Naming a business is a lot like laying the cornerstone of a new building. Once it's in place, the entire foundation and structure is aligned to that original stone. If it's off, even in the slightest, the misalignment becomes amplified.
The tougher it gets out there, the more important it is to put your marketing money where it will do the most good. Coming up with the right name for a company or a product can make a huge difference in building a brand and even in determining it’s future success. Too often companies jump straight into designing a logo and then spend the rest of the marketing budget trying to explain to people what they actually do and what their difference is.
The reality is that there are a lot more bad names out there than good ones. Business to business companies – especially high tech IT businesses - seem to be the biggest culprits – coming up with names that are a lot more like vanilla than banoffee pie!
Every client always says that they want a name that's unusual. But when it comes right down to it fear is always the greatest obstacle. However a name should never be too safe or neutral. If you have a name that makes everybody happy then chances are it's bland & boring. Sadly, no one names a car Mustang, Thunderbird or Diablo anymore. Instead, you’ve got Avensis, Ce’ed and Zafira- all thoroughly researched committee decisions, all emotionally bereft- so by the time they've all been laundered, pressed and packaged, there is really nothing left.
Most companies tend to get trapped in a web of pre-conceptions when it comes to naming a company. Maybe because they think it’s easier than it really is. Invariably someone suggests the proverbial ‘brain storming’ session – which tends to be dominated by extroverts who have a need to be heard and the whole thing gets gridlocked in ‘Group Think.’ Companies also tend to go down a dead end street -trying to turn nouns into verbs, co-joining and contorting words that simply don’t belong together, looking at maps for geographical inspiration, making up names that don’t exist, delving into the Latin or Greek – all of which only serves to distance, daze and confuse customers.
If one looks out over the Irish brandscape, you can see that several names come either from the name of the family [Barry’s Tea, Brennan’s Bread, Guinness] or are named after geographic places [Munster Rugby, Blarney Woollen Mills, Cork Dry Gin]
However in today’s competitive environment customers are bombarded with thousands of messages every day – so it’s never been more important that your company name stands out in the crowd.
In Cork, there is a new breed of businesses that are starting to make their names heard and in so doing are adding a touch of colour and creativity to our City. These include: Cafe Gusto, Puddleducks, Curious Wines, Cafe Paradiso, The Everyman Palace, LouderVoice.com, mMMAD, On the Pig’s Back, Catch of the Day, Go Safari, Cinnamon Cottage, Fishy Fishy, Farmgate, Sober Lane, The Zip Yard - to name but a few.
So, if you have that gnawing sense that choosing a name for your new business is vitally important, you're right. And it’s probably a good idea to make sure it’s done right from the get go. Although naming is our game, we obviously don’t always get the opportunity to develop names for every new company out there. So based on our experience, we thought we'd share 10 ideas that could re-calibrate how you think about the naming process:
1. Find focus - Chose a name that reflects who you are, what the company stands for and where you are going. What’s the concept or ‘Big Idea’ behind your business. Before selecting a name, decide on what you really believe in and how it needs to be communicated to customers and staff. Focus on the Why instead of the How and the What. In general the best names communicate one ‘Big Idea’ really well instead of trying to be all things to all people. If you can connect purpose with profit you’re onto a winner!
2. When everyone else zigs, zag – The worst crime in marketing is not getting noticed. Even worse is putting people to sleep. So dare to be different – chose a name with electricity and emotion. Evocative names are often more powerful than explicit ones. Good names connect with people on an emotional level, and emotions typically don’t play by the rules. Stay away from ‘cute & trendy’ and go for something with ‘mystery & sex appeal.’ Having said this don’t go over the top and stay away from names that have negative connotations or associations.
3. Get a personality - We operate on the principle that brands are like people. So we try to give brands the same kind of personality and attitude that people have. So if your brand walked through the door how would you describe its personality? It’s important to map this out and then try and implant the positioning idea or difference into the name itself so that you can create and amplify a powerful story across different messaging platforms.
4. Fortune favours the brave – These days the fear of failure is so great that no one would ever risk calling a new airline Virgin. Rather than to stay cautiously within our close-to-home comfort zone, it’s important to look for opportunities and ideas beyond your own personal frame of reference. It’s also good to leave your own ego at the door because what’s good for you may not be best for the business.
5. Understand your context – Ideally you want to find a name that taps into associations that people have on both a conscious and sub conscious level - using words from popular culture that already have equity in their meaning or connotations. Brand names don’t exist in isolation – so you really need to know who you are up against in the competitive space. What is it that your customers want, that your competitors can’t offer, which you could? Too many companies fall into a ‘me-too’ follower positioning where they don’t succeed in differentiating themselves at all. If you’re a challenger brand then your name may need to be challenging, if you’re a market leader then it may need to convey strength & stability.
6. Can – ‘does what it says on the tin’ - If there has ever been an overused expression in marketing circles then it’s this one. Don’t get pigeonholed with a name that says what you do. It’s time to flip that on it’s head and to move away from the functional [which everyone else is doing] to something that is more distinctive and different. If you’re facing a whole lot of competition – you need a name that breaks from the pack. Look at what others in your field are doing, then do the opposite!
7. Kill committees - If there is anything that will give a new name the kiss of death it's a committee. You have to fight the organisational urge to get everyone involved in the process. Consensus leads to sub-optimal decision making and is a sure-fire way to sanitize and kill off the coolest and most creative ideas on the table. Coming up with a good name is only half the battle. The other half is getting other people in the company to actually buy into the new name and your raison d'être.
8. Check your trademark - Don’t fall in love with a name you cannot have. Once the choices are narrowed, the names need to checked for potential trademark conflicts or infringements. The best money you will ever spend is on going a thorough trademark search before embarking on any branding journey. That’s because registering a company does not give you complete legal protection in terms of securing use of that name. A trademark objection could stop your new business in its tracks and also cost you an arm and a leg. In time your trademark may have significant economic value so it’s important to protect it. The Irish Patents Office in Kilkenny - www.patentsoffice.ie - has a great web site that explains the trademark process and how it works. It also has a Register of Trade Mark Agents who can professionally manage the process on your behalf.
9. Secure your domain name - Searching for a domain name match for your new business can be a brain haemorrhaging exercise. Do not despair if you can’t find a brilliant name with an available URL - Unique Resource Locator. Unfortunately at this stage, most of the best domains have either been taken or hijacked by an army of domain squatters. However there are plenty of successful companies who don’t have their exact name as their URL. To check and register a URL or to arrange hosting for your web site and e mail addresses– visit either www.blacknight.com or www.letshost.ie who provide a professional service. A .com or .ie is obviously first prize but you can also get flexible and creative with URL extensions. In most cases you don’t have to do business in a country to use their extensions and you can create some pretty interesting domains e.g. Elbows (elbo.ws) in Samoa and Good (good.is) in Iceland.
10. Hire a branding company - As Warren Buffett says, “If somebody can do a job better than I can, I will have them do it for me. I didn’t deliver my own three children, I called an obstetrician. I do not want to have some member of my family fill my teeth or try to do it myself. So I go to a dentist. I’m a big believer in outsourcing.” Coming up with a game-changing name is not a quick fix – but requires robust research and creative thinking. So if you have looking for a captivating name for your company or product – maybe it’s time to bring in some professional help. Look for people who know what they’re doing and have a proven track record in the naming department. Be sure to take a quiet look at the name on their door and see if it inspires confidence and has a certain ‘je ne sais quoi.’
Photograph courtesy of Fishy Fishy restaurant in Kinsale, Cork, Ireland www.fishyfishy.ie