One of my favorite Mark Twain quotes has always been “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” I feel the same way about many things, especially differentiation. Lots of talk about it. You can practically hear it echoing through boardrooms across the planet, right now, even as you read this. Some are afraid “the competition’s gaining on us.” Some are proactively wondering what the business may look like in a decade. Most are trying to grapple with this fundamental question: if what got us to this point will not get us to the next point, then what the heck will?
Every business and every B-school grad knows that D word, and everything it stands for had better be written into your business plan and model. Obviously, wherever and whenever possible you’re going to want to build true differentiation — actual difference into your actual product and service offerings. You brand (communicate your uniqueness) to both capitalize on that differentiation AND to raise the barrier on the competition AND to lay a framework for moving forward that will continue to lead to new revenue and opportunity identifications. But all of these are based upon the WHY of your existence. What do you believe in? Do your markets (or brand audiences) believe in you? If you want the latter question to be answered with a hearty yes, spend more time on the first question. The more harmonious (relevant, resonant) your beliefs are with those of your prospects, clients and buyers, the more receptive they become. It’s the difference between looking at The Sale as a tactical car-salesman-esque maneuver and viewing it as a long-term relationship.
What does all of this have to do with great naming? It’s not enough to be kooky. While that’s certainly helpful from a retail, stand-out-from-the-crowd perspective, differentiation isn’t about being different just to be different. It’s about being different on purpose, which is to say that you have truly defined your company’s uniqueness and that you have done so with a close eye on the relative marketplace worth of that uniqueness.
What you can’t do (well, you can, but it’s not so smart) is say with one side of your mouth you understand the business imperative of differentiating and with the other side say that naming, brand discovery, brand strategy or marketing, for that matter, should somehow be easy side projects that aren’t really germane to the bigger business discussions. Are. You. Kidding? Connecting better with the people who feed you and pay your salary… engaging better with the people who make you look good or not… attracting and retaining the people who will fan the flames of your future… positioning yourself for valuable strategic partnerships… do any of these sound like small fish to you? There is no more pressing matter on your table than carving out a differentiated presence. I’m not suggesting over-investing in your brand, especially if you are a new or small company. But what I am saying is this: if you take the time to get your positioning and messaging right, if you treat them as importantly as you would if you were preparing a business plan for a bank loan, you will significantly increase your chances for accelerating your growth.
I don’t promise blue oceans to my clients. One, that’s just bad juju, not to mention bad form. Two, nobody’s offered me a budget or timeline that large yet. But what I do promise is that every undertaking, every consultation or work project, will be grounded and guided by that noble objective. It’s not that we get there. We don’t. But what we derive from that journey alone, because we didn’t deviate or compromise from that service effort, is worth at least ten times the price of admission. Because we’ve nailed our positioning and messaging. Because we have a new understanding of why this brand stuff matters. Because we know that our next steps will be informed by this new-found focus and clarity.
The best company names, like all other marketing communication initiatives, should be the natural outgrowth of all you’ve already done to define yourself. It’s not a search for an identity. It’s an identity in need of a easily-recognizable moniker. When you approach them in the reverse order, you miss a giant opportunity.
Considering just how much muscle a great company name can exercise in helping your company push past the competition and/or solidify a unique position on the landscape, even if you don’t have tens of thousands to spend, it’s certainly worth thinking about why the best and brightest companies do prioritize and invest so heavily into the affair. Be assured: they don’t simply enjoy throwing their money around; Boards and experienced Venture Capital firms regularly approve these substantial expenditures because they know you only get one chance to make a first impression. They know that when you’re trying to accomplish something truly great, like mothering a sustainable revenue stream into the world, you want everything going for you, nothing holding you back.
Your name, tag and logo represent the three opportunities, the only three opportunities, to establish and increase your market presence and leave a permanent, positive impression on your target audience. So, like all things branding, when it comes to great naming, the stickier, the better. (“Sticky” is a reference to Made To Stick, a truly wonderful book by Dan & Chip Heath, available on Amazon and, I’m guessing, at the world’s last independent bookstore, should that still exist.)