The Brandable Idea by Mr. Sten Lillieström

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The brandable idea

by Mr. Sten Lillieström (LinkedIn

In the previous article we examined the laws of tradition as they pertain to domain investing. According to the The legacy idea, datapoints such as search keyword metrics allegedly reveal if a domain name is valuable or not. At the same time, end user preferences indicate that there is more to the story.

Professional business makes up the main customer base for a domain investor. But strange as it may seem, the names in use to that effect do not conventiently obey legacy domain investment principles. End users, branding agencies and trademark attorneys seem to have different priorities.

A quick survey of the top brands, the sites with top traffic, or the segments of interest to venture capital, instantly confirms that their brand names are names and not literal descriptions. The generic search terms related to the product or service are not an option as far as name selection is concerned. In the rare instance that something is literally descriptive at all, it is rarely completely literally descriptive.

What professional business names do however roughly seem to correspond to is the so called spectrum of distinctiveness, a concept that describes the nature of names within the framework of trademarks.

This is not because something like trademarks happen to exist, but because of the universal function of names. To single out something specific and unique by labeling it with something specific and unique. In other words, it is a linguistic function that is not a made up prescriptive rule, but a universal rule that applies to all names, irrespective of trademark matters and it’s terminology.

Some of the metrics mentioned in the context of the legacy idea are considered false in the context of the brandable idea. For example it is publicly known that the claim that Google and other search engines offer an advantage to domain names that incorporate a search term is no longer valid. It has been thoroughly denied by the best source available on the subject; Google themselves.

A brandable domainer understands that metrics are a symptom and not a cause. They seek to explain the metrics and the relevance they may have. If some generally accepted contention can be validly questioned or even falsified; great news!

As a consequence, search metrics are deemed dubious as an indicator of value in general. Other legacy metrics are not rejected, but interpreted within a different framework.

The brandable idea instead relies on the best practices, ideas and intuitions that are the building blocks for appealing name identities, and attempt to gauge the features that makes human beings pick one name over another. Things that we don’t yet know how to best measure explicitly but that are nevertheless relevant.

It’s an active and creative endeavor with a broader palette than the one dictated by readily available metrics.

Different stretches along the spectrum of distinctiveness may exhibit different sets of appealing brand name traits, but here are some general principles:

1. Length.

Appealing business names are rarely lengthy, even though exceptions do exist. This rule of thumb applies to all names.

2. Audial appeal.

Appealing business names are pleasant to say and listen to. They don’t contain vowel and consonant sound combinations that deviate from the norm or that don’t go well together pronunciation wise. This is not the same thing as spelling. A name can be creatively spelled and still be phonetically pleasing and in tune with expectations. This applies to all names.

3. Meaning.

In virtually any name there are layers and trace elements of meaning even though there is no corresponding dictionary entry where you can conveniently find the correct answer. There is sound symbolism even at the level of the individual phoneme (the unique sound constituents in a language). For less abstract names there is also meaning in morphemes (word parts), which is why we can gauge the intention of a neologism such as ”cognitech”, even though ”cogni” per se is not acknowledged as a word.

With meaning, the delineation between the legacy idea and the brandable idea becomes clear. Brandable names draw from the figurative and not the literal.

For instance, the meaning of one word or the meaning of two words combined may in context create a new singular meaning that could describe something new or unknown in the terms of something known. This is called metaphor, and it’s a universal feature in all languages and therefore likely a device that is innate to the human mind.

Meaning is an infinite stretch of possibilities for expression, and arguably the most important aspect in brand naming. Some may like to simplify and say that ”Apple” doesn’t sell apples and that the meaning of ”apple” is completely irrelevant. That would mean that Apple could just as well have been named ”Cutlery” or ”Sports” or ”i4waopn” for that matter. None of which would probably have lended themselves well to appropriation, positive association, recognition or metaphor.

4. Novelty.

This applies to all names that intend to be the primary reference to something specific, and ties into many things of value. Firstly, to be the primary reference, you need to be unique and to be unique you need to be novel. Novelty also facilitates memorability in that there is something new to remember. Only when the name is memorized, often as the result of a combination of salient and evocative impressions and context, the brand building will have something to stick on and work with.

A valuable side effect of novelty is trademarkability.

5. Overall impression.

This is not a review of each and every ingredient in a dish. It’s the actual end result. There may be a way to passably imagine approximately how the dish will turn out, but to really know you need to taste it. How did the combination of the constituents of the name in effect turn out?

6. Application.

So now we have a name. Who wants it? Why? Is there a real world application for it? This final and all important assessment requires extensive explicit knowledge about the size of different industries, their available funding, and the naming conventions within these spheres.

As you can see, from the legacy idea to the brandable idea, and in any shape or form of investment for that matter, there is more than meets the eye.

In the next article in this series we will go from theory to practice, in the first of a two part piece entitled ”Domain Work”.

 About the Author: As the founder and CEO of Next Venture, a domain acquisition brokerage and naming firm, I help entrepreneurs and businesses find and secure their desired brand names on the internet. As a consequence I also operate a portfolio of domain names that serve as viable naming options in different niches and industries. 

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