Interview with Tanj
Clutch spoke with Scott Milano, the owner and managing director of the naming and branding agency Tanj, as part of a series of interviews on the trends and best practices around naming a company.
Clutch: Please describe your company and your role there.
SM: My company is called Tanj. We are a boutique brand consultancy, and we specialize in the intersection of language and branding. We offer a variety of services, everything from brand strategy and story development, to messaging, taglines and copywriting. But our sweet spot, and the bulk of our business, is brand name development for companies, products, services and initiatives – you name it and we have probably named it. I am the owner and managing director of the business.
::: The Naming Process :::
Clutch: What should a business consider before beginning the naming process?
SM: A lot. I think it depends on whether the business is new and naming itself to start, or if it’s an established business that’s renaming itself. In many cases, a lot of our clients are renaming themselves because they realize they didn’t get their names right the first time. We’ve written some pretty extensive guides that help companies understand what they should consider before, during, and the after naming or renaming themselves. Download our guides for free at: http://www.tanjbranding.com/naming-guides/(link is external)
From the brand side, whether you’re naming for the first time or renaming, there are a lot of big questions you need to answer. These include, ‘Who are we? What do we do on a basic level, on a products and services level? Also, what do we do on a deeper philosophical level, what do we ultimately stand for?’ There are also important considerations around how a brand will evolve in the future. You have to project where the brand could be or should go, in the future. Often we see businesses that have to rename because their original names limit them. The original name spoke to where the business and brand was five, ten, fifteen, twenty years ago, but they’re in a very different place now.
You also want to know where you fall in the competitive landscape. You should understand what’s going on with your competitors’ brands and names, and how you can carve out white space; that’s usually where new brands want to be.
Then, getting to the heart of some of these questions, like, ‘Who are we? What do we actually do? What does our brand stand for?’ We really want to be able to answer what makes the brand unique. Ultimately, we want to be able to communicate that as best as possible.
On the practical side, businesses should consider how they’re going to name themselves, or rename themselves. Is it going to be you, the owner of the business? Will you have your team help? Are you going to involve everybody or only a select group? Are you going to have all of your creative people in on it? Are you going to ask your accountant to pitch in ideas? You could really do it in a variety of different ways if you name your brand yourself.
On the flip side, will you seek outside help? Are you going to go to a specialized naming agency like Tanj, or are you taking a different route? Understanding what your options are and how you will use them effectively is important.
As a business owner, you have to commit to getting things done. There is a financial commitment, a resource commitment, and a time commitment. It’s not easy, and it’s not going to happen overnight. Are you going to actually dedicate significant resources to naming your new brand? Or are you just going to bootstrap the process and hope you see success at the end of the tunnel? Making those decisions from the start is quite important.
You also have to think about the logistical details. For example, do you have a deadline driving your name development? Do you absolutely need to have a name finalized by a certain date? Or do you have a longer runway? Other factors like how are you going to make decisions and who is going to be part of the decision-making process are all key questions that businesses should think about even before they start naming.
Clutch: Have you experienced that too many decision-makers make naming a company difficult?
SM: We offer best practices and advice to our clients. However, the fact is that clients still have their own situations to contend with, and we always help coach them through that. In certain instances, too many cooks in the kitchen, as the phrase suggests, can be chaotic and make the assignment much more challenging. Typically, we suggest that there is a core-working group managing the project, and then we report outward to other parts of the business when and where appropriate.
Nowadays, we think it’s hard to build something in a black box and force it on people. You have to engage people within the business, internally and even externally. You have to keep your process controlled but open at key stages along the way.
Clutch: Could you speak to the trademark, cultural, and linguistic screenings that names go through?
SM: Typically, we carry out a preliminary trademark check. We look at a database of registered trademarks to get an understanding of obvious or immediate conflicts. We’ll also do Google checks, URL assessments, and linguistic checks, where we look from a language and a cultural perspective to understand how names are working, and if there are any issues.
When you name certain products like apps or pharmaceuticals, there are additional checks to go through. In terms of the overarching process, all firms that know the field of naming and specialize in it will go through some type of screening, and then they’ll present a batch of names back to their clients, and possibly go through an additional round of refinements.
::: Name Types :::
Clutch: What are some of the recent naming trends that you’ve noticed?
SM: When you talk about trends in naming, you really have to break it down based on industry category. There are many ways to look at it. In areas like tech, you see a lot more experiential to evocative to invented names. When you get into other types of businesses, like design, fashion or food, you will see completely different trends. Design and fashion often use founders’ names; not very creative, but some of them can be quite beautiful. In food you find all kinds of styles; some are very descriptive and perhaps experiential. Again, it’s dependent on the industry, and particular segments of goods and services.
I tend to think that naming trends evolve more slowly than say, trends in logos; it’s just the nature of naming. Obviously, new names pop up, and then there are copycats and those are micro-trends – little blips in overall naming styles. But naming seems to evolve more gradually over time than say visual identities or user experience.
Clutch: When a company is trying to stand out in a certain industry, can they go too far with an obscure name?
SM: I don’t think so. A lot of times, really great names do just that; they push an industry forward and say something dramatically different from what’s already been said or done. One of the examples from my portfolio of work and experience is naming the Nintendo Wii. That’s a classic example of a totally “out there” name, whether you love it or hate it. Compared to all of the other game console names that came before it, it works on an entirely different level.
There were Xbox and PlayStation, both of which denote some aspect of the product, and Wii came from a completely different angle. It’s invented, it’s evocative, it’s experiential, it’s all these different components mixed together. In some sense, it helped the category evolve.
For us, the key is to constantly strive for fresh ideas and innovative thinking in names. That’s inherently baked into how we work at Tanj.
Clutch: What are your thoughts on invented or coined names? Do you think that there are successful components to an invented name?
SM: In general, there are certain benefits to invented names. Often, you can find more white space and from a legal perspective coining names is easier than leveraging real words, because you are creating something entirely new. A coined name can function as an empty vessel – there is no attached meaning to it because it’s not rooted in anything that we know to date. As a brand, you can fill the name with meaning.
On the other hand, a coined name can be unfamiliar at first. People haven’t said that particular word and they might not know what it means. That’s an opportunity, but it’s also a potential drawback. You have to look in the context of what other brands in your industry are doing. If everybody is using a similar tactic, copying it isn’t the wisest choice; you want to carve out your own path.
I think you also have to consider the fundamentals of, whether it’s invented or not, just being a good name. Is it easy to pronounce? Is it memorable? Does it have clear meaning or associations? Is it unique? Is it available? Then, you have to think about it in terms of your brand. Does it help you achieve your bigger, higher level, strategic brand goals?
::: Domain Name :::
Clutch: Has the need for a domain name influenced the way that you develop names for companies?
SM: Yes, of course; it’s a big part of naming today. We try to balance clients’ needs and expectations with the reality of what is available or what can be acquired. In our process, the ultimate goal is, ‘Let’s get a great name out the door. Let’s give our clients something that will serve the business well for the long term.’ Part of that is being mindful of what’s happening with the domain name.
If the client has the resources to acquire the domain name, the matching dot-com, we will certainly factor that into our work. In some cases, clients will insist that it be an exact match, and immediately available; they want to be able to hop on GoDaddy and spend $9.99 to get the clean dot-com. We certainly can work to that, but we always make sure that the client understands that this heavily influences the style of names we’ll pursue. The tone, the texture, the feel, how the name is created, all of that is going to change. The entire process becomes driven by the need to create matching, immediately available dot-coms.
Clutch: Do you think that a dot-com domain extension is the most important, or that alternate domain name extensions can work just as well?
SM: Whether it’s an alternate extension or a modified URL, it depends on the business. For a brick and mortar business, an alternate extension or modified URL is usually fine. With that type of business, you don’t necessarily have to be entirely focused on the URL.
We always try to keep in mind that the majority of people find websites through search, not necessarily directly typing in the URL. If your name is performing well in search, yet you have an alternate extension or modified URL, the dot-com issues become less of a factor.
However, if you are primarily an online business, your destination or your platform is your website. So, the URL obviously becomes a more important factor. To show a certain level of sophistication, size, and presence, having the matching dot-com is important. We see it with our clients regularly.
::: Benefits of Hiring a Naming Company :::
Clutch: What are the benefits of hiring a naming company?
SM: There are a number of benefits. To start, if you have ever named anything, for example pets or children, you know it’s actually quite difficult. You pick a name willy-nilly, but if you want to do it well, it requires thought. By hiring a naming company like Tanj, you gain expertise. You work with a team that knows the ins and outs of the process, and can offer a lot of perspectives.
Another factor is the quality of the ideas. In our business, ideas are everything. For many types of business owners, they might be geniuses in their fields, but not in naming. By hiring outside help that really is creative, strategic and smart, you can get great ideas.
For bigger businesses, process and order are important benefits. We have entered naming projects that, for whatever reason, had no process or order previously, and our job is to clean up what has been done to get the team to success.
There is a timesaving factor as well. We have been in situations where clients have spent six to eight months trying to name a brand themselves, yet they keep failing. When we come in, we might take 3-4 weeks to develop a great name, but we get the job done. And that saves money, too. Do you want to spend eight months of your life agonizing over your name and all the time and money associated with that? Or do you want to invest in doing it right by seeking the help of a naming agency?
Your brand needs a name, there’s no question about it. So hire someone who will provide a smooth process and great results. We all want great results, and experienced naming firms like Tanj typically deliver.