Brand Naming Strategy — Lessons From BlackBerry

Brand Name selection is one of the critical decisions an organization has to make. A good name can enhance brand recall and create a positive association with the customer. It is a vital element in building brand equity.

However, choosing a name for a new brand is one of the toughest challenges in business. Let’s have a look at RIM’s BlackBerry brand name evolution and understand its reasons.

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In 1999, a Canadian company Research In Motion(RIM), wanted to launch a new portable communication device that would help a business executive send/receive e-mails at his/her convenience. The company wanted a new name for the product brand.

The development team came out with names like EasyMail, MegaMail, PocketMail, and so on. However, RIM’s co-founder Lazaridis thought of exploring few more options before finalizing it. He approached Lexicon Branding Studio and tasked them to come out with a new name for the proposed product.


Before starting the brand naming journey, we need to consider a critical point — To enter a consumer’s mind, a brand should mean only one thing to customers. Colgate means toothpaste, Maggi means noodles, BMW means driving experience, Volvo means safety.

RIM’s proposed device would do only one thing — send/receive mobile e-mails. By delivering one kind of value, the new brand would project an image of consistency. It makes it easier to enter people’s minds.

So, BlackBerry means e-mail.

  • The ‘Dial’ was a successful brand in the soap category. It began to extend the name for its products in other categories -Dial Deodorant and so on. What happened? The ‘Dial’ has a large share of the soap market and a very small share of the deodorant market. If you ask consumers, Dial means… they would reply ‘Soap’. Dial holds a strong position for Soap inside a consumer’s mind. The brand never succeeded in other categories.
  • Kleenex was famous for its Tissues. It extended its name to other product categories -Eg. Kleenex Towels. For a consumer, Kleenex means tissues. Kleenex never made inroads in other categories.

Ensure that your brand will be known for only one thing.


The foremost factor for a successful business is an in-depth understanding of its customers.

RIM’s co-founder Lazaridis always stressed that a company should make every decision from a customer’s perspective. He would often ask his team to think about every problem/solution from the user’s shoes.

So, make a “Brand Name” decision from a user’s perspective.

How to get the answer from your customers? Go and observe them, spend time with them, ask open-ended questions, and understand their hidden needs, desires, fears, and changing attitudes. The Lexicon design team did that. They met customers, observed them, and collected insights.

RIM’s RESEARCH INSIGHTS — The Lexicon’s research showed one valuable insight — For most corporate executives, e-mail wasn’t a convenience but a stress point. Their anxiety levels went up whenever they received a work e-mail. For some, it continuously reminded them about their perceived inadequacies.

Initially, the RIM team thought of calling the new product as EasyMail or MegaMail. But the research showed that Mail word in the product brand name would trigger anxiety in a user. That was a shocking revelation.

SOLUTION — The solution was to come out with a name that wouldn’t trigger any anxieties/uneasiness. A soothing name that could calm the nerves, bring joy, slow their life, make them relax, and enjoy.


Most business or life decisions fail when there is only one option to choose.

David Nutt, a British Psychiatrist, analyzed decisions made by companies. Businesses that made decisions based on only a single option had a 52% failure rate, and decisions based on multiple options had a 32% failure rate.

The above implies that we need to conceptualize multiple names for the brand before finalizing one.

Why do we need to have multiple options?

  • It will prevent us from falling in love with a single name.
  • When we have only one name or option, we will spend most of the time convincing people to like it.
  • When we have only one name or option, we become passionate about it and stand firm against disagreements. We will look for information to support our solution(Confirmation Bias) and exaggerate the benefits. Once confirmation bias sets in, our ability to pay attention to opposing arguments will be restricted, and we will no more hold the balanced view. We will unconsciously withhold relevant information that conflicts with our solution/idea.


RIM’s initial options were EasyMail, MegaMail, PocketMail. They were not distinct from each other. It appeared like a variation of the same concept.

It is important that ideas need to be distinctively different and meaningful, not just tweakings of one concept — For that, we need to think in different directions/perspectives. It would result in unexpected, disruptive ideas.

Colgate Wisp — In 2006, Colgate wanted to launch a disposable mini toothbrush. This new toothbrush did not need any mouth rinsing. Therefore, it could be used inside a cab/aircraft. Unfortunately, the brand naming team could focus solely on the smaller size of the brush as it was a dominating value proposition. They generated names related to tiny/smallness — Petite Brush, Mini-brush, Brush-let. Finally, Colgate approached a design studio for a new product name.

The design team ventured in different directions to generate names(other than focusing on small/tiny size).

  • One was the “beauty” — the oral care — Better looking white teeth and a pleasant smile. The team generated names that conveyed beauty.
  • Then, the team generated names based on other advantages of the toothbrush — No need to spit out, no big mass of minty lather or foam(A strong feature).
  • They also generated names based on product attributes — Lightness, Cleanliness, Softness.

The Lightness direction gave them an interesting name that most people liked. The design team looked for metaphors, sounds, words that could communicate Lightness. Out of the long list of words emerged WISP — Which means a small, thin, twisted bunch(Wisp of rising smoke) representing Lightness.

Thinking in different directions/perspectives helped the Colgate team.

RIM & Blackberry — In the case of RIM, the Lexicon team also brainstormed in multiple directions — They generated names along the lines of relaxation, calmness, soothing — Camping, movies, cycling, summer vacation, melons, and the names went on. And, someone added ‘Picking Strawberries’ as a relaxing and pleasant exercise.

However, Lexicon founder David Placek didn’t like Strawberry. He felt that it unfurled too slowly when he said it. He believed that the word would not work for a device that boasted on speeding up communications.

Designers started to search for names of similar vowels ‘Strawberry’. One person scrabbled ‘Blackberry’ as he felt that the device’s miniature elliptical keys resembled blackberry seeds.

David Placek immediately liked the ‘Blackberry’ word. He had his reasons.

Let’s see why Placek liked the Blackberry name.

The BLACKBERRY Name and Its Advantages

The likelihood that a customer can retain and recall the brand name plays a pivotal role in a brand’s success.

We all know that a brand name is the first point of contact with the customers. So, it has to be a sticky one. The name should be memorable — Easy to remember.

One of the techniques to create a memorable name is the use of alliteration.


It means the use of the same letter or sound at the beginning of words that are closer together.

Example for Alliteration in brand names — Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, Coca-Cola, Kit-Kat, Dunkin’ Donuts, Krispy Kreme, PayPal, Circuit City, Range Rover — (In those names, both words start with the same letter). Don’t you find those names attractive and easy to remember?. Alliteration adds certain aesthetics to the name.

David Placek liked the repetition of “B” in Blackberry. He asked his team to capitalize both Bs to leverage the alliteration.


Sound Symbolism means that the mere sound of a word, apart from its actual definition, conveys meaning.

Words containing certain sounds bear certain meanings — Mikhail Lomonosov.

Research shows that people unconsciously associate distinct sounds resulting from different letter combinations with size, weight, speed, shape, and hardness. Brand name sounds can influence consumer behavior.

Bouba/Kiki Effect —In one experiment, researchers showed a curvy object and an angular object to people. They asked them to identify which shape would be called Bouba or Kiki. Ninety-five percent of subjects replied that Kiki is the angular shape and Bouba is the round shape. Some sounds convey the meaning “round,” while other sounds convey the meaning “angular”.

Mil/Mal — In 1929, Dr.Sapir experimented. He asked test participants to associate two meaningless words, mil, and mal, with a small and a large table. Eighty percent of them chose mal for a large table and mil for a small one.

Frish/Frosh — Yorkston and Menon (2004) created two fictitious brand names for ice cream, Frish, and Frosh. Participants perceived that the Frosh brand was smoother, richer, and creamier than the Frish brand.

To understand the reasons behind the Bouba/Kiki, Mil/Mal, Frish/Frosh effect, we need to learn the ramifications of front/back vowels.

Front/Back Vowels — A common method of categorizing vowel sounds is by a front versus back distinction. This distinction refers to where the tongue is positioned when a word is pronounced.

The research shows that people perceive front vowels(produced in the front of the mouth — i, e, o) as feminine, small, fast, light, and angular. Eg-Kiki, Mil, Frish. The studies also showed that people feel that the back vowels(produced from the back of the mouth like ‘ou’) represent large, masculine, slow, dark, and round. The back vowel ‘o’ made people believe ‘Frosh’ brand smoother than the Frish brand(Which has a front vowel).

BlackBerry and Sound Symbolism

Back Vowel — The back vowel ‘a’ sound in Black denotes masculinity, strength, sturdiness, and power. It symbolizes a powerful and robust device.

At the same time, the name had to display the lightness and compactness of the product. How did they do? Answer — The front vowel.

Front Vowel — The front vowel ‘e(egg)’ in Berry symbolizes smallness, lightness, thinness, softness, friendliness, and prettiness. David Placek wrote that “berry” connotes smallness compared with other hand-helds. He also added that the ‘e(berry)’ sound evokes speed.

Plosives — Plosives are a class of sounds formed by a stoppage of air in the mouth. These include “p,” “b,” “t,” “d,” “k,” and “g.”

The B in BlackBerry is Plosives. While sounding B, the impending airflow vibrates the vocal cords. So, it is also called Voiced Consonants. David Placek says that the vibration conveys feelings of power and strength. Lexicon’s research also showed that people rated the ‘B’ sound as symbolizing relaxation. Research shows that when a plosive is the first sound in a word (as in “BlackBerry”), brand name memory recognition and recall increase.

The K letter in BlackBerry is another Plosive. From Coca-Cola to Nike to Kool-Aid to Crafts to Kinley to KitKat to Reebok to Nokia — The K letter ruled(s) the brand world. The K sound grabs the attention. Marketers believe that the letter K helped the brands to stand out. The K sound improves memory retention, recall, and brand name recognition. It denotes ruggedness and an edgy product.

Approximates — Letters are divided into different sound categories — Vowels, Fricatives, Africatives, Plosives, and Nasals. Approximates are letters that don’t belong to any of those categories. They are “w”, “l”, “r”, and “y.” These letters are considered friendly. Dr. Cynthia Whissell says, “People perceive words ending with “y” as very pleasant and friendly, which is why you often find it in nicknames.” The device would be like a friend or part of your family — A user-friendly product.


Brand Naming Strategy — Finalize brand position, understand users’ needs, fears, & desires, generate multiple options, make each option distinct from each other, think solutions from users’ perspective, and leverage sound symbolism wherever possible.

References:: StrawBerry Is No BlackBerry: Building Brands Using Sound
By Sharon Begley, The WallStreet Journal, Sounds good: Phonetic sound patterns in top brand names by Ruth Pogacar & Emily Plant & Laura Felton Rosulek & Michal Kouril, Advertising Brands by Means of Sound Symbolism by Alina Duduciuc, Phonetic Symbolism and Brand Name Preference by Tina M Lowrey and L J Shrum, A Sound Idea — Phonetic Effects of Brand Names on Consumer Judgments by Eric Yorkston and Geeta Menon, Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of Blackberry by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff.

Secular Humanist, Business Growth Consultant, Design Thinker, India. Reach me at or