Coming up with the perfect name for a brand takes a lot of work. Whether you’re launching a new product or rebranding an existing one, marketers often spend months analyzing data, conducting interviews, and carrying out research to find the best name to set themselves apart from competitors.
But no matter how thorough you may be, if your research is biased toward your home market, you’re likely to run into challenges when you expand internationally. What can marketers do to set a brand up for global success from the start?
CONSIDER THE BRAND’S GLOBAL SHELF LIFE
The longer you expect the brand name to stay in global circulation, the more careful you’ll need to be with selecting a name that takes international considerations into account. Are international customers contributing a significant percentage of revenue today? Do you expect that percentage to increase in the future? If so, you’ll definitely want to consider other markets in your decision-making process.
If selling abroad is not a top priority, then there is less urgency today. But even if it’s not an immediate concern, thinking about these questions now can help you avoid extra rebranding work later. Otherwise, you run the risk of learning too late that the name you picked isn’t appropriate for your future markets if and when you do choose to expand internationally.
GATHER INPUT FROM INTERNATIONAL CUSTOMERS
You’ll want to start by coming up with a list of candidate names for your brand or product. It’s fine to do this exercise with your home market and language in mind, but if you can, try to involve people with international experience from the very beginning. Their input upfront can help steer you toward more globally viable options.
Once you have a few candidates, it’s time to do some qualitative research: Interviews with customers from your prospective international markets can shed light on how the different options sound in different cultural and linguistic contexts.
If you’re not sure which markets to include, start with the countries where you have the most customers today. If you don’t yet have any customers outside your home country, you can research the top global markets for your industry. And if that fails, try looking at the top countries in which your competitors or industry-adjacent companies operate.
In addition, if you don’t have existing international customers to interview, the next best thing is to ask prospective customers – people who fit the general description of a potential customer. And if that’s not possible, consider reaching out to business partners who operate in your target markets for their insights and/or connections. Here are some research questions you can ask:
- Is The Name Easy To Pronounce In Other Languages? The easier it is to say, the better. Keep in mind that the pronunciation in other languages often adds new meaning, so you’ll need input from experts in the local market. For example, the brand name for Tide detergent in Chinese is Taizi, which both sounds similar to “Tide” and literally means “gets rid of dirt.” Reebok is known in Chinese as Rui bu, which means “quick steps.” Marketers often worry about consistency across languages, but brand names don’t necessarily need to sound identical in every tongue. Heineken in Chinese is Xi li, which sounds nothing like the English name, but translates to “happy power.”
- What Connotations Does The Name Have In Your Target Cultures? By simply surveying or interviewing people in your company’s top countries, you can find out quickly if your name candidate has any awkward or embarrassing connotations. You can also find out if certain brand names have positive connotations you might not have been aware of, or if they sound similar to any other widely known brands.
In addition, even in markets that share your company’s native language, it’s important to think about cultural segments within your target audience. Both Nike and Ben and Jerry’s launched products with “black and tan” in the name, not realizing that this term was highly offensive to customers in Ireland. Both ended up pulling the products from shelves as a result.
- What Other Names Would You Suggest? This is my favorite part of the process. Often, if you just explain your product’s purpose and share a few key ideas that you want associated with it, your target customers will provide you with some great alternatives for what they might call it. These options might even work well not just for your international customers, but for your domestic market as well, since the authentic voice of the customer might resonate better with your target market than something concocted by your marketing team in a vacuum.
UNDERSTAND THE SEO LANDSCAPE
Once you have a good understanding of your top name candidates, it’s time to consider the SEO implications in each of your target countries and languages. Try to find a brand name that is unique enough that your company can quickly become a top search result for that term.
For example, SEO expert and tech founder Rand Fishkin chose SparkToro as his company’s name because he knew it would provide an SEO advantage in his target market. Be sure to conduct this search viability exercise in each of your top potential markets, since SEO can vary dramatically in different areas.
As part of this research, you’ll want to identify the branded web assets you’ll need to support the brand. Are the domain names, social media accounts, and other online channels you’d like to obtain actually available? Think through your current marketing strategies and your future plans. If SEO is a major component of your strategy, don’t pick a brand name that will lead people in your top markets to land on other websites or social channels when they search for it.
GET LEGAL INPUT
Now that you have gathered customer input and conducted online research, hopefully a couple of potential names have risen to the top. Once you’re confident in the global viability and online marketing potential of these names, ask your legal team for advice on the trademark and intellectual property front.
Often, legal teams don’t want to be involved until you’ve settled on your final name, because international trademark research can consume significant time and resources – but it’s vital to ensure your legal bases are covered. Ask your team if they’d prefer to have the full list of candidates earlier, only get involved when you’ve compiled a short list, or wait until you’ve made your final selection.
CIRCLE BACK TO YOUR CUSTOMERS
Ultimately, coming up with a name that’s suited for international scale is an iterative process. You’ll think you’ve landed on a great name, until you find out it has unpleasant connotations in one of your top markets. Then, you’ll find another winner, but you’ll realize you can’t obtain certain key web properties or social media handles that you’ll need. You might find you have to start back at square one and come up with an entirely new list of candidates. But rest assured that this is time well spent.
Even though it might be tempting to just choose a name quickly that will work in your home market and language, remember that small decisions today can dramatically impact your international growth later on. Designing anything for global scale – a process, a product, or a brand name – always takes a bit more upfront thought. But if you invest this time now, it will future-proof your marketing content, domains, publicity, and many other investments that you’ll make in your brand along the way.
originally posted on hbr.org by Nataly Kelly