My clients often ask me to help them name things. They’re hoping that we can develop a name that plays equally well to logic and emotion and that states a compelling benefit in 15 letters or less. A lot of brains have been damaged this way.
Great brand names often trigger emotional responses. But we often get the cause and effect backward. The name doesn’t put the emotion in us. We put the emotion in the name.
I worked in college and scraped together enough money to buy a beat-up Pontiac Tempest. The original Pontiac was a great Indian leader in the midwestern United States. The town of Pontiac, Michigan was named after him. General Motors opened a factory there and named the car after the town. Originally, the name Pontiac didn’t mean anything more to me than, say, the name Cotopaxi. It’s just a name. Then I bought the car and enjoyed driving it. Now Pontiac has a special meaning to me, some sentimental value. The name didn’t do anything to me. I did something to the name. That’s why naming is so difficult. The name doesn’t trigger anything until customers add emotion to it.
As Kevin Lane Keller and many other branding experts have pointed out, you can play offense or defense with a name — but it’s hard to do both. Consider three variables for offense: