September 13, 2017 | Branding
The name of your business is the most central asset and core essence of your brand. It’s the kernel at the heart of it all.
A name that’s difficult to say, or is confusing in anyway will make it so much harder to succeed.
However, only a small percentage of business owners develop their name in a systematic way.
As a branding firm, it is far more common for us to have a name provided to us when we work on a branding project. Only occasionally do we start our work engagement by developing a name. In most cases, names are just brainstormed by business owners, their friends and colleagues.
Frequently these names are not memorable, try too hard to be creative, or worst of all, are just off the mark. When you come up with your own name for your own business, it can be challenging to see clearly if you’re making a good decision.
People name their babies every day—what’s different about naming a company, product or brand? The difference is that you want a name that reinforces the brand image and market position you are seeking.
Going the DIY route, rather than hiring a branding firm to help with naming, when you are far away from anything revenue-producing makes fiscal sense. But realize that a poorly selected name can make so many things harder: branding, marketing, sales, even recruiting employees.
Here are insights from our experience naming many businesses, events and products.
Should you name your company with your own name?
We’ve all seen tons of businesses that are based on the founders names. Law firms, architectural studios, and CPA firms are predominantly named this way. It stems from the individual licensing that overshadows these highly-regulated sectors.
In other industries where a singular owner is usually the main face of the brand or has businesses that can be successful as one person firms also tend to have many companies named after their founders. These range from creative agencies and consulting firms to plumbers and construction firms.
When you name your business after the founder, you take the reputation and expertise of the owner and translate that into the company’s values.
Personally, I think companies that are just “last name plus associates” (Smith and Associates) or “name plus industry” (Smith Plumbing) are so overdone that they lack any sort of distinct memorability to them. They frequently suggest either an oversized ego or an undersized creative streak.
I used to work at a design firm called Smith + Co. and I think it’s particularly surprising when a very bland name is used to name a brand.
One local company name that I just don’t get is Float Harder. It is a relaxation float spa. I think the last thing relaxation should be is “hard.” But apparently it’s the founders last name. It may have seemed like a fun play on words, but it is a case where having a clear vision for your brand will help you choose a name that will resonate and improve your brand’s perception, rather than become a hindrance.
Commmunity-based Naming Contests
Some organizations rely on community-based contests. We have a contest going on right now to name the new Portland Maine Hockey ECHL team. They followed a typical process where they accepted submissions from the public and then present the finalists for a vote. Portland Hockey LLC announced that it received more than 3800 entries and then chose the Final Five.
They have stated that they will not let the voting tallies alone drive their decision. They probably want to avoid the “Boaty McBoatface” scenario where a British government agency to let the Internet suggest a name for a $287 million polar research ship.
I don’t have a problem with having a wide group of people brainstorm and submit ideas. Community organizations like that everyone gets a voice. And, with dwindling domain name availability or potential trademark conflicts, getting fresh input can be helpful.
But you should follow a methodology, and you should have clear criteria for how you will judge and select the name.
Our process for naming projects
Before we begin suggesting names, we start with a brand discovery phase where we learn about the company, product or service. We work to gain clarity and consensus on what the core values are, what makes it different and unique from competitors, how we want people to think of and envision the brand.
We must ensure that we are creating a vision that is achievable. For example, we don’t want to promise the fastest service, when there are clear obstacles to high-speed delivery. We don’t want to build a brand around conflicting values such as a low cost and a luxury experience. We focus on unique benefits that can be delivered consistently to customers.
Then, we focus on ideal customers. It’s a common mistake for entrepreneurs to think their best customers will be just like them. Sometimes that is true, but frequently it is not. Taking time to research who really is buying, or is most likely to buy from you is critical. There may be some names that resonate more clearly with some audiences rather than others.
A good example is Fiverr which bills itself as, “Freelance services for the lean entrepreneur,” Their target audience is tech-savvy startup founders and it’s likely these founders are familiar with other web-based businesses like Flickr who spell their name in an unusual way. However, if they were trying to sell handyman services to seniors (which could be done using this same basic business concept), this odd spelling would likely be too confusing for that audience.
Once we have an understanding of our core attributes and how we want to be viewed by our ideal customers, we have a target for our name.
We start generating names and use all sort of brainstorming techniques, including: the thesaurus, dictionary, group brainstorming, list writing and sketching. Like most creative endeavors, we often put it aside and then think about it again with a fresh brain.
Domain names are critical
These days, the availability of a domain name is absolutely critical. We highly recommend trying to find a .com domain. Too many people don’t really listen, or read, your domain. You’ll find that when you try something like .biz or .tech people just type in .com anyway. Ideally, you want to find an available .com domain but this can definitely be tricky and maybe costly if you’re willing to pay for a premium name.
Spelling and pronunciation
Names that people immediately understand and foster the right emotional response are a priority. But making them easy to spell or clear how to pronounce is also important.
Another story of a local business with a not-so-great name. Furniturea is a local brand that designs and manufactures their own furniture. But frequently people don’t know how to say their name.
Is it: Fir-ni-chir-ee-a? It’s actually fir-ni-chur-ah.
If someone cannot easily say your name they are likely to hesitate to recommend you using word-of-mouth referrals. It’s just human nature. Many people don’t want to feel stupid by saying something the wrong way, so they avoid saying it.
Or, there is a chance you’re hearing the same name twice, but didn’t realize they were the same company because of the different pronunciations. With branding, your goal is to increase awareness of your brand and having a name that is said differently by different people makes this more challenging.
Our advice for Portland Hockey
We’re glad to hear that Portland Hockey has not promised that the name with the greatest number of votes automatically wins. They’ve been able to gather community input and good will by taking suggestions in the first round.
They should, absolutely, place value on what their ideal customer wants (assuming it’s the local hockey community that really votes the most). It’s a mistake when a branding firm or an entrepreneur produces a name without testing it out on real people and ideal customers.
What I see as amusing is that the choices are so different from one another. Mariners, Watchmen, and Lumberjacks all tie in with Maine’s heritage and are actual people known for their bravery, tenacity and/or strength. Puffins are a Maine-based sea bird with a great comeback story and there are many sports team with animals as their name. Wild Blueberries, while a well-loved local specialty seems to have no connection with the spirit of hockey.
The organization behind this naming adventure should, internally, have crafted a vision for how the team should be perceived. Let’s imagine that its traits like strength and tenacity fit the mark and therefore Mariners, Watchmen or Lumberjacks might all work and the top choice of those three could be selected. However, if the comeback story (there has been no hockey team in town the past couple of seasons, so fans are eager to see a team return to the area) is the most central theme to the brand then Puffins would be a better choice.
Visible Logic has experience naming companies, products and events, and our creative insight and structured methodology has proven effective through these projects.