"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Our friend William Shakespeare was very poetic, but did not have a clue about branding. Your brand name is the first and most important element in your marketing communications program. Building brand is about burning your company's unique and positive attributes into the mind of your customers. Selecting a company name that reflects your firm's unique value, and is memorable, will aid in your long-term success.
A Business 2.0 article titled "The New Science of Naming" provided a timeline of naming trends over the past century. Yet a review of these trends shows very little "science" and a great deal of ego, art, and at times desperation in company naming. (The name "Accenture" is often cited as an example of desperation.)
While a well-chosen company name will by no means determine the success of your company, a poorly chosen company name can have a very negative affect.
Naming approaches have changed over time. Names have moved from straightforward descriptions to words used out of context to quirky made up words and back again.
Founder's Name(s) - popular in the early days of industry, company founder's used their own names: Ford, Kellogg's, Procter & Gamble. Founder's names were also popular in the early days of the computer industry: Hewlett-Packard, Varian and more recently Siebel Systems.
Straight Forward Descriptive Terms/Acronyms - General Motors (GM), International Business Machines (IBM) and Systems Analysis and Program Development (SAP) are all examples of company names that become acronyms with meaning.
Real words used out of context - Apple and Orange are catchy but without a suggestion of the business. This type of name requires marketing work to establish meaning and build the brand. If they are catchy, unique, and well marketed, they are likely to be remembered.
Made up words - Xerox, Google, as with real words used out of context, these made up words require significant marketing to build meaning in the minds of customers. The longer and harder your name is to spell, the more marketing effort will be required to build name awareness.
Generic Common Noun - cars.com, wine.com, pets.com generic common noun names are straight forward, but contain an element of risk. In the US, common noun product names are generally associated with "generic" products, which are recognized as "cheap" products. Overtime, the market has proven that proper nouns, to which people can attribute a brand value, are the names remembered as having value.
Real words suggestive of the business - Jawbone, Oracle, Blackboard and Research In Motion (RIM) are simple names that are intuitive and have real meaning "in the spirit" of what the company does.
The Naming Process
Whether you seek the professional advice of a naming and branding firm, or take the project on internally, the steps will be similar (although the costs could be dramatically different).
1. Marketplace and Competitive Research - define market opportunities, understand the business context of target customers and evaluate competitors.
2. Develop your "Unique Value Proposition" for your target customer. What is the "promise" your company strives to make that differentiates it from its competition? Identify your core values, personality and identity.
3. Creative Brainstorming - pull together your team to review your unique value proposition and get creative. In brainstorming, every idea is a good idea (as it may lead to another better idea). This exercise is often most successful with the addition of popcorn and beer.
Consider the following elements while brainstorming your company name:
4. Make a short list of the best name ideas and see which ones meet the key requirements:
5. Test the names that make your short list with your target market audience, advisors, employees, friends and family.
6. Select your name.
7. Own your name.
Once you have chosen a great name, start the ownership process. You'll likely be investing a great deal of time and money in promoting your name and do not want to have to change it after you have created good will and market awareness.
Register your domain name (preferably a ".com") in every country where you plan to do business. In addition to registering your name with your own local domain, you may want to consider other domains .de, .fr, .uk, .com, .ne. You may also want to register name variations that are close to your name. The International Trademark Association has useful information and links on worldwide trademark issues.
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