SMILE and SCRATCH Your Way to Brand Naming Success

brand naming

Finding a name for your business is a bit like a chance flirtation with a stranger. At first, you’ve positively giddy with possibility. Could this be…the one? But then, you start doubting yourself. Maybe your brain is playing tricks on you – maybe you’ve built up things to be greater than they are.

If you’re in need of a gut check when it comes to selecting a business name, there are plenty of ways to do so. One of them is Alexandra Watkins’ SMILE and SCRATCH method – formed from two sets of acronyms that work as a checklist for validating whether your name truly is a dreamboat or actually a total dud.

As you may have guessed, these are five positive characteristics for your brand name. If you’re able to smile and nod at each checkpoint below, then you might be onto something great.

Suggestive – Evokes a positive brand experience.
Great names often express what the user is going to get from the company. Keep in mind this applies whether it’s an abstract name, or one rooted in real words. For example, a name like Fitbit quickly highlights you’re combining fitness with data, with a cute, perky sound. If you’re in the fitness category, you’ll want to avoid names that have negative connotations in that space – Skinnybit, for example, just doesn’t have the same inspirational, healthy vibe.

Meaningful – Your customers get it.
To be fair, this isn’t always a universal requirement. Google, after all, meant nothing when it was dreamed up 15+ years ago. But if you’re going the abstract route, at least make sure you can own that ‘sound’ and give it meaning as your brand gains traction.

Imagery – Visually evocative to aid in memory.
Your name is an opportunity to paint a picture for what you stand for. Even without knowing the product category, think about how a name like Juicy Fruit instantly in conjures up positive feelings toward a brand.

Legs – Lends itself to a theme for extended mileage.
You may be starting with one product or service today – but down the road you may be offering up dozens of items. Is there a family your brand name can build on? One of the most infamous examples is Apple’s use of the letter ‘i’, beginning with the iPod. Now when you see a lowercase ‘i’ in front of almost anything, you quickly get it’s probably related to technology, or Apple in particular – even if it’s not something produced by Apple.

Emotional – Resonates with your audience.
Certain words or even sounds just fit better with different audience groups. A tech startup going after a young, savvy group would, as an extreme example, probably stay away from words like ‘country’ or ‘wholesome’. Try running the name alongside some other options with members of your audience. See if they can pick out which name you think will appeal to them.

It can be easier to find a name that fits the SMILE part of the equation than to find one that can overcome the hurdles in the SCRATCH portion of evaluating your brand name. In this instance, SCRATCH has two meanings: if the name makes you scratch your head in confusion, then it’s probably time to scratch it from your list of prospects.

Spelling-Challenged – It looks like a typo.
In a world where desirable top level domains (TLDs) are scarce, sometimes your only (or best) option is to pick a name that twists the spelling of a common word. While it can be a good way to take ownership of a word that’s key to your brand, keep in mind it can be more challenging for your audience to find you. Be prepared to invest in SEO if you’re going the alternative or quirky spelling route, but remember, plenty of major brands have done this successfully, like Chick-fil, Flickr or Froot Loops.

Copycat – Similar to competitor’s names.
The biggest harm you can do to your brand is to be easily confused with the other guys. If you’re dead set on a keyword, keep in mind there are other ways to nab it that can still set you apart. A great example is Fitbit. Starting up a fitness tracker brand and using the name Fitbyte is a recipe for disaster. But other brands have managed to seize the ‘Fit’ part of the name and still stand out, like Misfit.

Restrictive – Limits future growth.
This is the mirror to Legs from SMILE. If a name specifically says one thing you do, it can be restrictive down the road if say, you need to pivot your operation, you acquire a new business, or you simply add more products or services. Let’s say you were a tech startup in the 90s and you named yourself Quintuple Software. By today’s standards, that’s far too limited a name – the company could be into app development, for example. Simply calling themselves Quintuple would give them way more flexibility no matter what the technology world brings.

Annoying – Hidden or forced meaning.
You might find an obscure meaning of a word that’s analogous to what your company does. But if it’s from the 1800s or an extremely rarely spoken language, it may come off as pretentious or too ‘insider’ – when in reality you generally want to invite as many people as possible to get to know your brand at the outset.

Tame – Flat, descriptive, uninspired.
It’s rare to think of a hit name right off the hop. Oftentimes the first place your mind will go are the expected places – which also means your TLD probably isn’t available anyway. Push yourself to think more creatively.

Curse of Knowledge – Only insiders get it.
Similar to ‘Annoying’, if your name is based on a personal joke or an industry term just a handful of your potential audience will get, it might be over the heads of too many potential customers. Clever is okay – as long as you aren’t outsmarting your audience.

Hard to Pronounce – Not obvious, unapproachable.
Thinking of using a foreign word? An obscure spelling? An abstract name? Be wary of multiple pronunciations or a name that’s so complex looking, people just give up trying to get it. A good name should flow out of your mouth with ease.

If you’re looking for help in brand naming, contact us today!