(Ping! Zine Issue 72) – Your name applies to more than just your business. In today’s consumer market, you’ll have more than a magnetic sign on your car door and a box around your ad in the yellow pages. Many people lost their jobs in the economic downturn of a few years ago, spawning proliferation of small businesses. While this is great, for many reasons, it does create more competition. Small business owners are being forced into what were once considered elite forms of advertisement and promotion. By “elite”, read “internet”.
The Internet is not just for tech savvy people far removed from the everyday functioning of the real world. The Internet IS the real world. People use it for their phone books, address books, and hardly anyone hires a contractor or chooses a hairdresser without checking a review site online.
So, the name you choose is very important. Keep in mind that it represents you every time someone in your area goes online and types in “(your service) in (your town)”.
Not only that, the way you name your products will make a difference in brand recognition. The name of your website makes a difference. Even, in the broader sense, the domain name you choose online will contribute to your success. So, it’s not just your business name.
International Faux Pas
How big is your business? If yours is an online business, rather than a local service, you’ll undoubtedly deal with international customers. This makes the naming of your business, products, and website even more crucial. One well known example of an international faux pas is the Chevy Nova. For some reason, the Nova would not sell in Mexico. Why? Because No Va means “will not go” in Spanish.
Have you noticed the popularity of “e” in names of online businesses? Consider “eTrade” and “eTron”. In France, “e” means “poo poo”. So don’t expect any French customers. Enron’s first mistake? Naming itself Enteron, which means “colon”. We’ll leave the parallels to you.
The conclusion is, don’t be afraid to hire a professional when you name your company, especially if you plan to go international.
Local Faux Pas
You need to follow the same advice if you provide local services. For instance, in one oil-field area, an enterprising entrepreneur named his company “Quick Lay Pipeline”. It made for great billboards, which were taken down due to public outcry.
The wrong name can doom your business to failure. At the very best, you’ll remain obscure.
Abstract or Concrete
There are several different schools of thought concerning choosing a name.
Abstract: Some advisors will tell you that an abstract name is preferable. This, supposedly, gives you a “Blank Slate” for your business image. An example of this is “ING”.
Concrete: Most advisors suggest a name that tells the customer exactly what the business does. This may not be very creative, but it immediately communicates the function of the business. “7-Eleven”, for example, made it clear that the store was actually open until eleven o-clock at night – an unheard of service at the time it was initiated.
Made up Words: some people think that making up a word, or changing the spelling, makes it more memorable. “Adidas” are named from Adolf (Adi) Dassler.
When choosing your name, keep in mind your advertising budget and longevity. For instance, 7-Eleven, as mentioned before, started off offering an unusual service by staying open until eleven o-clock at night. That’s how they made their name, and what their name represented. The business has been around for decades, now, and everybody associates them with staying open. But, most of the stores stay open 24 hours a day. Did they change their name? No, they didn’t, because they have brand recognition.
“ING”, on the other hand, had the advertising dollars to start a media blitz geared toward piquing consumer curiosity. They used the tactic of blocking part of a sign and leaving just the ING showing, arousing speculation of passersby as to what the sign said. Then, the person or object blocking the rest of the sign would move away revealing – nothing. To add to the “mystery”, the commercial would not explain what ING meant, supposedly building anticipation and engaging the consumers’ attention.
A&M Records is a great example of a concrete name. “Records” tells you that it’s a record company. The interested consumer can find out that “A” stands for Herb Alpert, and “M” stands for Jerry Moss, founders of the record company.
Besides advertising money, as in the case of ING, your longevity may give you naming rights to some flexibility. 3M is a famous name, but it was originally the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company. As their success grew, they gained recognition, and eventually adopted their nickname as the formal company name.
Build on your Name
Once you have a successful brand, you can start branching out and taking more abstract chances. Consider, for instance, the Wisp. The name tells you nothing about the function of the product, or what it does. It only elicits a visceral response based on the meaning of the word. Now, associate it with the word “Colgate”. Colgate toothpaste has been around longer than computers. So, when they wanted to come out with a portable, one use toothbrush, they needed a name for it. They hired the famous naming company, Lexicon (more about them, later), to come up with a name for the tiny, disposable toothbrush with a name that promotes the quick, light, fresh results it brings.
Lexicon is a perfect example of naming mastery. Remember that in the cyberworld, ALL of the domain names that are 4 letters are gone. Lexicon is the brain trust that came up with Pentium, Swiffer, OnStar, Febreze, and BlackBerry. They use a creative process to produce names, and their process is imitated by smaller companies all the time.
So, now that you have an idea of different types of names and categories for naming products, here are some ideas on how to get started.
The first thing you need to do is to write down words that are related to the business you wish to name. If you want instant name recognition, choose words that describe the business function. Otherwise, be prepared to spend money on advertising. Once you run out of words for your business, use a thesaurus to expand your vocabulary.
Make an additional list of words that mean “great” or “the best”. Again, use a thesaurus.
Now you start to combine the words. It is important to make sure that the combinations make sense. Stay away from nonsense words and initials, because they are hard to remember. Partial combinations are fine, as long as they make sense.
Choose the top 5 names, and start trying them out. Mention them to people. If you have to explain or excuse the name, it may not be a good choice. Find business card templates online, and try out the name in print.
Finally, before you make your choice, check out trademarks. You don’t want to get all excited and print up T-shirts, only to find out that your great business name has already been trademarked.
Just remember, when you finally choose a company or product name, it takes time. If you’re careful with it, you can have confidence in the name, and