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3 naming a business BNBranding

Naming a baby vs. naming a business

Bend, Oregon advertising agencyNaming a business is tough.  I’ve conjured up thousands of business names, product names, non-profit names and even names for corporate marketing initiatives. Here’s one thing I’ve learned:

Naming a baby is much easier than naming a business.

naming a business BNBrandingFirst of all, with baby names there are only two people who have a say in the decision. Just mom and dad. It’s a simple democratic process where the wife always has veto power over anything the husband comes up with.

When you’re naming a business or a new product you have to build consensus and get buy-in from many people.

Sometimes there are even committees involved, which usually lead to winning names like “Poolife” for a swimming pool cleaning company.

Not only that, you have to get it approved by the lawyers. There aren’t any trademark laws protecting children’s names. You’re free to call your son Sam, even if there are seven other Sams in your neighborhood.

Doesn’t work that way in the business world. There are hordes of lawyers who do nothing but trademark application work and even more important, trademark enforcement.  So if your product name even sounds like something that’s already out there, you’re in trouble.

Case in point: There was a little coffee shop in the small town of Astoria, Oregon that got sued by Starbucks for trademark infringement. It was called Sambucks. And that’s just domestic trademarks. If you’re an ecommerce company shipping product all over the world, you need international trademark protection.

When you’re naming a baby you can simply choose one from a baby naming website.  With company names, you have to rule out every name that’s ever been used before and start entirely from scratch. You can’t even go through the family tree and choose some obscure middle name, like you can with a child.

naming your business or your product - beware of the Nova And then there’s the whole translation issue.

Face it, you probably don’t care what your company name means in Hungarian. But there are dozens of stories of product names like the Chevy Nova, which didn’t translate real well. (In Spanish, Nova means “does not go.”)

If you’re doing business globally, your naming project just got astronomically harder.

And here’s an important distinction: your child’s livelihood doesn’t depend on people remembering his or her name. Sure, unfortunate names like Major Slaughter, Ima Nut or Moon Unit might cause a lifetime of grief, but they won’t make or break the poor kid’s career.  In business, it’s hard to overcome a really bad brand name.

Most business owners who are trying to come up with a brand name think they can do it themselves. After all, they named their children successfully. How hard can it be?

But brand names are a different story. The do-it-yourself approach usually results in one of three types of lame names:

• Overly clever, pun-filled names like The Hairport or The Family Hairloom. Har har.

• Totally boring, literal names like the Third Street Coffee House…  Mediocre coffee in a mediocre location. Or Optimum Nutrition for a supplement company.

• Names that backfire completely when applied to internet URLs: Need a therapist? Try www.therapistfinder.com. Need some good art, go to www.speedofart.com. Looking for a nice pen? www.penisland.com.

A good name can be costly, but not nearly as costly as blunders like that.

another example of bad business naming

This might be a great screen printing company, but the name…

So save yourself a lot of time, money and frustration by hiring a branding firm to help from the very beginning. You need a team, not just a designer… a wordsmith AND a graphic designer AND a good trademark attorney.

You should also find a firm that has a formal business naming process, because there’s a lot more to consider than just what you “like” or don’t like. When you follow a disciplined process it becomes much more than just a naming exercise.

It’s strategic planning.

Choosing the right name often forces people to make critical strategy decisions. So the first thing to consider is your market niche… Does the potential name fit your niche? Expand your niche? Or maybe narrow your niche is a positive way.

Think about pronunciation… how the name sounds when you say it out loud. Get input from a designer to assess how the name will look in type. Long names don’t work as well on a bottle.

Think long and hard about the connotations of the word. What do people associate with it? Does it translate? Is it confusing?

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Then there’s the sticky-ness factor. Is the name unique and memorable enough to stick in people’s heads? Google is a good example… no one knew what it meant at first, but it ranked high on the stickiness index.

When you delve into all those criteria, a fundamentally subjective process becomes a little more objective.

Your name is the foundation of your brand. So if your business IS your baby, get started right with a memorable name.  Call BNBranding for affordable help with your brand name and identity. Or check out this post for more info. 

Here are a few of the brand names we’ve created from scratch: PointsWest for a resort development on the west side of Bend on the edge of the Deschutes National Forest.  “Sit Down Dinners” for a family-style personal chef service. “Aspire” for a smoking cessation program. Widgi Creek for a golf club. (No one knows what Widgi refers to, but they sure remember it.) Eathos for a new brand of vegetarian frozen dinners. Tavo Valera for a residential community. The list goes on. The well is deep.

Here are a few other exnaming services from BNBranding amples of names, both good and bad:

• Federal Express decided to shorten its name, and became Fed Ex. A smart move, considering that’s what everyone called them anyway. Besides, repainting all their jets with the new shorter logo saved the company millions year in fuel costs alone.

• Dress Barn??? How many women will admit to shopping there, much less bring herds of friends in? Tough to be a brand ambassador for a place called the Dress Barn.

• Drug companies spend billions every year on names, yet they come up with some of the worst: “Nasalcom” for an inhaled antihistamine. Sounds like a rat poison that works when they sniff it. “Vagistat” for a yeast infection medicine. “Cutivate” for a skin condition medicine. “Aspercreme” for an ointment that doesn’t even have any aspirin in it. “Idebenone” for neurological disorders. The list is long.

Viagra, on the other hand, is a great drug name. It says virility and vitality and conjures romantic images of Niagra falls.

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Naming — Age-old advice on how to name a new business.

BNBranding logoSo you want to hang up your own shingle. Or you have a great idea for a start-up, but you have no idea what to call it. This might be the closest thing you’re going to find to a DIY guide on how to name a new business.

Bend advertising agency blog post on Claude HopkinsEons ago, advertising pioneer Claude Hopkins said “a good name should almost be an advertisement in its own right.”

Now, 100 years later, recent studies in corporate finance, behavioral economics and psychology show that many of his theories were dead on.

There’s a proven correlation between a memorable name and market value of the company.

Fortune 500 companies have figured that out. They pay naming firms huge sums to concoct new words that eventually become iconic brands. Those firms employ teams of poets, neologists, writers, comedians, behavioral psychologists and linguistic experts to come up with names like “Acura” for Honda’s luxury car division. “Pentium” for an Intel Processor. “Viagra” for, well, you know what.

Small business owners, start-up entrepreneurs and Marketing Directors of mid-sized firms don’t have that luxury.  Often they try the do-it-yourself approach to naming a business.  (How hard can it be, right?) Or worse yet, they have a contest. They throw the fate of their business into the hands of a faceless crowd that knows nothing about their business model or brand personality.

Naming is one of the toughest creative disciplines you’ll ever find. Alex Frankel, in his book Word Craft, said “naming is like songwriting or Haiku, but it’s even more tightly constrained. You have to evoke shades of meaning in very small words.”

In other words, you really can’t teach the average business owner how to come up with a great business name. It’s even hard to teach a great writer to do naming projects.

Analytical people have a very hard time coming up with business names that have any nuance at all. Their brains simply aren’t wired for the lateral thinking it takes to concoct a name from nothing. So they usually end up borrowed names using terms with very literal, unimaginative meaning that wouldn’t pass muster for old Claude Hopkins, much less a skeptical, modern consumer.

The most common naming trap is the local, “tell ’em where we’re at” business name…  Just borrow a geographic location, and tack on what you do.

In my town it’s “Central Oregon” blank or “High Desert” anything: Central Auto Repair. High Desert Heating. Central Oregon Dry Cleaning. High Desert Distributing. And almost every brand identity involves mountains.

In San Francisco it’s Golden Gate Heating or Bay Area Brake Service. In Seattle it’s Puget Sound this and Puget Sound that.

Unless there’s absolutely no competition in your local area, there’s no differentiation built in to those names. Might as well be “Acme.”(A lot of companies have names that begin with the letter A, due to the old yellow pages listing criteria. I’m glad that’s no longer relevant)

Another naming trap is the business owner’s last name. If it’s Smith, Jones, Johnson or any other common name, forget about it.

If there are a bunch of owners or partners involved, forget that too. You don’t want to start sounding like the law firm of Ginerra Zifferberg Fritche Whitten Landborg Smith-Locke Stiffleman.

If every partner has his name on the door it’s virtually impossible for the human brain to recall the brand. And it’s just not practical in everyday use… Inevitably, people will start abbreviating names like that, until you end up with alphabet soup. Can you imagine answering the phone at that place. “Hello, GZFWLSLS. How can I help you.”

However, there are times when the last name of the partners can work. Here’s the criteria:

1. The last names themselves must have some relevance, credibility and value in the marketplace.

2. The two names must sound good together.

3. The two names put together don’t add up to more than four syllables.

4. They can be connected into one, memorable name.

Real Estate branding, advertising and marketing services

How to name a new business using your last name.

My firm has a client we named MorrisHayden. Both those names are highly recognizable and trusted in their local real estate industry. Literally weeks after they hung up their sign, they had people calling, saying “yeah, I’ve heard of you guys.”

The Morris and Hayden last names together fit every criteria, but those cases are very rare.

Traditionally, the goal of a good  name was to capture the essence of your positioning and deliver a unique selling proposition, so you could establish supremacy in your space just with your name. Precisely what Claude Hopkins had in mind.

Examples: Mr. Clean, A1 Steak Sauce, ZipLoc, Taster’s Choice, Spic & Span.

But literal names are getting harder and harder to come by. The playing field is getting more crowded, forcing us to move away from what the words literally mean to what the words remind you of.

As Seth Godin said, it’s “The structure of the words, the way they sound, the memes they recall… all go into making a great name. Now the goal is to coin a defensible word that can acquire secondary meaning and that you could own for the ages.”

Examples:  Apple, Yahoo, Jet Blue, Google, BlackBerry, Travelocity.

Frankel says, “the name must be a vessel capable of carrying a message… whether the vessel has some meaning already poured into it or if it stands ready to be filled with meaning that will support and idea, an identity, a personality.”

Starting out, the name Dyson was an empty vessel. Now it’s forever linked with the idea of revolutionary product design in vacuum cleaners, hand dryers, and who knows what else. The brand message behind that company is very clear. This is not your mother’s vacuum cleaner!

So here’s the deal… The first rule of thumb for how to name a new business… Before you start thinking of names, think about the core brand concept.

If you haven’t already pinned down the underlying premise of your brand — the value proposition,  the passion, the values,  the promise — it’s going to be very hard to come up with a great name that works on several levels.

So get your story straight first. Hire someone to help you spell out the brand platform. That’s the place to start. Then, whoever’s doing the name will have something more tangible and enlightening to go on.

When you nail it, the naming process really is magical. Throw enough images, sounds, thoughts and concepts around, and you come out with that one word that just sticks.

retail marketing strategyLook what BlackBerry did for Research In Motion. That distinctly low-tech name helped create an entire high-tech category.

I’m sure there were plenty of engineers there who didn’t initially agree with the name choice. But those dissenting voices were silenced when BlackBerry became a household word, and their stock options went through the roof.

When I suggested we change the name of a golf course from Pine Meadows to “Widgi Creek” the entire staff thought I was nuts. But the owner vetoed everyone. He was gutsy enough to go with it, and the name stuck. 25 years later it ranks as the most frequently recalled name in the Oregon golf market.

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Click here for more on how to name a new business from the Brand Insight Blog.

If you want a memorable name for your new business, one that can become an iconic brand, give me a call at BNBranding. 541-815-0075.