Business-NameDoes Your Name Matter? Yes, It Does.

New, or soon to be reimagined, companies large and small go through major machinations trying to find that special brand name. The name they choose and how they do it is one of the most important marketing decisions they will make. Need examples? Edsel didn’t work for Ford. AirTran Airways = seriously boring. New Coke… well, we knew (didn’t we) that the addition of ‘New’ would screw up all the things we loved about ‘Old’ Coke.

Kryptonite bike locks and Repel insect repellent tell us exactly what these brands do and, importantly, make a promise. Very efficient.

Some names simply, um, suck. Edsel didn’t work for Ford. AirTran Airways = seriously boring. New Coke… well, we knew (didn’t we) that the addition of ‘New’ would screw up all the things we loved about ‘Old’ Coke.

During my advertising and marketing career, I’ve named numerous companies and brands. I worked for three ad agencies with uniques names. Two were “founder” agencies: Dancer Fitzgerald Sample (remember “Where’s the beef?”) and Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising Worldwide. My own Portland agency had a “current usage” name: Citrus. I also named the two Internet companies i founded. New Jersey Online was one of the first large-scale online newspapers. It spanned the state ActiveBuddy was a computer bot that allowed people to have natural language conversations with computers using AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo! Instant Messaging systems.

Types Of Company Names

I recently asked one of my advertising agency clients how they selected Milk as their agency name. They said that they went through a fairly random process with the goal of finding a name that was easy to remember, was different and was available in some form as a URL. Well, ‘random’is one way to do it. Another is to apply process.

Before I begin to riff on how to name a company, I feel the need to list some of the crazier ad agency names. It is interesting to see how sophisticated marketing communications companies name themselves. Many are clearly looking for that oh so special and very cute name. Here you go:

Steak / Big Spaceship / Wexley School For Girls / Farm / Mooseylvania / Space 150 / Sasquatch / Heresy / Poke / Droga5 / Barton F. Graf 9000 / Mekanism / 72andSunny / Mistress / G&M PLumbing / Almighty / TKO

You get the idea.

A Few Words On Naming

Powerful product and service names add significant value to branding, marketing and business development programs. Powerful brand names are often the most efficient method in creating market differentiation, telegraphing a brand’s positioning, its uniqueness and act as a tool in building a strong customer to brand connection.

  • The right brand names add value: for the consumer, employees and corporate valuation.
  • Brand names position the product or service in the minds of the prospect.
  • Brand names create differentiation.
  • Brand names telegraph service quality and trust. In the case of agencies… creativity.
  • Some brand names have visual appeal.
  • Brand names can create an emotional connection.
  • A great brand name communicates brand-related messages to the consumer with far less marketing effort.
  • Good brand names are easier to remember than bad brand names.
  • Make it easy. Search consultants need all the help they can get.

Having a brand name that does none of the above is a wasted opportunity.

How do we know this?

Much of it is intuitive. It is my view that a memorable and communicative brand name simply makes sense. That having a name that is suggestive and supportive of service or product attributes helps to drive differentiation. That having a strong brand name that actually sinks into our skulls is a good thing. Think of brand names as people: Vladimir conjures up very different imagery than Simon or Jacques or Manny. It works for products and services too. Vladimir Vodka I get. Manny Vodka just doesn’t cut it.

5 Essential Types Of Brand Names

1. Neologisims

A neologism, or new word, is just what you would expect it to be – a word that is created.

Pros: New inventive products can make the new name synonymous with their product (XEROX, Kleenex, Microsoft, eTrade), they are distinctive and are globally friendly. No legal or copyright issues.

Cons: Neologisms have no meaning and initially take more marketing power to become recognized, there is a missed opportunity to position the service by its name’s meaning, there can be spelling and pronunciation errors. It is occasionally difficult to get corporate committees to agree on a neologism – decision-making is subjective.

SMAK! is a French design firm and SMAK! works for me and works across borders which is one of their communication objectives.

2. Current Usage Words

Current Usage Words already have meaning. Brands with Current Usage names include Oracle, Sprint, Apple, Tide and Fidelity.

Pros: Current Usage Names telegraph Brand values (Apple is friendly), tap the name’s inherent attributes (Sprint is fast), can quickly trigger positive imagery (Tide is fresh and clean) and communicate service messages with less marketing spending.

Cons: Marketers must make sure that Current Usage Names accurately reflect the Brand’s image and do not raise a negative or confusing response. There may be trademark hurdles. An additional issue can arise when a company decides to change positioning or add new products that might not be consistent with the existing name.

3. Hybrids

Hybrids combine Current Usage Words and Neologisms. I am currently typing on a ThinkPad laptop and I brushed my teeth with AquaFresh. I just played with a PlayStation. Made some money using eTRADE

Pros: Hybrids are similar to Current Usage Names in that they quickly communicate a brand message. In addition, the combination can build on the power of the two-word combination. Finally, Hybrids reduce the issues associated with copyrighting the name.

Cons: The cons are similar to those of Current Usage Names.

4. Acronyms

Acronyms are letter combinations that generally reflect a multiple word name. In many cases, the Acronym has taken the place of the original name (IBM was for the older generation a company called International Business Machines).

Many Acronyms have traditionally been in heavy use by technology and engineering firms because of their functional origin (GE, AT&T, CBS).

Pros: Acronyms can be distinctive and have few legal issues.

Cons: Acronyms require marketing to make them memorable, they have little inherent meaning and since they essentially say nothing about the Brand, they add little value to the customer branding experience. They can also be hard to remember.

5. Founder Names

Founder names abound across many service and product categories. Ford, Sony, Chase, Jensen, and Schwab all are names of company founders. Many brands that want to engender trust, for example in the financial services category, use Founder Names.

Pros: Using the Founder’s name adds direct personal credibility. In a case where the founder is already well known, the Founder name comes with immediate recognition and value as in the case of Martha Stewart Living Magazine.

Cons: In most cases using a Founder name requires significant marketing expenditures to seed the name. Founder Names do not add much initial value.

So, What’s In A Name?

Well, your company name might not be the primary reason that people use your products or services. But, your name can telegraph your brand positioning (and, therefore, help your marketing be more efficient); can tell a story; enliven your personality; help you stand out from the competition; add value to your company. And, best of all: great brands can charge more. Hmmm… these are all good things.

How To?

If you want to move forward in developing a new name, I suggest you take a look at a blog post I did for advertising agencies and what process they should use to make it happen — strategically.

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