Many of the top companies in the world use distinctive and inventive naming for their brand names. Our recent review of 2012 Brand Finance Global 500 rankings reveals a trend — the top 10 global brands are getting more inventive.

80% of the brand names represented are inherently distinctive, meaning they are fanciful or ‘made up’ words such as “Vodafone”, or arbitrary words used out of context such as “Apple”. In contrast, from 2007 through 2011, only 50% of the top 10 brands on average reflected inventive or highly distinctive naming.

It is instructive to compare some of the brand names represented in the 2012 top 10 list with weaker — and now defunct — brands in the same field:

  • Computers: Apple vs. Wang (founder’s last name)
  • Search Engines: Google vs. InfoSeek (for seeking information)
  • Software: Microsoft vs. WebTV (for TV on the web)
  • General Retail: Wal-Mart (“Wal” from Sam Walton) vs. Woolworth’s (founder’s last name)
  • Mobile Phones: Samsung/Vodafone vs. Palm (for devices that fit in the palm); and
  • Bookselling and Online Retail: Amazon vs. B.Dalton (founder’s name).

Of course, it is possible to acquire a strong brand over time, even if the brand name is not so inventive to start. Superb brand management and business performance contribute significantly to brand strength over a period of time, and can help less-inventive brands become strong. But today’s hyper-competitive marketplace rewards some brands more than others: those that are distinctive and stand out from the rest at the start.