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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.

I had one company that thought they had their naming nailed down before they even called. We spent six months developing the brand strategy and brand identity around that name, only to find out they hadn’t gone through the necessary legal steps to protect it.

Back to the drawing board.

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…  With a name like that, there’s no way you’re going to get anything more than mediocre coffee in a mediocre location.

• 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.

the wrong approach to naming a business - BN Branding

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?

naming a business with BN Branding

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.

naming your company BN Branding

Naming your company – Why is it so dang hard to do well?

If you conducted a poll of 100 people like myself who develop brands for a living, 99 would tell you that naming your company is the hardest piece of the brand identity development process.

Naming is way harder than designing logos or writing brand narratives. Naming a business is harder than naming a baby. Naming is even hard for us pros who have a proven process in place and 30 years of experience under our belts.

For many entrepreneurs, naming their company is often harder than devising the idea for the business in the first place.

I’ve seen plenty of people with a brilliant idea and a solid business plan struggle endlessly for a good business name. I’ve also seen cases where ambitious founders settle for the first name that comes along that’s available in dot com form. Both scenarios are less than optimal.

A good business name set you up for success like a favorable tailwind on a strong, warm current.

A bad business name is like a 10 ton anchor on a 20 foot boat. It’ll drag you down and make every other facet of your business more difficult. You’ll be rowing against the current the entire way.

 

 

Here are three good reasons why business owners have such a hard time naming their own companies:

Reason #1: They fall in love with their own ideas.

When people try the do-it-yourself approach to business naming it’s impossible to be even remotely impartial. They lack the perspective and the process they need to evaluate all their options.

bad ideas for naming your business

I’m not sure what this business owner was thinking when he decided on this name for a screen printing business.

Frankly, they are blind to the shortcomings of their own ideas and they’re just too close to it to make an educated decision.

Back in 2004 I met with an enterprising young coffee lover who wanted to open a chain of coffee shops called Thank The Goat. (Coffee was discovered by a goat herder who noticed his goats eating the fruit of the coffee plant.) He was so enamored with that origin story he couldn’t be open minded about anything else.

Needless to say, Thank The Goat did not give even one Starbucks location a run for its money. Want a good laugh? See the worst business names of all time.

Here’s another case I’m closely familiar with…

Three partners in an E-commerce company were so in love with their new brand name they pushed it into production before anyone fully vetted it with a trademark attorney.

It was not a bad name, but they wasted a lot of time and money developing a brand platform and brand identity around that name, only to find out it was not protectable.

Going back to the drawing board was very costly.

My company uses an 8-point grading system for name evaluation, and legal trademark protection is just one of the points.

choosing a name for your company BN BrandingThis report card approach forces the creative team and the client to look at all the “good” ideas from numerous different angles. It adds an element of objectivity to what is normally a completely subjective process.

Instead of relying only a vague gut feeling, we get a random sample of people to grade each possible name. Then we tally up the scores and let the client make a balanced, well-informed decision.

It’s not a perfect process, but it’s way more reliable than the usual, overly-emotional approach that most people take.

Not only has this process produced many great brand names, it’s also helped many companies avoid the problems that arise when owners fall in love with their own ideas.

When clients see the grades on their names next to the grades for good, original names, they often see the method to our madness.

I know how it feels to struggle with a business name.  When I rebranded my own branding firm I found that naming my own company was dramatically harder than doing the same work for clients.

I had plenty of clever ideas, but I wouldn’t say I was in love with any of them. I went back to the drawing board dozens of times, and it was still excruciatingly hard to pull the trigger. Eventually I pulled in a few friends and advertising colleagues to weigh in and help me see things in a different light.

What they provided was radical candor.  They pushed me in a more practical direction… one that has played out well over the years once we attached meaning to our new name.  It was that outsider’s perspective that got me UN-stuck.

The fact is, the best brand names are the ones that create the highest level of disagreement.

When it comes to naming, polarization is a good thing! If the stakeholders are sharply divided — either they love it or they hate it — that’s a good sign.

If everyone agrees the name is  “pretty good” you’re going to end up with a boring, forgettable name. Time to go back to the drawing board.

The problem is, most owner/managers don’t know how to deal with so much disagreement.

A grading system sheds light on that division of preferences, and can help business owners make the difficult call.

honesty in political advertising

Reason #2: They’re not a whiz with words. They don’t have an ear for alliteration or an eye for typography.

Naming is the business of semantic invention. You have to make words up.

It takes a wide range of skills, knowledge and experience in disciplines that have nothing to do with business. Like Etymology. Art. Language. Poetry. Writing. Design.

Then combine all that with a savvy sense of business strategy. It’s a tall order that very few branding firms or ad agencies can deliver.

There aren’t too many entrepreneurs who would consider themselves well-schooled in those disciplines. If you are, great! Do you own naming.

But you’re not adept at the craft of combining words, letters, syllables and sounds in unique new ways, then you’re probably going to have a very hard time.

Your business name needs to sound good when spoken out loud, AND look good in type. It needs both audio and visual appeal. That’s what will make it memorable.

 

If a name looks great and sounds great, it doesn’t have to be literally meaningful or accurate.

That’s where a lot of people get tripped up… they feel the need to spell everything out. Better to find a name that’s suggestive, not literal. Then you can add meaning and context to your brand name with the identity design, a tagline, and your long-term messaging efforts.

Patagonia was named after a literally inspiring climbing location that Yvon Chouinard loved, but the word means much more than that now. It’s not about any one destination. It’s about the attitude, that passion and the lifestyle of getting out there.

naming your company BN Branding

Reason #3: Most people never lay the strategic foundation for the right business name.

Brand identity development doesn’t start by brainstorming clever names and searching for available URLs.  That’s like building a new house without a foundation. You might end up with a beautiful, architectural gem, but it won’t stand the test of time.

No matter who does the actual naming, there’s a lot of homework to do before you dive into the brainstorming process.

You need a deep, fundamental understanding of what the brand’s going to stand for in the long run. The brand framework needs to be spelled out, very clearly, and it needs to be based on real business. Not theory.  Otherwise, you’ll spend way too much time going down bottomless rabbit holes that lead to names that simply aren’t aligned with your brand.

So before you start down that deep, dark rabbit hole of brainstorming business names, give us a call. The cost of doing it wrong is nothing compared to the pay-off when you do it well.

Here are some of the names and identities we’ve done.