What will you name your shiny, new company? Lead or follow?

By Eric Stein, Chief Chaos Officer

Ok, so you have a name you like! Great. You present it to your partners or the “naming committee” and it gets shot down — or worse, it goes into the “maybe” pile. You can’t understand why no one sees the genius. Cretins (a condition of severely stunted physical and mental growth)! And you may have a point. However, had you positioned the name correctly, there may have been different outcome.

Just imagine the guy (Don Draper-like) who at some point walks into the largest earthmover company in the world and says, “I have it! The new name is…. Caterpillar!” He looks across the table at the blank faces of the naming committee. They start in. “Caterpillar. You mean the little furry bugs that are easy to squash?” With each comment, another chuckle. Then…“Don’t they destroy foliage? They are responsible for famine!! Why can’t we be Rhino or Dynamo?”

We’ll come back to this…

I’d say this is a pretty critical component part of your brand build. Great names are a powerful force in the branding, marketing and advertising campaigns of the companies they work for. I have created names for numerous brands and products, some better than others, and it was never all that easy.

A great name will differentiate you from competitors, connect to your audience, and help build a brand your customers will want to be a part of. It will also lend itself to a lasting relationship, provide a deep well of marketing and advertising images, and hopefully be unforgettable. It is both an exciting and fascinating endeavor, but it can also be frustrating beyond belief, often leading to “paralysis by analysis.” (Some of you out there are nodding.)

Today, not only do you need a name that looks great, sounds great, and communicates “that something different” about your brand, but now you need to be very concerned with how it will appear in online “search” and how you will point traffic to your business.

I believe that a powerful name is the result of a powerful positioning strategy. The most effective product and company monikers represent the ultimate process of boiling the most important equities about your brand into a word or two.

However finding a fresh way into the hearts and minds of your customers, redefining and owning the conversation in your industry, and engaging people on as many levels as possible with a name like “Google” is not as easy as it looks.

The Name Game: Find a category

Ultimately a solid strategy and positioning wins and the great name is trademarked. But first, let’s define a category that your name belongs in — a great step to understanding what kind of a name you have or how and why you may want to keep going.

It will fit into one of four categories, these are:

  1. Functional/Descriptive

These are names that describe the business and products in the company names. Examples BMW, Martha Stewart, Subway. Pros: The company names its products with a strategy of directing the majority of brand equity to the company name. Cons: May lack inspiration when the main function of the name is to tell the world the business your in. Because descriptive names are derived from a small pool of relevant keywords, it can have the effect of causing these words to blend together and fading into the background, making these names indistinguishable from many of their competitors.

2. Invented Product & Company Names

a. These are names that are built upon Latin or Greek Roots. Examples: Alliant, Accenture, Novartis Pros: Easy to trademark because they are words that don’t exist. They typically sound serious. And because of the aforementioned reasons (global corporations tend to land here). Cons: Lacks energy and emotion, cold and a bit sanitized. You could dump a fortune in marketing to get consumers to remember them.

b. Invented names based on rhythm and the experience of saying them. Examples: Kleenex, Google, Snapple. Pros: Trademark process is easier, breeze through domain name acquisition, customer likes saying these names — making them more memorable, flush with potential marketing energy. Cons: Difficult to get approval from the “naming committee” when making the case for the name based on equities like, “it’s fun to say, memorable and has vital potential.”

3. Experiential Product & Corporate Names

Experiential names offer a unique connection to something real, to a part of direct human experience. They offer more than descriptive names because their ethos is more about the experience, or what it feels like than just the task. Examples: Quicken, Sunkist, Safari, Explorer, Chips Ahoy! Pros: Names make sense to consumers with little explanation, easily approved in corporate process, best for products within a brand strategy designed to create brand equity for both the product and the brand. Cons: Because they are so intuitive, the same experiential names are found across many industries, making them difficult to trademark. Case in point: while Explorer, Navigator and Safari are web portal names, they are also the names of SUVs.

4. Evocative Product & Company Names

Evocative names evoke the positioning of a company or product, rather than describing a function or a direct experience. Example: Virgin (Air), Apple, Yahoo. Pros: Because these names are non-linear and rare they are powerful, unique and galvanizing. When positioned correctly, it can be a force/freak of nature and rule an entire market. Cons: If created out of sync with brand positioning, it can be a hot mess. (Imagine if Apple made hardware and software that didn’t set a new expectation and in the day looked and behaved like IBM, NEC etc.) Toughest type of names to get corporate approval for, as they are too abstract for stakeholders outside the marketing department.

Go Boldly

So, now hopefully you have a better idea of how to approach your next naming initiative for your corporation, product or service. This is is not easy, but with some hard work or luck, you can land that great name. Now ask yourself the following: How does it look? How does it sound? Does it have humanity? Is it positioned properly? Is it unique and memorable? Does it have energy? and most important can it be trademarked? Do your homework before you fall in love with your name and go to http://www.uspto.gov/trademark. You can see if someone has gotten to your beloved name first!

Go ahead be brave but smart. Name the next Banana Republic. Have the naming committee tell you that your name is culturally insensitive if not derrogotory and that “we’ll likely be picketed by residents from hot, humid countries!” All names present calculated risks. My advice: If you err, err on the side of memorable because going down the middle of the road will likely result in putting you smack dab in the middle of the herd.

Eric Stein is the founder and Chief Creative Officer at Neu Citizen and has named countless brands, products and services enduring the eyre of many corporate humorless naming committees.

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