As a marketing speaker and marketing coach, clients often ask me for branding and naming advice to help create a great company name.
Where do awesome business names come from?
The Cookie Machine
The Video Advisor
The Coffee Hangout
Guitars After Dark
The Fitness Foundry
I've seen solopreneurs and companies go through the branding/naming (or re-branding/re-naming) process smoothly and efficiently in less than a week - and I've also seen train wrecks that needlessly dragged on for months.
How to get started
First, take a look at two blog posts to help you set the stage for an easy, effortless, enjoyable naming and branding process:
Here are some ideas to dig into for the "how" or "do's and don'ts" of the naming process...
At first, sit down with your leadership team. No spouses. No customers. No low-level employees. 5 people maximum.
Generate ideas for your raw branding/naming "building blocks" (as outlined in my "Instant Branding Toolkit" blog post)
Work over the list until you have 10 strong candidates.
Whittle the list down by eliminating 5 of them - the process is "1 vote to eliminate." If there are no objections from the rest of the group, it's gone. If there are objections, then it is up to those individuals to argue the case for "saving" that name until the vote is unanimous either way. This voting/defending process makes things go MUCH faster. And it gets you to focus on much stronger names faster.
With your top 5 candidates, do a customer survey. Not your spouse, your brother-in-law, your Uncle Marvin who used to be an ad agency exec, not your sister who is a brand manager for Tide. Actual, real, live customers.
Take the top 2 scoring names from the customer survey and do an in-house survey with your own team. Use ONLY customer-facing executives. Sales reps are great. Customer service people are great. Field service people are great. Ask them two simple questions: 1. "Given what you know of our customers and prospects, which one of these two names will resonate with them the most?" 2. "Why?"
Compile your results, make your decision, announce your winner, and start your transition to your new name.
Boom - done!
What do YOU think? Agree? Disagree? Comment? Rant? Rave? Awesome... go ahead and use the COMMENTS area below and let's discuss...
Naming a business is like laying the cornerstone of a building. Once it's in place, the entire foundation and structure is aligned to that original stone. If it's off, the rest of the building is off, and the misalignment becomes amplified. So if you have that gnawing sense that choosing a name for your new business is vitally important -- you're right. With 18 years in the naming and branding business, I've witnessed the good, the bad, and the really bad. Here's how you can avoid the worst of the mistakes and get off to a good start.
Mistake #1: The Committee (Getting all your clients, employees and family members involved)
We live in a democratic society and it seems like the right thing to do- involving everyone in an important decision. This approach, however, presents a few problems. The first and most obvious fact is that you will end up choosing only one name -- so you risk alienating the very people you are trying to involve. Second, you often end up with a consensus decision, resulting in a very safe and very vanilla name. A better method is to involve only the key decision makers, the fewer the better, and select only the people you feel have the company's best interests at heart. The need for personal recognition can skew results-- so you are best served by those who can park their egos at the door. Also make sure you have some right brain types in the mix. Too many left brains and the name often ends up too literal and descriptive.
Mistake #2: The Train Wreck (Taking two words and colliding them head on)
When forced to come up with a creative name, many aspiring entrepreneurs will simply take part of an adjective and weld it onto a noun. The results are names that have a certain twisted rationale to them, but look and sound awful. Someone starting a high end service franchise then becomes QualiServe. It's a bit like mixing chocolate syrup with ketchup- nothing wrong with either but they just don't go together. Other common truncations include Ameri, Tech, Corp, Tron, etc. The problem with this approach is that it’s simply forced – and it sounds that way.
Mistake #3: Where's Waldo? (Names so plain they'll never stand out in a crowd)
The first company in a category can get away with this one. Hence you have General Motors, General Electric, etc. But once you have competition, it requires differentiation. Imagine if Yahoo! had come out as GeneralInternetDirectory.com? It would be much more descriptive, but hardly memorable. And with the onslaught of new media and advertising channels, it's more important than ever to carve out your niche by displaying your uniqueness. Nothing does that better than a well conceived name.
Mistake #4: The Atlas Approach (Using a map to name your company)
In the zeal to start a new company, many businesses choose to use their city, state or region as part of their name. While this may actually help in the beginning, it often becomes a hindrance as a company grows. One client came to me with complaints he was serving more of the market than his name implied. He had aptly called it St. Pete Plumbing since he hailed from St. Petersburg, Florida. But yellow page shoppers assumed that was also his entire service area. With a little creative tinkering we changed the image of St. Pete from a city to the image of St. Pete himself, complete with wings and a plumber's wrench. The new tag line? "We work miracles!"
Other companies have struggled with the same issue. Minnesota Manufacturing and Mining was growing beyond their industry and their state. To avoid limiting their growth they became 3M, a company now known for innovation. Kentucky Fried Chicken is now KFC, de-emphasizing the regional nature of the original name. Both of these companies made strategic moves to avoid stifling their growth. Learn from them and you can avoid this potential bottleneck.
Mistake #5: Cliché you say? (A good name is worth a thousand words)
Once past the literal, descriptive stage, the thought process usually turns to metaphors. These can be great if they are not overly used to the point of trite. Since many companies think of themselves as the top in their industry, the world is full of names like Summit, Apex, Pinnacle, Peak, etc. While there is nothing inherently wrong with these names, they are just overworked. Look for combinations of positive words and metaphors and you will be much better served. A good example is the Fortune 1000 data storage company Iron Mountain, which conveys strength and security without sounding commonplace.
Mistake #6: Hide the Meaning (Make it so obscure, the customer will never know!)
It’s great for a name to have a special meaning or significance. It’s sets up a story that can be used to tell the company message. But if the reference is too obscure and too hard to spell and pronounce, you may never have the opportunity to speak to that customer. They will simply pass you by as irrelevant. So resist the urge to name your company after the mythical Greek god of fast service or the Latin phrase for “We’re number one!” If a name has a natural, intuitive sound and a special meaning, it can work. If it’s too complex and puzzling, it will remain a mystery to your customers. This is especially true if you are reaching out to a mass audience.
I pushed the envelope a little on this one myself, naming my branding firm Tungsten, after the metal that Thomas Edison used to create brilliant light. However, my clientele consists of knowledgeable professionals who appreciate a good metaphor and expect a branding firm to have a story behind its name. It’s also a way to differentiate my services (illuminated, bright, brilliant). So while it works for a branding firm, it would not do well as an ice cream parlor.
Mistake #7: The Campbell’s Approach (Using alphabet soup to name your firm)
This is a trend that is thankfully wearing off. Driven by the need for a matching domain name, many companies have resorted to awkwardly constructed or purposefully misspelled names. The results are company names that sound more like prescription drugs than real life businesses. Mistake #2 sometimes gets combined with this one and results in a name like KwaliTronix. (Or worse- mistakes #2 , #4 & #7, resulting in KwalTronixUSA). It’s amazing how good some names begin to sound after searching for available domain names all night. But resist the urge. Avoid using a “K” in place of a “Q” or a “Ph” in place of an “F”. This makes spelling the name, and locating you on the internet, all that much harder.
It’s not that coined or invented names cannot work, they often do. Take for example, Xerox or Kodak. But keep it mind, names like these have no intrinsic or linguistic meaning, so they rely heavily on advertising – and that gets expensive. Many of the companies that use this approach were either first in category, or had large marketing budgets. Verizon spent millions on their rebranding effort. So did Accenture. So check your pocketbook before you check into these type of names.
Mistake #8: Sit On It. (When in doubt, make no change at all)
Many business owners know they have a problem with their name and just hope it will somehow magically resolve itself. The original name for one of my clients was “Portables”, which reminded some people of the outdoor restrooms or the portable class rooms- neither one a good association. This added to the confusion when phone operators tried to explain their new concept of moving and storage. After some careful tweaking, we came up with the name PODS, an acronym for Portable On Demand Storage. The rest is quickly becoming history as they expand both nationally and internationally. Peter Warhust, President and one of the original founders states, “For the record, changing our name to PODS was one of the best moves we ever made”.
Exercise Experience, a former Florida based company, was frequently confused with a health club. In reality, they sold very high-end fitness equipment. This brings up a very key point -- it’s better to have a name that’s gives no impression than a name that gives a wrong impression. Much of the ad budget we spent on Exercise Experience was used to clarify that they sold fitness equipment. This was valuable airtime that could have been put to better use selling the equipment rather than explaining the business. Ultimately, the company folded. It’s not to say it was solely because of the name, but I believe it was a factor.
Mike Harper of Huntington Beach, CA, bought a thirty-year old janitorial and building maintenance company named Regency. We both agreed it sounded more like a downtown movie theatre than a progressive facilities management firm. After a thorough naming search, we developed the name Spruce Facilities Management. Spruce not only conveyed the environmentally friendly image of a spruce tree, (something important to the client), it also meant “to clean up”. The new tag line fell right in place – Spruce… “The Everclean Company”.
It’s only a matter of time before Southwest Airlines and Burlington Coat Factory and others who have successfully outgrown their original markets begin to question their positioning. Much like 3M and KFC, they may need to make a change to keep pace with their growth and image.
In the fever to start your new business or expand a current one, take time to think through some of these issues. According to the late Henry Ford, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it”. Albert Einstein took it one step further claiming, “Imagination is more important than knowledge”. By tapping into your creativity and avoiding these potential pitfalls, you’ll be able to create a name that works both short and long term – one that allows for future growth. Like the original cornerstone of a building, it will support upward expansion as your company reaches new heights.
Phil’s life goal of “creating environments where people thrive” reflects his desire to assist in personal, professional and business growth. Phil founded and ran a full service ad agency for over 17 years and now works full time as a business naming and branding consultant. Phil resides with wife Michelle and four energetic offspring outside Asheville, North Carolina.
Marketing concept for today: Storytelling for Business. This infographic came across my desk recently from the folks at Fathom Business Events. Whether your preferred method of telling your story is LIVE, such as speaking and seminars, or other online/offline channels, THIS is exactly what you should be spending your time doing:
What do you think? Please use the COMMENTS area below to (wait for it...) share YOUR STORY about how these strategies have worked for you!
I was going through my old files and came across some truly excellent thinking and writing about one of the most misunderstood and overhyped areas of my beloved marketing profession: branding.
Here, then, for your enjoyment is the real deal according to people that know a thing or two about the matter:
With 35 varieties of bagels, 66 subbrands of GM cars, and more than 13,000 mutual funds, American consumers are suffering a severe case of brand overload. Marketing speaker and marketing coach Peter Sealey has a tough-love cure: "simplicity marketing." Read more here.
Take the Brand Challenge - "Adults are always asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up because they are trying to get ideas." -- Paula Poundstone Read more here.
Be the Brand: Creating a meaningful brand goes beyond mere product presentation. It requires vision, leadership, and communication. Read more here.
(Re) Brand You: This marketing expert and author will help you reboot yourself after a layoff. Read more here.
What Great Brands Do: Marketing speaker Scott Bedbury knows brands. The man who gave the world 'Just Do It' and Frappuccino shares his eight-point program to turn anything -- from sneakers to coffee to You -- into a great brand. Read more here.
Nine Ways to Fix a Broken Brand: The marketing excesses of the past few years left broken pieces scattered across the branding landscape. As a result, many companies are left with bogged-down, boring -- even dying and dead -- brands. Now take a look at your brand: Do you know what's broken? Do you know how to fix it? Read more here.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts, comments, and rants in the comments section below...
You could pay a marketing coach or ad agency or brand consultant BIG bucks to create (or recreate) your brand. A word of advice: DON'T!
You need a snappy name. Something sharp, clever, clear, and concise. Something you’d be proud to have your fans and customers display on a t-shirt, coffee mug or bumper sticker. You want to be the go-to resource – no – you want to be the rock star in your profession or industry. And you’re just one strong branding step away – you can almost TASTE it!!! But you’re not smart enough to do it yourself. Oops, wait a minute… yes you are.
Fact is, a lot of advertising agency types and “branding gurus” are simply overpriced hacks. Shocking, I know… you’re stunned that coming up with a cool name for your new services, programs, and products could be simple, straightforward, and easy.
Well, sit down with a nice hot cup of your favorite caffeinated beverage and strap in – ‘cuz you’re getting my secret stash of branding whoop-ass.
Take your topic or product or service (Leadership or Cookies or HVAC or Recruiting or Plastics) and add one or more of these brand building blocks. Some stand alone – some work in combination with others. Sometimes you’ll want to put the building block BEFORE your service/product and sometimes it will sound better AFTER. Play with these – they’re my gift to you. Instant Branding Toolkit
Market Exchange Zip Zap Focus Momentum Fun Power Professional Savvy Smarts Sense Action Pyramid Dive Redline RPM GPS Roundtable Summit Slide Swing Sandbox Playground Monkey Chimp Rhino Hippo Gazelle Tiger Lion Shark Dolphin Insights Forum Café Center Storm Success Life Mojo Club Hub Lounge Launchpad Library Archive Free ____ tips Free ____ tools Tips Tools Toolbox Toolkit Club Network Posse Bakery Mashup Focus Resource Queen King Flyer Circle Gameplan Blueprint Treasure chest Strategies Tactics Secrets Profits Revealed Disco Party Pantry Bakeshop Factory Foundry Vortex Nexus Universe Galaxy World Planet Star Done right Made easy Cocktail Bar Game Advise Monitor Puppy Daddy Mama Baby Zoom Boom Direct Show Thunder Undercover After hours After dark Agent Sauce Juice Jazz Page Letter Book Cruise Action Roadmap Max Navigator Gps Master Accelerator Advisor Lightning Bullseye Profits Revenues Hang out Shout Scream Bam Mall Feast Meal Lunch Zone Poop Scoop Machine Force Onramp Route Highway Express Check Box Square Speed Accelerate Compass University U College Academy Institute First Prime One
I'm looking forward to buying from the following businesses in the very near future... maybe one of these will be yours:
The Cookie Machine
The Video Advisor
Guitars After Dark
The Fitness Foundry
And if you end up using something you create with this list as your new brand, do me a favor – please make a generous donation to your favorite charity. Even a tiny fraction of what you would have paid the “ad agency” will make a BIG difference to the non-profit of your choice. If you don’t have any particular good cause in mind, here are three I recommend:
Branding is everything - and I mean everything. -- Scott Bedbury
Branding is overrated. -- Regis McKenna
I'm going to go with Regis McKenna on this one.
There is so much hot air being blown around about brands and branding, by everyone from Tom Peters ("Brand You!") to hundreds of smalltime business coaches who have glommed onto branding as a buzzword - and refuse to let go!
Small business branding is often code for a lot of BS from marketing consultants and ad agencies who are more interested in what's in your wallet than what will grow your small business and make the phone ring!
I'm going to define brand very clearly and plainly...
A brand is a promise of an experience. Period.
You walk into a McDonald's for lunch versus a Ritz-Carlton Hotel because that's the kind of lunch you want that day. You would probably be confused and more than a little upset if you found waiters and linen tablecloths in that McDonald's or if your bill came to $110.
So in order to punch through a lot of the mystique around building a brand - especially for small business owners - let's call it a promise.
Who can make a promise? Anyone.
How much does it cost to make a promise? Usually nothing.
Can you make a promise to someone across the hall? Sure.
Across the country? You bet.
Can you make promises to people in just your local area? Of course.
Do you need to be crystal clear on what that promise means, before you try to communicate it to others? Yes, that would be smart.
If asked, could your top level executives say what your promise is or means? Would the answers be consistent?
Brand is communication. Brand is consistency. Brand is integrity. Brand is simply recognition for a job well done.
Boiling all these timeless business ideas into a 5-letter word doesn't change them.