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The trends and best practices around naming a brand: Interview with Mark Gunnion
By Kristina Mišić access_time 8 min read

A great name is the beginning of a great brand. Choosing your company’s moniker is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when you start a new brand, so we discuss with Mark Gunnion, name consultant and freelance namer, the trends and best practices around naming a company.

If you could get entrepreneurs to understand one thing about naming their business, what would it be?

A business name does not have to be descriptive of the company’s business.  Some of the best names ever have zero connection to their category of operation. Now, some of those names get ret-conned with an explanation or justification that may become the common story for why a name is chosen, but those are almost always disconnected from what the actual naming process was.  

What is your favorite brand name from the ones you have worked on creating and why?

I love working on products whose brand is greatly influenced by the name – like a perfume or a wine. One of my favorite creations was a name for a Northern California wine – I came up with Beckon, and the client really clicked on that and felt it gave them a great basis to build a brand around. Another one I was happy with was a name for a cable TV network. This was a station in the Bay Area that was built around a collection of TV series from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, mostly all detectives, cops, and cowboys, who were said to appeal to middle-aged women who wanted something to curl up with on their couch.  Familiar characters and actors that gave them warm, nostalgic vibes. With a late assist from my wife (who’s also a great namer), we created COZI. I loved that one because we watched the station all the time! 

What is the process of naming a business-like for you? Is there a difference between naming a product, a business, a brand?

On day one, I will generate a hundred or so unscreened ideas. Then I will review those ideas with the client, and I will extract every iota of reaction and intelligence from the client I can get, pro and con, out of that list. On the first round, I always try to suggest as wide a range of constructions and styles as I can – within the parameters of the brief, of course – and I try to use that round to show the client the variety of possibilities before them. Then, collecting all of their feedback, positive and negative, as well as any new learnings they might have had since we created the first set, I will head back into my lair and create another list of 100 or so ideas. Then I collect once again all the reactions I can from the client about the new candidates – the loves, hates, near-misses; the examples where they liked the content but not the style of execution (and vice-versa). Depending on the size and complexity of a project, we might go just a couple of rounds, or, as many six or eight for a big corporate re-name, a crowded industry, or a case where we do indeed seek an exact match domain name.

As I create each round, I collect the client’s favorites and create a running Short List of candidates. For some engagements, my work ends there, as they may be using their own counsel to vet and clear the final candidates. For clients that don’t have their own screening protocols, I can then take their favorites through a three-stage pre-legal screening process, which includes checking the US Patent and Trademark Office, a Google search to a given number of pages (often combining the candidate with an industry descriptor term), and then some research into what is going on at an exact-match domain name in the .com realm – not just to see if the domain name is “gettable”, but to check how what’s at the .com illuminates the overall availability of a brand – see if there’s a rock band, or a porn site, or a CBD strain already using that name. 

The idea is to come out of those creative rounds and screening rounds with multiple ideas – three, four, five or so – for the client to take to their own counsel for final selection and acquisition.

You’ve been in the naming space since 1996, how have things changed over time?

One of the coolest things about being in this business is that Naming is so critical to brand-building, that Namers often hear about advances in technology long before the public. So, going back to ’96, it’s been so fun to kind of ride the bow wave ahead of the public debuts as each new technological advance comes at us. So, for a year in the late 90s, I was constantly naming new browsers and search engines, then for a year it was a generation of phones, and then for two years everybody was developing something called “middleware” – I can barely remember what that even was, but I know I worked on half a dozen iterations of it. 

One of the coolest things about being in this business is that Naming is so critical to brand-building, that Namers often hear about advances in technology long before the public.

Mark Gunnion

Over the years, of course, we saw all the plain English words get gobbled up – first by the tech companies, then by the rising army of “Domainers” – people who bought and warehoused domain names as investments and sold them off bit by bit.  Soon after that, there were some outrageous peaks and excesses because of the developing scarcity of natural English, available names – remember when a whole winery was purchased for millions above its asking price, just so that the buyer could get their hands on

That was followed by all the companies that shaved, chopped and channeled words, the Tindrs and Grindrs and Fiverrs, just so they could have an exact match dot-com, and then the pushback and reaction against all that.  And now we’re coming into an era where simple, plain English words are once again becoming available (for a price) and functional for companies and products.  It’s been very interesting to see prices for the great middle section of plain words coming out of their warehouses and onto the market again, and the market finding the median level for domain names, and even simple, plain English domain names are finding a stable price point between two thousand and five thousand dollars. 

What should entrepreneurs look for when selecting a professional to name their business/product?

I think it’s a personal reaction between the people involved. An entrepreneur should look for someone who communicates well with them because communication is what it’s all about. It’s a very intimate exchange, really, telling a creative consultant all about your future hopes and plans, revealing your corporate secrets and strategies to a stranger. Because I’m a one-man shop, working at home, and because of the way I structure my billing, I’m always happy to encourage people to shop by price – I believe they’ll come back to me after they compare enough naming experts and agencies! Still, sometimes, founders are surprised by how high the price is for developing a name because so much creative and writing work these days has had its prices depressed by crowdsourcing and so on. 

I tell founders and brand managers, “There’s nothing else you’ll spend money on that you will use as often as the name, so you want to get it right.

Mark Gunnion

I always ask them, “What is YOUR time worth?” Lots of folks could probably come up with their own name if they had the time. But these are busy people. I tell them sometimes the reason I’ve stayed alive in this business so long is because I can sit down and think about ONE thing for eight hours.  How many founders have that luxury?

That’s why there are still naming shops that can charge middle and even high-five figures for naming a corporation or a big product. And I’m still here, like a crafty mammal, running around between their feet, doing my little language tricks.   

We hope the above information will help you in making informed decisions about your brand. What is your vision for the future of your brand? Get in touch, we are always happy to chat.

Find out more about Mark Gunnion

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