product naming hello my name isA great name can propel a brand to the top of its category. Some of the most successful recent launches in wine and spirits owe much of their success to a great name: Cupcake, Skinnygirl, Stella Rosa and Red Stag. However, naming a new wine or spirits brand is a particularly challenging exercise.

Developing a name that will resonate with consumers, meet branding objectives and be legally available requires creativity and stamina. Also critical to success, but often overlooked, is the importance of a solid process.

A strong process includes these components:

  • Adequate time: While some aspects of naming, legal clearance and visual branding can be done on a parallel path, the proper sequencing of work within a realistic timeline greatly improves the chances of an optimal outcome.
  • A solid creative brief: Clearly define your strategic objectives at the beginning, and focus the creative work in the most fertile areas. Also define the evaluation criteria for prospective names.
  • Decision-maker buy-in: Get all key decision-makers to buy in to the creative brief, including evaluation criteria, up front.
  • Continuous legal input: Involvement of your legal team from the beginning, with input at key milestones, reduces the chance that your top name choices will all prove unavailable.

The Power of a Solid Creative Brief

Don’t start with brainstorming. As tempting as it is to dive right into the creative process and brainstorm about naming ideas, remember that the best creative is built on a solid foundation. Work together with your branding agency to craft a strong brief. Include the following.

1. Timeline: Ideally, your preferred name should pass an in-depth legal search before you begin visual branding. Name exploration, list building, editing and preliminary legal approval of the short list will take six to eight weeks. I’ve seen clients attempt to parallel-path name generation, visual brand development and legal research. In too many cases, the team got excited about a name, launched into package design based on that name and then found out there was a legal concern with the name. Too deep in the package design process to backtrack, the name ended up with an awkward modifier that diluted its strength. It’s far better to start early enough to allow legal to do its homework before investing resources in design development.

2. Guidance from legal: Will the name need to be available only in your category or in all CPG categories, nationally or globally? While you certainly don’t want the creative process to be driven by the legal team, basic legal requirements should be on the table at the beginning. This channels the creative work into name ideas that are most likely to gain momentum within your organization.

3. Strategic objectives for brand:

  • Price target
  • Consumer profile
  • Distribution channels
  • Competitive landscape
  • Brand essence

4. Criteria for evaluation: This distills all of the objectives into a “must-have” checklist all parties can refer to continually to keep the process on track.

5. Type of name:

  • Descriptive names tell what the product is or does (Netflix, Chocovine)
  • Suggestive or evocative names evoke a state of mind (Barefoot Cellars, Virgin Atlantic)
  • Invented names create new proprietary words (Snapple, Agilent)
  • Experiential names suggest the experience the product will bring you (Cupcake, Explorer)

Each type has its merits and its challenges. It’s tempting to say, “Explore all possibilities,” but some types are better fits for the category, your organization’s risk tolerance and your brand objectives. For instance, invented names are easiest to trademark, but they may require more marketing support to convey meaning to consumers.

Get Management Buy-In

Verbal branding concepts are vulnerable to subjective evaluation based on individual tastes and comfort zones. With no context, even the savviest senior managers may default to what is familiar, short-circuiting your efforts to break through with a big idea.

The antidote to this is a well-crafted brief with clear evaluation criteria that all decision-makers agree to before the creative begins. Better to uncover objections early on and retool the brief than to spend valuable time and money only to find out the boss thinks you’ve gone off the rails. Buy-in at senior management level on the evaluation criteria will keep everyone strategically focused throughout the process.

Build Legal Checkpoints into the Timeline

Your creative team can, and should, do a very basic search on each of the recommended names. A Google search, online trademark search using the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) and review of available web domains eliminate names that are clearly unavailable. However, the research needed to fully vet a name requires a legal team with expertise in the area. Get broad guidelines at the beginning, and then have them review your top 20 list early in the process before you become attached to favorites.

If a name is unlikely to pass on its own, discuss options for inventive spelling or logical modifiers such as “Vineyards” or “Spirits” that don’t dilute the impact of the name. These can take a great name and make it proprietary enough to gain approval. If this approach doesn’t work, go back to your list and find other strong candidates to pursue. It’s far better to move to a second choice name than to adulterate a great name with an awkward or cumbersome modifier that takes the ring out of the concept. These compromise names are tough to live with for the life of the brand.

Evaluate the Frontrunners Against Your Criteria

You should now have a short list of names with great potential, each of which has passed the initial legal review. As a team, review your original creative brief and evaluation criteria. Which names best capture the brand essence, connect with the consumer target, are sticky and have depth? This is your short, short list. Consider presenting them to senior management in the context of a preliminary package design. If budget allows for this, it will help the whole team fully understand the concept and potential of your name choices.

A Well-Planned Process to Develop a BreakThrough Name

Great brands lean heavily on great names — names that represent big ideas and capture consumers’ hearts. Sometimes these great names pop into our heads and skate through the legal vetting. Much more often, though, a great verbal brand is the result of a solid creative brief, clear criteria, collaboration with the legal team and an adequate timeline.

Pros and Cons of Different Types of Names

Now, let’s look at the pros and cons of each type of name for wine and spirits brands, and then we’ll identify the key qualities any good brand name must have.

1. Descriptive names: While a less promising territory than evocative or experiential names, descriptive names can sometimes work. The aforementioned Chocovine, for example, tells us exactly what the product is. Likewise, Skinny Vine is descriptive of wine with fewer calories, but in a somehow natural way — from the vine. Both of these examples describe qualities that are truly distinctive within the category. If chocolate or low-calorie wines were common, neither name would offer differentiation in the market.

2. Evocative and experiential names: Evocative and experiential names provide the most fertile territory for this category. They capture consumers’ imaginations and expand their experience of your brand. Brands with strong evocative or experiential names are often the most compelling, and therefore easiest to build a true franchise around.

Some of my favorite evocative names are:

  • Sledgehammer, which screams “big and bold,” appeals to men who want a “man’s wine” and is irreverent enough to elicit a feeling of fun rebellion.
  • Emma Pearl, one of our own, evokes femininity, jewelry and pampering. It feels luxurious and warm, like a charming friend from the South.
  • Captain Morgan, a name that evokes adventure on the high seas, a swashbuckler straight out of every boy’s fantasy of the romantic, rule-breaking good life.

Great experiential names include:

  • Cupcake, of course, which immediately conveys a sweet, indulgent flavor profile and also makes us feel like we deserve it — like we did when we were a kid at our own birthday party.
  • La Crema is hard to beat with its direct creamy flavor communication and implied meaning of “the cream of the crop.”

3. Invented names: Invented names can work in your category, but only if they feel authentic. Consumers are wary of anything too contrived or abstract for wine or spirits. Invented names can also require big marketing budgets to become familiar enough to gain consumer acceptance. However, invented names offer something we all struggle to achieve: trademark-ability. They are much easier to clear and protect legally. For that reason alone, they deserve consideration. The best invented names are fanciful spellings of real words or phrases that impart value or meaning to the brand. Although purportedly the founder’s family name, Bulleit is a fantastic example of a name that uses a common word in a fanciful spelling. Perfect for a bourbon, it evokes old saloons, gunslingers and a legendary quality.

Five Qualities Any Name Must Have

Regardless of the type of name you choose, there are key qualities great names have in common.

Make sure your prospective name:

1. Is emotionally compelling. For a name to break through a crowded category, it must trigger an emotion that compels them to buy. Consumers want more than wine that tastes good at a fair price, they want to feel pampered, adventurous or sophisticated when they drink your brand.

2. Is sticky. In their best-selling book, “Made to Stick,” the Heath brothers give an in-depth exploration of what makes some ideas thrive while others fizzle. Techniques such such as violating schemas and creating “curiosity gaps” will help your name stick in consumers’ minds. Make sure your name steps out of the ordinary and intrigues consumers, drawing them in.

3. Has personality. Don’t let the challenges of verbal branding make you timid. Your brand needs a distinctive voice and character. It should have an attitude and form a bond with consumers.

4. Has depth. Will your name give your brand a long and rich life? Depth is about staying power, authenticity and meaning. Depth gives you a basis for marketing campaigns and line extensions based on the underlying story of your brand.

5. Is relatively easy to spell and pronounce. In the information age this concern goes far beyond the scenario of a consumer being afraid to say your name out loud to a waiter. She must also be able to Google it and find your website, or text it to her boyfriend while he’s shopping.

By discussing the four types of names in light of your brand concept and focusing your verbal branding energy into the most appropriate types for your objectives, you’ll have the greatest chance of generating abundant options. Weigh each prospective name against the five qualities listed above, and you’ll be well on your way to a successful new product launch.