You can name your baby but should you name your company?

Boy when starting a new business there's one thing that really creates anxiety. It's not the product, it's not the people, it's not even the money. It's coming up with a new name...the name you'll hang above the door and build your legacy around.

Cartoons by the talented Mr Roger Overall 

Cartoons by the talented Mr Roger Overall 

The problem is it's deceptively simple yet dangerously hard. Everyone wants to weigh in with an opinion that's more about them and less about the business. But once it's cracked - there's a collective sigh of relief and it's as if everyone starts flying in formation.

So, if you know someone who is starting a new business or creating a new product - please share this with them.

What's in a Name?

Naming is your first shot at being different.  So your new name would need to be fresh, powerful & authentic. It MUST be able to clearly differentiate the venture within the competitive space. It must  also bring the concept behind the business to life.

Naming a business is a lot like laying the cornerstone of a new building. Once it's in place, the entire foundation & 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 product can make a huge difference in building a brand. It can even help determine its future success.

Too often companies jump straight into designing a logo - and spend the rest of the marketing budget trying to explain to people what they actually do and what their difference is.

The reality is 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!

Most clients we meet say 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 - chances are it's bland & boring.

Sadly today, no one names a car Mustang, Thunderbird or Diablo anymore. Instead, we've got Avensis, Ce’ed and Zafira- all thoroughly researched committee decisions, all emotionally bereft - so by the time they're launched all life & imagination has been sucked out of them.

Most companies 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 with a need to be heard. 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 & 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, Greek or Irish– all of which only serve to distance, daze & 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 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 starting to make their names heard.  In so doing they are adding a touch of colour & creativity to our city. These include: Cafe Gusto, Puddleducks, Curious Wines, Cafe Paradiso, The Everyman Palace Theatre, 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.  It’s probably a good idea to make sure it’s done right from the get go. 

So based on our experience, we thought we'd share 10 ideas that could re-calibrate how you think about the naming process:

(1) Stand for something

Chose a name that reflects who you are, what the company stands for & where you're going. What’s the One concept or ‘Big Idea’ behind your business? Before selecting a name, decide what you really believe in & how it needs to be communicated to customers & staff. Focus on the "Why" -  instead of the "How" and the "What".

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. Dare to be different – chose a name that packs some punch. Evocative names are often more powerful than explicit ones. Good names connect with people on an emotional level: emotions don’t play by the rules. Stay away from ‘cute & trendy’ - go for something with ‘mystery & sex appeal.’ Having said this, don’t go over the top:  stay away from names that have negative connotations or associations.

(3) Get a personality 

We operate on the principle that brands are like people. We try to give brands the same kind of personality & attitude that people have. If your brand walked through the door, how would you describe its personality? Map this out.  Try to implant the positioning idea (your difference) into the name itself - so you can create & amplify a powerful story across different messaging platforms. 

(4) Fortune favours the brave 

These days, the fear of failure is so great no one would ever risk calling a new airline Virgin. Rather than stay cautiously within our close-to-home comfort zone, it’s important to look for opportunities & 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.

Cartoons by the talented Mr Roger Overall 

Cartoons by the talented Mr Roger Overall 

(5) Understand your context  

Ideally, you want to find a name that taps into associations people have on both conscious + sub-conscious levels.  Use 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 your customers need, that your competitors can’t offer, which you could?

Too many companies fall into a ‘me-too’ follower positioning: they don’t succeed in differentiating themselves at all. If you’re a challenger brand, your name needs to challenge the status quo. If you’re a market leader, you'll need to convey strength & stability.

(6)  Can – ‘does what it says on the tin’ 

If there's ever been an overused expression in Irish marketing circles, 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: move away from the functional [which everyone else is doing] to something that is more distinctive + 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.  Consensus is a sure-fire way to sanitise and kill off the coolest + 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.

Cartoons by the talented Mr Roger Overall 

Cartoons by the talented Mr Roger Overall 

(8) Check & protect your trademark 

Don’t fall in love with a name you cannot have. Once the choices are narrowed, the names need to be checked for potential trademark conflicts or infringements. The best money you'll 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.

Cartoons by the talented Mr Roger Overall 

Cartoons by the talented Mr Roger Overall 

A trademark objection could stop your new business in its tracks.  An objection to your trademark could cost you an arm and a leg. We've seen it happen. It can be extremely frustrating & costly. In time, your trademark may have significant economic value - it’s important to protect it.

If you're thinking of conquering the world & getting into different markets, we strongly suggest you use a professional Patent & Trademark Attorney - all of whom are Dublin based.

If you're a start-up or smaller business on a tight budget  - The Irish Patents Office in Kilkenny, 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 & register a URL or to arrange hosting for your web site & 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 & creative with URL extensions. In most cases, you don’t have to do business in a country to use their extensions: you can create some pretty interesting domains e.g. Elbows (elbo.ws) in Samoa, Good (good.is) in Iceland and Listly (list.ly) in Libiya...but actually in Canada.

(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 + creative thinking. So if you have been 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. See if it inspires confidence and has a certain ‘je ne sais quoi.’