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Meet Margaret Wolfson – Brand Naming in a Time of Covid

Today we have selected Margaret Wolfson to interview. She is the Founder/Chief Creative Officer of River+ Wolf.

Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined this company?

I have always been fascinated by brand names. I think it was an interest that began as a child while car shopping with my father. He was then an English Professor with a focus on 19th century English poetry. Given this, we often discussed the metaphorical significance behind the auto names. I think this may have planted the “naming seed” in my imagination. But my first career was as a performing storyteller, not a brand name. As there is a fair amount of downtime when touring, especially internationally, I was looking to fill this space. My long-standing interest in branding and naming, plus the ability to do naming work remotely, made it the perfect complement to performing. After a decade of doing both, I decided to focus exclusively on naming. Having built and run my own theater company, my passions were dual—I loved creative work but also the challenge of growing a company. This is what motivated me to launch my own naming agency, River + Wolf, in 2014.

How are you and your team doing in these COVID-19 times?

Happily, everyone is well. Those in creative fields such as River + Wolf were very fortunate as we could all largely work from home.

How did the coronavirus pandemic impact your business, and how are you coping?

 Coronavirus impacted supply chains, and shortages and uncertainty deeply impacted the launch dates of clients’ new products or services. For a time, projects would start, then stop, as the urgency for a name took a back seat to other pressing needs. We had to learn to be very flexible with our client’s schedules and timelines.

Too, some sectors we worked in seemed to be less in need of names at this time—cosmetics, for example—while others surged ahead. Not surprisingly, one industry that increased in demand was medical devices. And perhaps it is just a coincidence, but Covid also seemed to increase the already substantial number of new products and companies seeking to integrate Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data (BD), the Internet of Things (IoT), and virtual and augmented reality into the world’s way of working and living. Whether in healthcare or other fields, the breadth of new inventions is staggering.

As a result of Covid’s impact on the economy, we also developed naming workshops for start-up clients who may not be able to hire a naming agency. It is an exciting, joyous, and always eye-opening experience for those who opt to undertake this journey. We also feel it is a way of giving back to those who either through choice or necessity have embarked on a new way of working.

Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?

As the writer, Rainer Maria Rilke notes in his book, Letters to a Young Poet: “…live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” This is a piece of sage advice now—not just for poets but for business owners and, for that matter, everyone else. Staying open to possibilities while the world is shifting and flowing and finding its footing is the best mindset to cultivate (and probably always is!).

How does your company innovate?

Though the best naming comes from a deep immersion into many fields of study, among them literature, science, history, and linguistics, we have recently been experimenting with neural networks. That said, while Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and other emerging technologies can be great tools for scanning vast quantities of words or serving up surprising word combinations, they are only additional tools. Human intelligence and deep legal expertise far outstrip any automated naming approaches.

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Our chief competitors are Catchword, Zinzin, Lexicon, Tungsten, and Tanj. They are all great companies. That said, I am proud of the fact that though River + Wolf launched considerably later than these companies, we are ranked among the top global naming agencies by Clutch, the leading ratings and reviews platform for IT, marketing, and business service providers. I believe the transparent ethos and intellectual, creative, and business acumen of the River + Wolf team accounts for our meteoric rise in the naming field. As to “staying in the game,” our plan is no different than the pre-Covid world—do sublime work for all clients, whether they be solopreneurs on their first venture or established global corporations.

Your final thoughts

Many people think naming agencies or specialists brainstorm names over a cup of coffee. Or that they come up with a handful of possible names. Nothing could be further from the truth. Naming can be fiendishly difficult. Sure, at times, people with little experience are lucky enough to catch lightning in a bottle and land on the right name almost effortlessly, but that’s the exception, not the rule. That’s why professionals best handle naming. It’s also important to understand that, like any creative endeavor, naming can be messy. But there is nothing wrong with a mess. It is vital to creative work. To keep the mess from turning into crazy chaos, however, it’s important to have a clear process. I believe our disciplined five-step process when combined with well-nourished imaginations, is what leads to great names.


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