What’s the secret to a great hotel name?

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Steve Manning, a former cameraman and editor at the Travel Channel, is the Founder of Igor, a global naming agency. Having worked on the identity of a host of international hospitality brands, he shares his thoughts on the challenge of naming a hotel

The name of a hotel should work in concert with its brand positioning, which is the tone, personality, design, zeitgeist and target market you seek to embrace. Equally important is that the name achieves separation from your competitors. The name needs to be memorable and tap into something unique in the collective consciousness - the sum of which answers the most important question: “Is this name interesting?”

Laying the foundation

Before you begin, it’s essential to decide what you want your new name to do for you. The right name can create clear separation from your competitors and, crucially, demonstrate to the world that you are different. It should reinforce a unique positioning platform and create a positive and lasting engagement with your audience. It needs to be unforgettable.

Photo: Daniil Vnoutchkov

Photo: Daniil Vnoutchkov

A great name propels a brand through the world on its own, becoming a no-cost, self-sustaining PR vehicle and providing a deep well of marketing and advertising material. It should rise above the goods and services you provide and completely dominate your category.

The key is to find a fresh way into the hearts and minds of your audience, redefine and own the conversation in your industry, and engage people on as many levels as possible. The best names accomplish all of these goals and are advertisements in themselves.

Pitfalls and pivots

The most common mistake is choosing a name that gets lost in the lexicon of competitive soundalikes. For example, if there are hotel names in your locale using the words ocean, harbour, sea, water and surf, it’s counterproductive to jump into the generic gene pool with a word like cove – unless your objective is to have a name that’s impossible to remember.

Potential competitive pitfalls are market specific. We’ve worked on the naming of three hotels in Las Vegas (Aria, Wynn, The Signature), where you need to navigate the expectation that if a name is too rooted in a particular country or culture, the consumers will assume that the hotel will deliver a themed experience, à la Paris, The Orleans, New York New York, Caesars, Bellagio, Treasure Island, Venetian, Luxor and Excalibur. Additionally, the name can’t sound like the name of a show or club.

Always be on the lookout for a way to twist expectations

When you’re naming a property within a known hotel brand, sometimes the brand guidelines dictate that the new name can’t detract from the parent company’s name. Our experience in naming The Signature at MGM is an example. MGM is the name they want the brand equity to flow to, so the product names need to be on the quiet side. It’s the same brand strategy used by Mercedes, BMW and Audi. In the case of The Signature, it’s also a bit of a wink and a nod to the artist-signed Wynn at the other end of the Las Vegas Strip.

Always be on the lookout for a way to twist expectations in order to give the name some stopping power, to create some audience engagement. Our work on naming Address, a chain of ultra-high end hotels in Dubai, led to the discovery that traditional numbered addresses weren’t used in Dubai. Instead addresses were conveyed by describing what a location was near. It’s a system unique to the area, so by playing into it, it helped make the name distinctive and memorable.

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Hero image: credit to Patrick Perkins

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The ideal name should not only be interesting, but act as an advert in itself
Take care not to choose a name that gets lost among “soundalike” hotels
When naming a hotel within a known brand, it’s possible to be creative without detracting from the brand guidelines
Look for ways to challenge the usual expectations and give weight to a name