How to select a naming agency

How to select a Naming Agency

Before you can select a naming agency it is prudent to understand what kind of agencies and consultants are out there.
They fall into 4 broad categories:
Large branding agencies1. Big Company Full Service Agencies: These are the naming agencies that do extensive brand and positioning research for target markets for large companies, before they even show any names. When they do, the list is usually good quality – but it is a short list of carefully vetted (maybe even tested) names. Most of these services are part of a broader branding agency’s offerings and may include extensive on site(s) interaction with clients . Projects are usually completely driven by the branding agency, always with a end user focus in mind, rather than personal wishes of any execs. May help big teams come to consensus. Usually involves full usage, linguistics and legal checks too, though these are often “farmed out” to other agencies, and billed to you. Price range for name only is typically in $20,000 to $60,000 (or beyond) range and make take 2-3 months.
2. SMB Focused Agencies: These are the smaller naming agencies that focus on small and medium sized businesses, as well as divisions of larger companies, where the urgency is for a good, clear, available name that management readily embraces (indeed they are intimately involved in the process). They often do their own linguistics and legal checks, and usually start with a long list of names that have provisional clearance. A senior consultant ensures that the name is on message or otherwise suits the needs of the client, even in the absence of much (or any) full brand and strategy research. Plus he/she should be good at executive meeting facilitation. They sometimes have very large databases of names and a handful of smart namers to generate new names quickly. Price range is usually in the $3,000 to $6,000 price range with 2-3 week time frames.
3. Sole Proprietor Companies and Agencies: For the small startup there are a number of individual naming consultants who keep all the overhead down and only provide any requested services. They often have a process that only offers a large handful of names initially, but then adds and tweaks more names as they learn more and get some feedback. Fees may be anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 but may not include legal or linguistic checks, other than the real basics. Also typically 2-3 weeks but can easily drag out longer if client and consultant not on same page.
naming service businesses4. Do It Yourself: Of course, this is still a popular method. After all, how hard can it be to name your new widget or service or tasty snack or lovely store? You named your pets and kids, right? But the problem is you don’t have 9 months or so now, and duplicates are not allowed unless you are a small local business and will never go outside your county or state. Also, you need to be a creative person with words and languages. Seldom is anything named nowadays in any common field without first touching at least 100 names. Priceless – until you get the dreaded cease and desist letter from someone else with the same name and/or trademark.

In the photographic world, everyone is a photographer today with the advent of cell phone cameras. Some of these people are actually very talented amateurs. Others get help from more equipment and software tools to get good results. But for your daughter’s wedding, aren’t you going to hire a professional?

It is similar for naming. What kind of results do you want and in what time frame. If you need to keep worldwide execs happy and prove you have done full analytical research and branding, you probably need a big agency (See 1 above) to make sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed.

If you are really small and don’t have any money, do your home work, read lots of articles on naming and branding (this website is a good starting point – see Resources) and even then try find a creative wordsmith partner. But be careful. Often this self serve model leads to big legal costs because the expense is in the checking and not the filing – until you get into trouble that is.

So the value of the individual consultant and SMB agencies is that they do a lot of the legwork for you, greatly shortening the time until you can confidently use a new name. Sometimes they are just a good sounding board or can help remind you how a given word is used in other market sectors or countries or industries.

Remember no one has an exclusivity on creativity. Make sure you hire an agency that will listen more than they will talk. One that has the courage to say why you can’t go down some naming rat holes. One that will add your names to the list and make sure the list is initially really long. We all have personalities. Companies have personalities. Do you want your name to reflect your personality or that of your expensive branding consultants?

Finally, as Ries and Trout so famously said in their seminal work on branding: “Your name is your most important weapon in the battle for the mind.” So I often ask why people will spend more on their first brochure, that has such a short lifespan, than on their name which they will use forever more.


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