‘When it comes to small business success, the right business name can actually make or break your company.’
It’s this simple: your name says who you are as a company. This is not merely a tag, like your own given name (which, after all, you didn’t choose for yourself); rather, it informs your customers who you are and what you do. A good name sets you apart from your competitors, arouses interest and is memorable. A bad name misleads, bores or confuses your customers and is easily forgotten.
Your name is the cornerstone of your brand, so take the time to get this right before building up from this foundation.
Naming your business or products is a serious matter. The name you choose can play an integral part in the marketing of your company. Your name projects your image, brand, and position in the marketplace. Consumers are bombarded with business names and advertising on a daily basis. Your job is to make customers remember you.
But coming up with a compelling name can be much easier said than done.
What makes a good name?
There are many important attributes to consider when choosing a good business name:
As with many aspects of branding, simplicity is a virtue. The name should be easy to pronounce (especially if your market isn’t all in one country) and easy to spell or write. It should also be as brief as possible. ’The Dell Computer Manufacturing and Distribution Company’ is probably not an improvement on ‘Dell.’
- Easy to Remember
Have a look through your medicine cabinet for examples of brands that are hard to remember. Why the manufacturers of drugs like diclofenac and phenylbutazone thought that naming their products ‘Cataflam’ and ‘Cotylbutazone,’ respectively, would make them easier to remember is anybody’s guess. Don’t follow their lead. A short, pronounceable name that accurately says who you are will be easiest for your customers to remember.
- Comforting, familiar, pleasant
Google and Yahoo, Twitter and Facebook, Amazon and Digg. Internet companies have become adept at choosing names that resonate with customers, are easy and fun to pronounce and somehow make you feel good before you even visit their sites.
The name you choose must be appropriate, even if, as in the examples above, it is a little ‘out there.’ A common mistake is naming a company that accidentally sounds like it belongs in another sector, or inadvertently puts your customers in mind of something else. Naming your package delivery service ‘Drop Off,’ for example, or your capital investment advice company ‘CIA,’ probably won’t help your bottom line.
Of course, you won’t get away with using an existing name for your company, but if the name you choose sounds anything like another company – especially a competitor – you will have a hard time standing out from the crowd. And clichés that simply mean versions of ‘best’ should be avoided at all cost (Acme, Summit, Apex etc).
- Linked to your brand
This may be the most critical aspect of a good company name, and can also be its source. A name should not be chosen in isolation, but in conjunction with other aspects of the brand such as the strapline, tagline, company slogan and even the logo. These are all intimately interrelated and can therefore help in choosing the name itself.
Which brings us to …
The creative naming process
So where do you start? Actually, you can start almost anywhere – with your own name, the name of your product or service, your key market sector, etc. The trick is not to stop there. Don’t just pick the most obvious description of your company and use that for your name. If you are a freelance graphic designer named Sean Murphy living in Kilkenny, here are some names that will put your clients to sleep: Murphy Graphic Design , Kilkenny Design Company, SMGD …. Get the picture?
Take the time to consider other options. Brainstorm key words (artistic design, creative design, creative thinking …), making as long a list as possible. Then, as mentioned above, incorporate your thinking into other branding ideas of strapline, tagline, slogan and logo. Is there a central message you want to convey? Can you think of a word or image that embodies that message? Is some version of that word a potential name?
Why is Apple called Apple? What does an apple have to do with computers? In his biography, Steve Jobs says that he was looking for something that was ‘fun, spirited and not intimidating,’ reflecting, in other words, the core values he sought for his new company.
And isn’t ‘Apple’ a better name than ‘The Silicon Valley Computer Company?’
Your web address
Your website web address should be the same as your business name, and – depending on the nature of your business – your domain name may well be a critical decision, and you may find yourself limited by the price or availability of the desired name. If, for instance, you are naming a photo sharing company you may find that your first choice (say, www.photoshare.com) is either taken or ludicrously expensive to acquire. You could attempt to go the route of trying a .org, .net, or .ie domain, but very often these options will also have been reserved by domain name hoarders hoping to make a killing.
Here again creativity is your best solution. Be as open-minded as possible when brainstorming keywords that could inspire a solid company name. In the early phase of thinking, go for quantity, reserving judgment until you’ve accumulated a long list of options.
Then make a short list of your favourites, and go to a site like leandomainsearch.com which will instantly generate hundreds, even thousands of permutations, and whether they are available or registered, as well as checking Twitter and trademark availability.
Another approach is to go to a site such as wordoid.com and enter a short keyword. It will generate made-up words using various versions of your keyword. You can even choose whether you want the name to sound ‘natural,’ ‘almost natural’ or ‘hardly natural,’ in your chosen language.
Another solution, if you have the resources, is to hire a professional copywriter to come up with a name for you. Sometimes you can be too close to your company to have objectivity, and an outsider’s view (what copywriters call a ‘naive resource’) can lead to an inspired name you would never have considered.
For reasons mentioned above, this name rocks – epitomising a company’s ethos and conjuring an easily-remembered image.
Okay … we’re prejudiced, because we love ‘Pal’ as a suffix. It evokes ease of use and friendliness, just like our very own StrategyPal.
Most people neither know nor care that this is the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing company. This solution gives an enormously diverse company a short and sweet way to announce its brand.
This word was invented because the company’s founder George Eastman though the sound of the letter ‘k’ was compelling. It worked, with Kodak being one of the most recognised brands in the world.
Named after the winged goddess of victory, this couldn’t be a more appropriate name for a running shoe manufacturer. Be warned, though. Most ancient or historical references will be lost on your audience, or actually backfire because of the sound of the name. An outdoors shop named after the great hunter Nimrod will probably not have customers queuing up outside.
After merging one company (or more) into another, simply jamming the names together into a mouthful like this is almost guaranteed to make you sound like a pharmaceutical giant. Okay, so maybe it works for them …
This one makes two big mistakes. First, it combines the word ‘medical’ with the word ‘system’ to come up with a bureaucratic-sounding ‘medisys’ and then it appends an ‘A’ in front – presumably to appear earlier in alphabetical listings, resulting in this clunky absurdity.
In an apparent attempt to be whimsical and cute, as so many Internet-based companies succeed at doing, this Internet conferencing company has come up with a name that is actually embarrassing to use. Pretty logo, though.
This is an example of simply being lazy in choosing a name. Let’s see? We provide transportation in the air. Presto! AirTran. Doesn’t the word ‘Airways’ already say that?
Yes, this is actually the name of an Asian fusion takeaway. No idea what it means in Chinese, but the owners probably should have run it past a native English speaker before buying the sign.
“Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.”
Paul Rand, Graphic Designer
A logo is crucial to your company’s branding. A powerful brand without a truly iconic logo is a virtual impossibility, so it is definitely worth investing in a professional design that captures and communicates the core message of your business. As Paul Rand so eloquently points out, your logo is like an ambassador – silently representing your brand, putting your best foot forward and declaring your uniqueness, value and success.
It’s a pretty tall order for a tiny image. But with a little care and attention to what a logo can and should achieve (and what it cannot, and should not attempt to achieve) you can choose the right and most iconic logo for your business.
What do we mean by ‘iconic?’
In graphic design, the term can be used to distinguish a logo type as ‘symbolic’ (think of Apple’s apple or Nike’s tick mark) versus logos using the company’s name or initials (such as Disney or Coca-cola) or logos combining a symbol with lettering (for example, Microsoft Windows or Adidas).
But for our purposes, we’re using the word iconic in the broader sense of an ideal representative symbol of something – in this case, your unique brand.
A great logo is a powerful way to help customers remember your business. Whether you like it or not, your logo design is at the heart of your communication plan. It reaches out to your target market, reassures your customers, and reminds everyone just why they do business with you in the first place. It helps communicate your message to your target audience. When people look at your design, they should instantly think – and think positively – about their past experiences with your company. Your logo is short-hand advertising, constantly reminding your customers that you’re a vibrant player in the competitive marketplace, helping you stand out amid the barrage of competing images and messages.
So, what constitutes an effective logo? A great logo – an iconic silent ambassador for your brand – must be simple, memorable, distinctive, versatile, appropriate and timeless. Let’s look at these in order.
Perhaps the single most important aspect of any logo. After all, look how little relative space a logo occupies – whether in print materials, on clothing, packaging, products or even on a huge billboard. Complex designs are difficult for audiences to process quickly, and as multi-media continues to diminish our attention spans the trend is for ever simpler designs. There’s a caveat, though. Nike has been able to develop one of the simplest logos of all time, but only after building a worldwide reputation in its market. If your company’s name is not yet a household word, your logo may have to carry a little more complexity.
Starbucks began with a relatively complex logo based on a 16th century woodcut of a topless, twin-tailed mermaid, and mentioned the name of the company and three products: coffee, tea and spices. As the company became more fully branded with coffee the logo was simplified and the words ‘tea’ and ‘spices’ dropped. Today, the stylised image of the mermaid is so inextricably linked to the international brand that the new logo has dropped both the word ‘coffee’ and the name of the company itself. But this evolution to simplicity took thirty years of brand-building!
Apple, too, went through a similar evolution. Their initial logo included a detailed woodcut of Sir Isaac Newton under an apple tree, with the words’ Apple Computer Co.’ wrapped around it. Simplicity came later.
How does a logo become memorable? Part of it, as in the Starbucks example above, is the long, hard process of building a brand name, the memorability coming from years of advertising and operational success. However, Starbucks would certainly fail one test of memorability: look at a logo for a few seconds, then try to redraw it. If you can’t replicate it with reasonable accuracy then it probably won’t be easy for customers to remember. What ten-year-old child can’t draw McDonald’s golden arches? Also, linking your logo to your name through uniform use of typefaces and colours can also add to memorability.
This is a fairly subjective term, but nevertheless a crucial aspect of logo design. Distinctiveness is the aspect of your logo that makes it stand out from others, especially those in your own market sector. When designing a logo, look at those of all your competitors and anyone else in your marketplace. Try to determine what they all share in common (do they, for example, tend to use three letter abbreviations for their companies? or do they tend toward the blue-green end of the colour spectrum?). Then, as Apple’s slogan advised, ‘Think Different.’ Challenge your designers to come up with something entirely unlike anything currently out there. That’s distinctiveness.
As I mentioned earlier, logos have a lot of work to do. As your first line of branding defence your logo appears absolutely everywhere: on all marketing and communications materials, on your website, letterhead, products and packaging, staff uniforms, company vehicles, in your email signature … everywhere. So your logo has to work equally effectively when it’s a tiny emblem on a printed pen, on a TV ad or on a massive billboard. Although it must consistently use your corporate colours, it should also work in those instances when it must be printed in black & white or greyscale (you don’t want your bright blue company’s name disappearing on a blue T shirt!).
The image you choose for your logo must be appropriate. Another way of saying this is that it must be meaningful, in that it is directly linked to a core message of your company. If your company sells anchors, then your logo could be an image of Popeye’s tattoo, but if you think too far outside the box and come up with a skyline of Anchorage, Alaska, you’ve probably failed the appropriateness test.
It may seem absurd for a start-up or young company to be thinking about posterity when designing a logo, especially since, as I’ve pointed out, many companies’ logos continue to evolve over time. However, you should still strive for longevity in the sense that you are building the best logo to represent your brand as it is now. So, for example, avoid any trendy fonts or images, or references that depend on knowledge of current events.
If your brand changes substantially in the future, a revision of the logo may be needed, but if you’ve done your homework and developed a strong and appropriate brand, it should be a very long time indeed before it has to change, if ever. Think how little Coca-Cola’s logo has changed over the years, and companies like Amazon, Google, Toyota, Kodak and the 96 other corporations that Forbes says will be around for 100 years have designed their logos to stand the test of time.
The first step in branding
A logo is only your first step in branding, and it cannot be separated from other aspects of your brand identity, especially your name, corporate colours, strapline, tagline and company slogan (yes, these are different!). Whenever your customers see a graphical representation of your brand (your logo) accompanied with aural or textual representation (your spoken or written name, strapline, tagline, etc.) they access additional parts of their brains to process the information, which fortifies the impact of your brand.
Taglines are probably the second most noticeable element of a business identity. With just a few words, a tagline must be understandable, summarize the product of service offering, build trust, or incite to buy. A tagline is a ‘catchphrase’ for your business. Sometimes referred to as ‘slogans’ or ‘straplines’, they are frequently used in advertising, signage and all promotional material.
“We Try Harder” Avis Car Rentals
“Guinness is good for you” Guinness
“The ultimate driving machine” BMW
“Think different” Apple
“America runs on Dunkin” Dunkin Donuts
“We bring good things to life” General Electric
“Eat Fresh” Subway
“Finger-lickin’ good” Kentucky Fried Chicken
If your brand is very well-known, sometimes the tagline can function as a headline as well.
What makes a good tagline?
When choosing a good tagline there are many important attributes to consider:
Memorability has to do with how easy the line can be recalled unaided. The big picture should be told in the advertisement. The more the big idea is reflected in the tagline, the more memorable it will be. A good slogan should recall the brand name, and ideally, the brand name should be included in the line, as does “Coke is it!”
- Key Benefit
A good tagline should include a key benefit. One of the golden rules in the world of marketing is to ‘sell the sizzle, not the steak.’ This means to sell the benefits, not the features. Since the tagline is the take-away, the opportunity to include a key benefit should not be overlooked, “Polaroid: The fun develops instantly”
- Differentiate the Brand
The tagline should highlight a characteristic about the brand that sets it apart from its competitors. A good tagline includes your unique selling proposition. What do you do? Why should people care? Tell them in the tagline.
- Recall the Brand Name
If the brand name isn’t included in the tagline, it has to be firmly suggested. One of the techniques used for bringing in the brand name is to make the tagline rhyme with it, or to use a rhyme and mention the brand name. For example “A Mars a day helps you work, rest, and play.”
- Convey Positive Feelings
An effective tagline should convey positive feelings about the brand, “Vauxhall: Once driven, forever smitten” is an effective example of this. Studies show that negative advertising is hard to justify, and publishers will tell you that negative book titles don’t sell.
- Not be Usable by a Competitor
A competitor should not be able to substitute their brand name into your tagline. Poor examples of this are companies that use the slogan “Simply the Best.”
Developing a Tagline
A good tagline is not just a motto, a proverb, a saying or a long-winded mission statement. It’s got to be fairly concise, usually seven words or fewer. And it should reflect how your company is positioning itself against your competitors. A great tagline is like the exclamation point at the end of a 30-second elevator pitch.
When developing a tagline you should sit down and ask yourself some core questions about your company:
- Who are you?
- What are your values?
- Your vision?
- Your corporate culture?
- What nouns and adjectives would you use to convey your brand’s promise and its solution?
- What words might your customers use to describe your company?