brand’s “calling card” and communicates its key attributes and associations. It is well worth the upfront time and effort to create a naming system that will provide a logical and consistent foundation for all future marketing and communication efforts.