Business Success? It’s All in a Name

By Phil Otto, an EO Atlantic Canada member and president and CEO of Revolve, a marketing and brand-consulting firm.

A friend from Texas, USA, once told me a joke about two leather-skinned ranchers who find themselves side by side in a bar. They begin to talk and soon learn they both own cattle ranches:

“So what’s the name of your ranch?” The first asks.
“The Circle K,” the second answers. “What about yours?”
“Mine’s the Lazy L Bar T Q Sleepy C Triangle D.”
“Jeez, you must have a ton of cattle!” the second says. “About how many head do you have?”
The first winces. “To tell you the truth, not that many. Most of ‘em don’t survive the branding.”

Great product and company names are short, simple, unique, and easy to say and remember. They don’t need to state the name of the founding father or mother, indicate the business location or simply describe the goods or services. Here are some tips on finding a strong brand name.

  • DNUI. Do Not Use Initials. Or acronyms. Ever. Unless you’re going to spend at least US$1 billion to promote your brand, you cannot create an emotional connection around a random collection of three or four letters. Plus, you end up with two names – the initials, plus what it means when spelled out. Do not use initials is the number one rule of naming.
  • Naming is the first act of branding. It is important because a name sets the tone for stakeholder perception. It can be playful or clinical or academic or professional or edgey. Just don’t let it be boring.
  • Strong names don’t tell the story. Strong names set up a great story. Names that describe what your company or product does will invariably be mediocre and unmemorable.
  • Pay attention to legal issues. Don’t get  stuck on a new name until you have checked provincial and federal registrations, trademarks and URL availability. 
  • If your current name isn’t working …  let it go. Yes, it feels risky to give up your identifying mark, but if it isn’t  working, you aren’t giving up much – and you have much to gain.
  • Naming is strategic. Imagine where you want your brand to go in the future. How will your brand evolve?
  • Get out of your comfort zone. If the naming process is powerful, it will  be uncomfortable. Names that evoke an emotion are the names that have the most impact. Imagine the looks on faces around the boardroom when Google or BlackBerry was introduced. Which leads to the next rule….
  • Do not name by committee. Do not look for approval from everyone once your research is done or you will end up with a name born from compromises. Leave the decision to a small group of well-informed  decision makers in your organization.
  • Give a new name time to sink in. This goes for new names and name changes. No new name is going to feel right for months – the eureka moment of “that’s it” simply doesn’t happen with naming, particularly names that are off the beaten path, which invariably turn out to be the best names.
  • Beware of language pitfalls. A word in English may have a negative meaning in Spanish. Test your name on target audiences.  They may see something you do not.
  • Support your name with messages that add colour, tone and texture. We uses positioning statements and consistent language in all of the brands we develop to give the name a voice and  personality. 
  • Get your employees excited and focused on the change before introducing  a new name to the public. A passionate  employee is your best advocate. Give them time to feel confident and proud of the  change. 
  • Naming is a challenging event that demands perspective. Get an outsider’s opinion to guide the process. Name creation is too important to be relegated to a brainstorming session around a boardroom or kitchen table. Savvy marketers understand that a name is much more permanent than most other elements of brand identity or marketing, and will invest in the services of a professional brand consulting firm to help navigate around the pitfalls of a badly chosen name.

Categories: general


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