Great Naming Takes Differentiation Beyond Good Intentions

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.)

 

Types of Company Names

Before we begin to discuss company name types, three big caveats:

  1. This list of company name types is by no means comprehensive. It’s more like a starter course. It’s antipasto, okay? Also, lots of hairs could be split over how to precisely classify a group or a name within that group. But I don’t have that kind of hair. So, apologies to the angrily-commenting mobs who seem to so enjoy mucking up my interweb. We aren’t going to do that today. We are a peaceful lot. We will digest this internet-based information in a neutral and easy-going manner. We’re Switzerland, okay?
  1. Any naming agency or naming copywriter who thinks your choice of a preferred name type gets anywhere close to a strategy should be avoided like the sixth plague (boils!) I’ve mentioned this in a prior blog post, but it bears repeating. Sure, you can have your faves, and certainly your taste and stylistic preferences should be honored… just don’t confuse that with the real matter at hand: defining your core essence, defining the marketplace opportunity… and arriving at the delicious nougat where the two meet.

CREATED COMPANY NAMES

Yeah, this sounds kinda dumb. I mean, they’re all created, right? I coulda said “Made-up,” but that’s even goofier. Not that I’m against goofy, as this blog will no doubt prove beyond a shadow. By created, I simply mean a whole new word has been brought into the universe. Some of these will have direct connections to the English, Greek, Latin or otherwise meaningful root; some won’t. We also care about euphonics (good sounds) and mnemonics (ease of recall) — all of this will work better by example…

Examples of created company names from Scott Silverman’s Articulated Brands® company name portfolio: Sequent Systems, JuicifyMe, Eukonic. Created company names by insignificant people whose blogs you aren’t reading now: Xerox, Yelp, Charmin.

EVOCATIVE COMPANY NAMES

Whether via historical or mythological allusion… by linguistic connection or by shear force of ingenuity, these name types tend to be emotional and experiential. My favorite name type here is synechdoche (no, we aren’t referring to somewhere back East; it means small for large.) Haven’t had a chance to do one of these yet… could you be the one?

Examples of evocative company names from Scott Silverman’s Articulated Brands® company name portfolio include: Shine Candles, Workbench, InfoSing, Manifest Equity and Libretto Espresso. Many large corporations are embracing the emotional brand pull of evocative names, such as Pandora®, Staples® and Twitter®.

PRIMARY ATTRIBUTE OR BENEFIT-DRIVEN COMPANY NAMES

Just as it sounds. This company name type is more descriptive than anything else. If what you’re describing is great, great!

Examples of descriptive, attribute or benefit-driven company and product names from Scott Silverman’s Articulated Brands’ company and product naming portfolio includes: Sympo, Smoky Joe, FastPort Series, Intellitoll Series. Descriptive company names from other corners of the world include: Jiffy Lube, Lean Cuisine (George Lois genius!), Two Men & A Truck.

METAPHORICAL COMPANY NAMES

See this one thing? It’s like this other thing. In a good way, natch.

Examples of metaphorical company names from Scott Silverman’s Articulated Brands® company and product naming portfolio include: Pawed Piper™, PassPort Series™, Sentinel Series™. If you’ve ever eaten a Red Vine®, shopped at Amazon® or interacted with an Oracle® database, you’ve come face-to-face with a metaphorical company name type. And you lived to tell about it. Yay, you!

CONJOINED COMPANY NAMES

People seem to worry about this category. They seem to be afraid of getting caught up into some sort of Greek-Latin polyglot mess. Yes, that’s a concern, but not a huge one. Not global warming. More like getting pooped on by a vengeful bird – doesn’t happen very often, but, ya know, keep on your lookout anyhow.

Examples of conjoined company names utilizing word combinations, hybrids and oxymorons include: Articulated Brands® and HarvestWaste™. Conjoined company names from obvious hacks include: FaceBook®, FedEx® and PaperMate®.

A WORD ABOUT USING ACRONYMS: DON’T.

Not only is it way old school, it’s also tres confusement. They require adoption over time, so unless your budget is massive, be careful with trying to finance name recognition for a new set of initials. Actually, even if you do have a massive budget, I’d still advise avoidance.

ON LITERAL & GENERIC COMPANY NAMES

Though extremely counter-intuitive, literal names tend to under-perform at the brand level, so be wary. But if you’re absolutely certain you don’t need local or even industry name recognition and SEO is your sole purpose for naming, consider adding a more distinctive moniker to your generic term. So, the formula for you would be {STICKY} + {LAME & UN-DIFFERENTIATED} = naming success, optimized!

In future blog posts, I plan to address my own company name… and why I chose, for business reasons, a seemingly generic set of terms. Notice how I said seemingly? Notice how I was able to get it trademarked?

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little escapade into company name types. I know I sure would have if I weren’t here working my little fingertips to the bone. All for you. All for you. And all of the names appearing here are the property of their respective owners, so I’ll probably get sued over this. Nice.

Costs to Name A Company, Brand Naming Fees

Company Naming Costs… and the even higher prices you pay when you don’t approach this vital business development initiative with sharp focus.

Sitting at the center of your brand identity and your entire marketing budget, your business name is an infrastructure investment, the cost of which must be amortized over its expected life. In too many start-ups and small businesses there is a “we’ll get to that later” mindset. But when what every start-up and small business needs to create is interest and excitement, is it any wonder that “later” is an opportunity never afforded to them? Think about what you will be spending in marketing over the next 3-5 years. Add that up. Now take a percentage of that for the role YOU think (not what I think) a name plays in solidifying your marketplace presence. Allocate that to your brand strategy work, inclusive of your naming costs.

Now, for the company naming cost deets…

Assuming a certain level of brand marketing expertise and sophistication, the strategic portion of the company naming costs can range from $2500 to $50,000 or more, depending upon the size of the company, how much research is indicated, how many rounds you wish to pursue, and whether it is part of a comprehensive branding process or not. But, again, there’s some very good news for you here: if you have selected the right company naming agency or brand consultant, the positioning work you do will inform, inspire and help streamline much of your future endeavors, so, done well, it’s actually a hedge against wasted dollars in the future. So, like all things, naming costs should have a built-in expected ROI based upon expected proportionate value. As for the added value provided by a branding firm or positioning expert, frankly, making sure we haven’t lost focus in our business development, and that we’re not chasing the wrong marketplace position, should probably be Priority One for all of us anyhow.

Costs for the creative part of the naming process, the name generations, can vary greatly, based upon how extensive your project is and the level of creative marketing expertise you’ve chosen to employ. Many of the big company naming firms employ a cadre of freelance copywriters or namers who submit names that are then filtered by the Creative Director, based upon his/her own internal criteria and philosophy. Obviously, all of this is built into your company naming costs. A one-person shop, brand strategist or freelance naming copywriter may simply dedicate an agreed-upon number of days or hours per round. Expect to pay anywhere between $5000 and $35,000 for the creative naming exploration phase if there is already a strategic brief in place, and, depending, of course, upon the experience level of the talent, the amount of thoroughness you require and, of course, your budget. Many firms do not include domain name availability and trademark searches, so this is something you will need to coordinate with your legal counsel.

You may not have the budget of an Apple® or a P&G® at your disposal, or even the budget of your direct competition, but instead of using that as a reason to take the matter of company naming less seriously, why not instead use that simple fact as your clarion call to work smarter, with more ingenuity and with more of a commitment to authentic brand creation? The more you think of your business as the brand you’re working to build, the more focused your every daily action will be, and the more you will have to show for your efforts in the long run.

 

Which naming agency, business names consultant or naming copywriter?

With a naming agency, a naming copywriter and a naming consultant springing up on every corner of the web, many have asked: what should we look for when it comes to our own pride-and-joy-to-be?

For strategic and creative support with your service, product or company naming, seek out someone who understands that a name isn’t just a way to establish an identity, but to further the sale. It’s this fundamental business disconnect you hear me ranting about, well, pretty much constantly. And it’s not that creativity and innovation aren’t huge parts of both the marketing and naming equation. They most certainly are, and that happens to be a firm specialty of my own. It’s that those creative solutions need to comply with strategic mandates.

“Strategy?” people ask. “Don’t you creative types just sit around tossing out ideas until something good pops?” Um, no. While that’s certainly a part of the process, let’s call it the “Mad Men” part of the process, it leaves way too much out. Like defining the task at hand, putting some concrete objectives into place, approaching the matter as if it were any other important business development initiative. ‘Cause it is.

Now, of course, anybody can claim to be strategic. It’s another one of those giant abstractions that get us nowhere, like “service.” But here’s the thing: in reviewing anybody’s creative work, it’s not the work itself you should let distract you. It’s their narrative about the work to which you should prick up your ears. If it’s a problem-solving narrative, one where key choices, tough choices, were identified and rationally decided upon… that’s the juice. That’s how you’re going to find out the level of thinking involved. That’s how you’re going to determine whether or not you’re sitting in front of the real deal or somebody who just follows the manual or prescribes the same formula regardless of what ails ya.

Recently, I was called in for “an emergency consult” by a business owner who couldn’t fathom why the company naming agency (one of the better ones, at that) he had hired failed after two rounds. As it turned out, most of the time they had spent with him revolved around name types (metaphor, alliteration, allusion, etc. — more on company name types in a future blog post) and his own personal style and taste preferences. This is where creative assignments of all types, not the least of which is naming, go wrong: if loose lips sink ships, then loose briefs sink businesses.

After reviewing their submissions, I told him: I can tell just by looking at these that real, earnest work was done here. I saw that they had explored many paths, and were paying (almost too much) attention to his stated likes. But, ultimately, an unhappy client is an unsuccessful job. For the failure to identify a strategy for the name, which often times requires more brand discovery, I blame both of them. But the lion’s share of the blame goes to the company naming agency. Did I want to take a stab, he asked. What do you think? Do you think I agreed to throw yet more darts at a board for which the bulls-eye will remain undefined? Pass-a-dena! Beyond happy to help those who truly want to “up” the level of their game and their understanding of a proven process. But when people keep their creative assignments at the level of a guessing game, it always makes me wonder if there isn’t some kind of control/power grip thing going on. Pass, not a fit for me. Off principle.

It’s up to us, as copywriters, designers and the brand ambassadors of branding itself, to educate our clients, to serve their ultimate best interests by steering them through the creative sides of business. When we accept an “I’ll know it when I see it” mindset, we do more than simply devalue our work and derail the process. We actually reinforce marketplace perceptions that the creative arts are just one giant crap shoot. But authentic design has always been about problem-solving. True, it may not be the exact science our business counterparts may want it to be. Yes, there’s wiggle room and room for the wonderfully unexpected to emerge. But a crap shoot? At this level of the game, with proven discipline mastery and plenty of experience? Hardly. That’s Little League. Let’s leave that to the overseas workers, the crowd, the recent grads and those who just completed their “How to be a copywriter” e-book courses.

You need a company naming agency or brand consultant who doesn’t just work to reflect your company through its name, but to elevate its presence within the target’s mind, taking both a highly analytical and creative approach to the process. You’ve gotta put the time in. You’ve gotta find somebody who will challenge every existing premise you may have about your company and its prospects in order to get both of you ahead further and faster.

Since prior naming generations may be protected by confidentiality clauses, ask: a) to hear more about your potential partner’s brand naming philosophy and process, and b) whether the brand name consultant or copywriter can easily convey how branding, positioning, and your ongoing marketing outreach all relate to this core element of your company’s identity.

Take Your Company Name Seriously But Have Fun

A great company name or, perhaps more commonly, a great company name and tagline in combination, due to their prominence, exert a marketing influence more powerful than pretty much anything else in your marketing arsenal. It should surprise no one that the companies who haven’t invested in marketing’s dynamic duo, Positioning & Messaging, tend to also be the ones who struggle in the company naming department. (On a similar note, those who struggle with their messaging need to go back to the creative brief stage. THIS is where I help companies diagnose their marketing strengths and weaknesses. In politics, it may be “the economy, stupid,” but in business and marketing, in my experience, “It’s the brief, stupid!” It’s the brief. It’s the brief. It’s the brief.)

The process for creating a vibrant and enduring company name is far more than an exercise in vanity. It is not only a matter of a good first impression; it is also a matter of a dynamic, consistent second, third and fourth impression. Remember, healthy brands are constantly in the process of making and keeping promises. How many opportunities does an enterprise get to make those core emotional promises and to set those expectations high at such a fundamental level? Very few. That’s why you’ve got to get your company name and your company tagline right.

Just what separates the powerful company names from the meek?

Done well, which means to me both strategically and creatively, a company’s name and its supporting tagline proudly and personally announce its arrival into the target customer’s world.

“Hello, there, you fellow human and lover of all things valuable. We’re one of a kind, we represent a unique point of view, and our shared values render us worthy of your attention and a deeper relationship.”

Remember, these days, we fight not only for revenues and market share against the literal competition, rather, we must compete at an even more fundamental level, for time and attention – a noisy, media-rich, choice-saturated world demands levels of strategic positioning, communications creativity and messaging relevance which were previously the sophisticated pursuits of only the big companies.

Name your company well (or name your products and name your services well, for that matter), and you will thank yourself for years, possibly decades to come. Not so thrilled in the company name department? Do it over. As mentioned in a previous blog post, the new opportunities created, provided you’re working with the right business-minded company naming firm or branding agency, will far outweigh any lingering concerns you may have regarding equity in your current company name.

 

Today, Branding is Everybody’s Business

Just some of the prices paid by those who didn’t name their companies well from the outset include an insufficient amount of target interest and excitement, as well a failure to accumulate as much brand equity and loyalty as they would have no doubt preferred. In simple terms: their start-up could have been more attractive to investors; their mature business could have commanded more from its acquirer; their HR department just may have been able to land that transformational superstar. The list is endless.

In every category, what you really want to be is the default choice, the obvious leader. Typically that requires far more than a camouflaged marketplace existence. Today more than ever, companies need an edge and a differentiated position — and that’s what best-in-breed branding is all about. A great company name and company tagline are two of your most important brand identifiers. If you can get those right, you set yourself up for even bigger victories down the road.

As for the equity you’re worried about losing by renaming the company? Don’t. In an overwhelming percentage of cases, assuming you’re not Coke, Nike or Oprah, it proves to be either strategically immaterial or entirely offset by a) the value created by the new company name and position, not to mention b) the additional marketing, PR and outreach opportunities that the new identity will create. Have you really been doing so much mass marketing that your most valuable prospects are now totally unreachable to us? Doubtful. And, as is so often the case, if it proves it was the “wrong equity” (wrong/parity position, irrelevant, insufficiently lucrative, creatively lackluster, etc.) we were building, why are we suddenly so worried about losing it when we can break those chains and begin earning the right kind of equity today?