What’s in a Name? Everything

8 Good Rules to Follow When Choosing a New Company or Product Name

What’s the #1 mistake people make when starting a new business or developing a new product?  Well, okay, there are many possible answers to that question.  But the mistake I see most often is in the naming of their new company.  “What’s in a name?” you might ask.  Well, contrary to the view of Shakespeare’s waxingly poetic Juliet, the answer is … everything.

I’ve read that people undergo tremendous shifts in personality after changing their name.  It’s no wonder.  Names are incredibly symbolic in our society.  A name can make or break a person.  In a typical lifespan, the average human may hear their name uttered billions of times.  There are a lot of reasons that people change their names but the leading one is that they want to rid themselves of an unhappy past and reinvent themselves for a new future.  The new name speaks more clearly to who they want to be.

In high school I decided that I didn’t like the identity I had taken on.  I decided to “re-brand” myself and, instead of being known as Chris, I asked people to call me “CJ.”  It worked.  The new name helped me see myself – and thus how others saw me - in a new light.  I rebranded myself by simply changing my name. To this day, my signature remains cjmiller.

So why do businesses spend so little time researching names before actually naming their new company or service?  Over the years I’ve encountered many customers who are seeking a new brand identity.  Sadly, many approach us with their company name already in place because they only decided to consult an expert when the time came to design their visual brand.  Often the chosen names are based on personal reasons that have very little connection with the business’ goals:  “I thought it sounded corporate,” “The board and I thought up names and voted on which one we liked the best,” “I based the name on my wife’s initials,” and even the candid “I thought it sounded cool.”

Unfortunately for them, their potential consumers don’t know the “secret” meaning of the name.  It often confuses them to the point where they bypass the ad, billboard or website for a company that speaks to them more clearly.  A good name plainly identifies the goals of the company.  A great name identifies the benefits of using the service or product.

Some clients pick a name and then try to force their selling proposition onto it.  One sign of a poorly chosen name is the addition of a corporate name tagline. That’s when a company realizes their chosen name is somehow ineffective but, after registering the name and paying excessive copyright fees, they won’t reconsider their initial decision.  Instead, they opt to “band-aid” the name by adding a tagline underneath.  For example, “Miller Inc.,” becomes “Miller Inc:  An Advertising Agency.”  Red flag #1:  If you’ve had to add a tagline to define your company name, it’s not a good name.  

How can you avoid this?  First, consider hiring an advertising or marketing firm BEFORE you select your company name.  A good agency will be able to focus on your selling proposition with a name and plan that uniquely identifies you and your goals.  It’s what we do.  We tend to be rather good at it.

But if you want to go it alone, here are “8 Good Rules to Follow When Selecting a New Company or Product Name”:

Write a business plan.  Just like the headline of an article is determined after the copy is written, a good company name follows after a good business plan.  Leave the company name out of your business plan and fill the space with an “X”.  Then complete a thorough plan with clearly defined goals, documented reasons why the goals are attainable, and the strategy for reaching those goals.  Only after working through this process will the key focus of your endeavor become clear and an appropriate name will evolve.  It’s always easier to make a name fit a business plan than it is to make a business plan fit your name.  

Know your competitors … but don’t imitate them.  Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but it dooms a new business to failure.  Spend some time researching competitors in your field, but don’t get caught up in imitating them or you may inadvertently end up promoting their company instead of your own.  Your company should have a unique niche AND a unique name unlike any of your competitors.

Avoid using your name.  I suspect everyone dreams of having their name in lights, so it’s understandably tempting to name the company after you, your partners or the founder.  But does a surname truly communicate your selling proposition?  Granted, in some cases it may.  You may have such a prominent, recognizable or quirky name that it would be a draw to consumers.  But in general, with the exception of the legal industry’s tradition of naming a firm based on their partners’ names, avoid this pitfall.

Know your target audience.  Granted, a market survey may not be in your initial budget.  But you should still be sure the new company and product name appeal to your target audience.  Not to your spouse, your best friend or your assistant.  While it’s fine to solicit their opinions before selecting the name, the name itself should speak to and incite action from your target audience.  After you’ve picked some name options, perform your own informal market survey by polling some people that you believe fall within your target audience.  Ask for their opinions, but don’t lead them.  Give them a non-prioritized list and ask them to number their preferences from most to least favorite.  

Be factual yet fanciful.  When we “rainstorm” possible names, we’ve found it beneficial to mix the fanciful with the factual.  For example, when selecting our company name, we used factual words like communications, marketing, creative, advertising and graphic design.  These are words that clearly speak to the precise meaning of what we do.  Fanciful words have an emotional appeal that draws people to them.  We used words such as rain, grow, profit and bloom.  By putting the two lists side by side, we mixed and matched the two to come up with a creative, yet very specific, name for our company.

Make it short and sweet.  Something often not considered are the practical applications of the company name.  How will it translate to business cards, signage and Web addresses?  How cumbersome will it be to use repeatedly in written communications?  How awkward will it be for someone to say when they answer the company phone?  Keep the name short.  Not only does it improve the graphic appeal of the company logo, it makes it easy to enter on the computer, fit on a business card and, most importantly, for people to remember.  Names with more than three words are not recommended.

Be positive.  It’s only natural to be drawn to something upbeat over something negative and critical.  Only consider names that have positive meanings and sound upbeat.  For example, “Creative Advertising” reads better than “Fix’er Up Advertising.”  While this suggestion may feel a bit esoteric, saying it out loud is a good way to test the name.  How does it feel in your chest when you say the name? Does it cause a lift in your shoulders or pull you down?

What can I do for you?  I can’t say this often enough:  a good name identifies the goals of the company, but a great name identifies the benefits of using the service or product.  Always put yourself in the shoes of your potential customer.  If your name identifies the benefits of your product for them, it’s a winner.  While you may be attracted to a name that promotes your family name or is a tribute to your spouse, a company or product name that explains the benefits to your consumer is ideal.  In fact, it’s great.

We chose Rainmaker Advertising.  

You’ve just read an article by Chris Miller, President & Visionary of Rainmaker Advertising in Dallas, Texas.  Chris’ work is copyrighted but you’re welcome to reprint it for personal, non-commercial use.  For permission to reprint for commercial purposes, contact Chris at CJMiller@RainmakerAdv.com or 214.827.0770 x104.  You can read other articles by Chris at www.RainmakerAdv.com.

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