Nick Westergaard

By Nick Westergaard on November 28, 2016

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How to Develop the Right Brand Name with Naming Expert Mike Pile

“We have to make a distinction between the name and the brand. The name piques your interest or curiosity. It’s like having someone over for coffee or dinner. The brand is the impression that’s left after the experience.” As the president and creative director of a verbal identity firm, brand names are Mike Pile’s business. We took a deep dive on this critical brand touch point on this week’s episode of the On Brand podcast.

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About Mike Pile

Mike Pile is president and creative director of Uppercase Branding, a verbal identity firm that specializes in creating powerful and evocative brand names for new companies, products, and features. He has more than 25 years’ global brand development experience with advertising agencies, Fortune 500 firms, and startups.

A name is the single most-used word in any marketing communication program, so Mike believes that a compelling brand name is a company’s most potent brand asset. While a name can’t help a bad business model or product, it can significantly aid a good concept by giving it buzz and a jumpstart that ignites the conversation with prospects.

Using proprietary creative, evaluative, and research techniques, Uppercase develops names for B2B clients such as Nokia, General Electric, FedEx, and others in the financial, CPG, healthcare, and high-tech sectors.

Mike is a published author, a frequent speaker, and word enthusiast who lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and two children. When he is not working, he enjoys mountain biking, playing golf, and cooking.

Episode Highlights

Where do you start with naming? Usually with a brief. “Something that distils what it is you’re naming. Something that answers who, what, when, where, and why.” This baton is critical in developing the right brand name. From there, Mike and his team consult numerous resources including surfer dictionaries, cowboy dictionaries, gem dictionaries, and more.

What does a brand name have to do? “We believe that a brand name has to work very hard. It has to work emotionally and it has to work rationally.” That’s why we present hundreds of options.

Mike’s naming tip: What if your brand was a superhero? Asking yourself this simple question — if your brand was a superhero, who would it be and why? — is great for bypassing hurdles in the creative process. It’s a powerful trick for getting at your brand’s true essence.

The Branded House vs. The House of Brands. Mike reminded us about this classic construct for organizing your organization’s brand platform. In some cases, you utilize a “branded house” like Ford — with the Ford Explorer, Ford Escape, and so on (all have Ford at the beginning). In other situations, you go with a house-of-brands model such as P&G, which is made up of strong brands like Tide and Crest. Others still find a hybrid model effective, like Hilton who has both stand-alone brands like Hampton Inn and extensions like the Hilton Garden Inn.

What brand has made Mike smile recently? Tesla — but true to his roots in naming, Mike took us behind the scenes of the story of why this is a powerful yet unconventional brand name.

To learn more, check out Mike’s website for Uppercase Branding.

As We Wrap …

Before we go, I want to flip the microphone around to our community …Recently our man in Wisconsin Don Stanley gave us a shout for our episode on being your brand’s editor in chief featuring Ann Handley. Thanks for listening Don!

Did you hear something you liked on this episode or another? Do you have a question you’d like our guests to answer? Let me know on Twitter using the hashtag #OnBrandPodcast and you may just hear your thoughts here on the show.

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Until next week, I’ll see you on the Internet!



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Nick Westergaard
Email Brand Driven Digital

is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, where he helps build better brands online. He also teaches at the University of Iowa and is host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.


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