What’s in a name?
For such a little thing – a single phrase (Lifetime Therapy), word (Oxfam), or even letter (O2) – a name is extraordinarily and uncontrollably powerful.
A seductive name can bring success to a terrible product and a great service can be overlooked if it has a weak or off-putting name.
Like fire, a great name can illuminate your work, glowing, radiating and spreading warmth and light around so people are drawn to it from need, desire or both.
And like fire, a name is a wild thing you can never fully control. Once you’ve lit the match your fire will burn in the world, or fizzle out. The fire you started could enable or defy you.
Naming for success
Coming up with your great name requires one part playfulness and one part risk-assessment.
Start with a big piece of paper, post-it-notes and lots of coloured pens. You might also want a phone or tablet on hand, but only to look something up so you don’t stall.
Ask your critical brain to be quiet for a moment and write down everything that comes into your head. If you’re stuck begin with different versions of your own name – use your initials, middle name or nickname and when something else pops into your head write that down too.
Add words you like the sound of, concepts that fit, values you live by, places you love… Use a stream-of-consciousness, free association approach. Nothing is wrong (not even spellings at this point).
Scribble and sketch if that works for you, link up ideas, play with word order, synonyms, capitalisation, numbers, sounds, symbols. Get everything down.
Now step away for at least an hour, preferably a day or so. When you come back, put every name idea you came up with into one of three columns: no, maybe, yes. You can put as many ideas as you like in each column. Try not to think too deeply about it.
Next, it’s time for your playful brain to sit back and your risk-assessor to step in. How could each name in your yes column go wrong?
Pronunciation – would someone reading this name for the first time know how to pronounce it?
Phonology – how does it sound, and does the sound fit your brand (hard or soft, clipped or flowing…), is there potential for onomatopoeia?
Explicit meaning – is there one? Is it unambiguous?
Implicit meaning – the same word or phrase could mean very different things to different people. List every implicit meaning you can think of and then check online too. Are the connotations consistent with your brand?
Morphology – how does it look? does it have a nice shape? Is there potential for an interesting wordmark?
Longevity – Trends come and go. Hopefully, your business will be around much longer.
Instinct – how does it feel? Try it on. Live with it for a bit. Try introducing yourself as the founder of your brand, do you like the way it sounds?
Versatility – is there potential for this name to inform the other language of your brand?
Have you found your brand name?
If not, apply the same process to your maybe column and any other ideas that have come up during the process.
Tone of voice:
re-learning to write
Your brand has a voice and a message. The trick is to express your message in written words very concisely in a voice that is true to your values and a tone that is true to your feelings.
Don’t waffle. Don’t waste people’s time. Your messaging should resemble a telegram or Twitter post. Cut every unnecessary word. People only read long-form text online when they have already developed a relationship with your brand. Most of the time we just scan for info: Coming Soon, New Course, Booking Service Open. Easy!
No telephone voices! Be yourself. If you wouldn’t use the word ‘magnificent’ instead of ‘great’ or ‘serendipity’ instead of ‘luck’ when talking to friends, don’t use it in your copywriting. If in doubt, think of one of your clients and write as if you were speaking your content to them. Reading aloud can also help reveal inauthenticity.
Add nuance with synonyms. At Lifetime, we choose words that have botanical connotations: partly because Malachy was a gardener and fills his practice with plants. Bring yourself to your brand – be it yoga or tapestry, cooking or climbing, reading or black and white movies… the things that matter to you and inform the way you see the world will make your business unique and authentic. A list of ‘on-brand’ words or lexicon can be very useful in reminding you to make thoughtful word choices with the right connotations.
Tone and Voice are not the same. Your brand Voice shouldn’t change. You can’t be formal one day and colloquial the next. People need to be able to depend on you and your brand and could be alienated by a shifting identity. Find consistency in your Voice by using the way you speak when counselling as a touchstone. Tone is more fluid. You might find yourself writing about something you’re excited about on social media one minute and about a deeply challenging topic for your blog the next. And your Tone will be different, naturally.
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