Should a Brand Be Unique or Descriptive?


Well, folks, it’s finally happened.  I had my first ever newsletter opt-out.  It was bound to happen sooner or later.  My husband is right; not everyone thinks I’m as funny as I do.  The fact that only one of you has gotten sick of me so far is a huge win in my book.

To that end, if there is something you think I could do better. Let me know.  I want this to be a resource that folks look forward to and get value from.  If it’s not, then this is all a waste of time.

Today’s topic is inspired by constructive negative feedback I received.  In short and in less colorful language, I was told that my newsletter needed a new name.

After careful consideration, I’ve come to agree. We can do better, which is why I’m officially accepting recommendations for new names.  Submissions are due by 7/12. You can either email me or tweet at me @danielleorourk.  To incentivize reader participation, I’m offering the winner a $50 gift card and a chance to shamelessly promote your business in an upcoming newsletter.

Since I’m on the hunt for a new name, I figured I would focus today’s newsletter on a common dilemma that arises during every brand naming process.

To the newsletter:

Topic of the Week: Should a Brand be Unique or Descriptive

Coming up with a name for a business or product is hard.  Just ask the Belgium chocolate company who had to change their name after a certain terrorist organization rose to prominence.

While there are a lot of factors that go into creating a good brand name, today I just want to focus on one of them: Should the brand name be unique or descriptive?

When I say unique, I mean a name that has nothing to do with the actual products being sold, but the name is simple, memorable and catchy.

Google, Uber, and Nike are all perfect examples of this tactic.  None of these names tell a person what the companies’ products or services are, but they are all memorable.

On the flip side, descriptive names communicate what the underlying products or services are.

Coca-Cola obviously sells pop (I’m from the Midwest, it will always be pop, not soda).  Before Amazon decided to take over the world, ToysRUs was the place to buy toys.  Pizza Hut is where you go for bad pizza.  These names all give a clear indication of what the company is selling.

So which tactic is better?  In short, there is no right answer.

Would Google have been as successful if their name was “Search Engine Company,” or “Searchy?” Maybe, but would they be the diversified platform they are today? Or would they have been pigeon holed into only being a search business?

On the flip side, what if an obscure or cutesy name actually hurts local service providers? For example, if you Google “Nashville painters,” all the businesses on the first page of search results have “painting” or “painters” in their names.  Coincidence?

Would a company called “Painty” fair better in the Nashville market? Considering that name sounds like a woman’s undergarment, I would be skeptical, but you get where I’m going with this.

Additional Resources

Whether you go for unique or descriptive has everything to do with your industry, marketing strategy and customer preferences.  I’ve compiled a list of additional resources that offer helpful best practices for naming a product or company.

A step by step guide to creating a brand name

A hilarious illustrative guide to good and bad brand name strategies.  I laughed out loud at a few of these, particularly #7.

A helpful blog post on best practices for brand name market research

A resource to quickly check for name availability across websites and social platforms

Updated: Reader Submissions:

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About the author

Danielle O'Rourke

Recovering Investor. Mom. Wife.


  • Great newsletter – you’re asking all the right questions… or at least the important ones.
    Deciding when to go with a descriptive vs intuitive vs associative vs abstract name relies on a handful of factors:
    – Will the brand expand beyond the current offerings? Amazon started with books – competing with,,, etc. Amazon stood out AND let them expand beyond books.
    – Do you want to tell your market what you do? Or, would you rather tell them sometime about how or why you do it? If the brand is less descriptive and built on the point-of-difference or brand benefit, you’ve got an opportunity to tell a story.
    – Do you want to look and sound like your competitors? Or, do you want to stand apart? Dollar General, Dollar Store, Family Dollar, Dollar Tree… were focused on saying what they do, and ignored all other aspects of building a brand. Target got it right.
    – What’s you marketing/sales budget like? Can you support an associative brand?

    There are more, but these are a few of the big ones.

    I’m hooked! Looking forward to the next edition!

  • Who cares about the name if the content is good? Plenty of great names out there lacking in content. It’s not a misleading name. And with respect to your first opt-out, that’s a data point not a trend. Continue to produce good content.

Danielle O'Rourke

Recovering Investor. Mom. Wife.

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