Sunday, November 25, 2007
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
So drop by the site and see if you can lend a hand naming a new business or put in a request of your own! Just click on the forum link and list your request.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
The most common company naming trap I come across is this – creating a new business name that’s accurate and descriptive, but utterly forgettable. And it’s easy to see how it happens. Unlike real life application, naming is usually done in a vacuum -- with no context, no accompanying logo, web site or brochure copy. A group of key decision makers sit in a boardroom and toss names around in the air. And with no supporting cast, no background, no props, the good names often seem disconnected and even ridiculous. It’s at this stage the mind wants to make sense of the names and without context, without supporting elements, it defaults to free associations from the past. This is what kills off many a great brand name.
Imagine a committee looking for a brand name for a new computer company. Someone suggests the word “apple.”
“Apple?” the group reacts in shock and bewilderment.
“That makes me think of my mother saying ‘One bad apple spoils the whole bunch,’” one committee member protests.
“It sounds like something fruity to me,” claims another. “We can’t be perceived as a fruity company!”
“And what about worms that get into the apples,” a third member agrees. “And the way they rot, and how the juice gets sticky, and how…”
“All right!” the suggestee apologizes, curling up in a near fetal position, vowing she’ll never venture another idea.
And so the group comes to absolute agreement that the name must convey what the company does. So the next set of suggestions seem right on target…
“United Computer Manufacturers”
“General Computer Systems”
“Quality Computer Corporation”
“Superior Computer Builders”
“Global Computer Worldwide”
The closer the committee comes to describing the “what” of the company, the more they become homogenized and blend right into the rest of their industry. They sound more like a business description than a brand name, and in doing so they obscure the very identity they are trying to create. They don’t realize that the new company name will exist in a setting that helps define it, so that the name is free to evoke feeling and emotion. An apple is fresh, approachable, healthy, and invigorating. And so a company can borrow on the attributes inherent in a completely unrelated item to convey the way they approach its business.
So if creative company names are so much more memorable and effective than descriptive names, why is it that so many businesses make this basic mistake? In large part it’s because we conditioned from childhood to conform, to be like others, and to follow the leader. As much as we don’t like to admit it, most of us would rather follow an established trail than to blaze a new one. One of the first questions I ask potential clients is whether they want their new company name to blend in, or to stand out. Most adamantly say they want to stand out, but when stand out names are presented, the red flag goes up.
“I’m not sure,” they might say. “These names are unique, but they’re so different from anything in our industry.”
And so it goes. The names continue to blend in until someone names an airline Virgin instead of Southwest. Or an online job site Monster instead of CareerBuilder. Or a massive online store Amazon instead of Books-a-Million.
Not only are descriptive names less impactful, they are more difficult to visualize. I can picture a Monster, but I have trouble picturing a Career Builder. When it comes to beach shoes, I can imagine a pair of Crocs, but not a pair of Keens. These vivid mental pictures provide yet another way to anchor the brand name in the customer's mind for easier recall.
Creatives names are also less restrictive. If you have a purely descriptive name, what happens if your company's core products or services being to change? How much additional advertising does it require for Burlington Coat Factory to convince customers they sell more than just coats?
Are highly memorable names the only way to go? No. Some small businesses don’t have the luxury of a marketing budget and resort to literal names out of short term necessity. And there are other viable naming strategies that work well. But for those looking to build a brand name that will set them apart, and reserve more space in the customer’s mind, then an evocative, memorable name is the way to go. Seth Godin makes a convincing case for memorable company names in his New York Times bestseller, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable.
So whether you name company after a river, a fruit, a dessert, a reptile, or even an odd color bovine, chances are you will, on a minimum, make a name for yourself. And once potential customers notice and remember your company, the rest is up to you. If you do your job well, you’ll have a company that’s not only memorable, but one that’s unforgettable.
Sunday, January 07, 2007
"Health of my brand?" you ask.
Yes. Just like people, businesses and markets change over time. And sometimes those changes are so slow and so gradual that we wake up to find our products and services outdated, out-of-step and out-of-shape. In short, our brand has become "sick." Here are some of the most common culprits.
- Geographic gridlock
In this scenario, your company started in one locale and has simply outgrown the market. It's easy to see this trend in larger companies, such as Southwest Airlines, which now flies all over the U.S. Not only are these names restrictive, they are also uninspired. If your company has a city, state or regional name, you may be telling potential customers to go elsewhere.
- Product paralysis
Much like geographic gridlock, product paralysis starts with all the right intentions. A company wants to be known for their star (and sometime their only) product. So they include it in the name. Once they've achieved success in capturing that market, they naturally want to expand into others. The problem is their name. So companies such as Just Brakes develop a tagline to overcome the problem. "We're more than Just Brakes." The irony is that marketing dollars are then spent trying to shed the now suffocating stereotype caused by their core product. Better to re-brand with a more open and encompassing name. It's better to communicate who you are than explaining who you aren't.
- Attribute aches
This is another easy trap in which to fall. In place of a product, companies associate themselves with one key attribute -- and then pay the price. What if EconoLodge ever wants to improve its rooms and raise its rates? Is Quality Inn really the luxury leader in the hotel business? It's not that these names can't work, they often do. It's just that they forever commit a company to that strategic positioning. And sometimes companies outgrow one mode of service. They may no longer want to be the low price leader. Or they may find it difficult to meet the expectations created by words such as "superior" or "ultimate." If you find yourself tired of jumping through hoops everyday, it may be time to lose words such as "Sonic," "Speedy," or "Express" as part of your name.
- The Identity Crisis
This is perhaps the most dreaded category of branding dilemmas. It happens when a company's core competency evolves to the point where they are basically in an entirely new business. In this scenario nearly everything in their business has changed over the past several years -- except for their name. For instance, a web hosting company may gradually transition to providing offline IT consulting. But with "web" in the name, they would forever be fighting to explain their current business. Imagine if 3M had not re-branded and stayed with their original name . . . Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing. It would take more than a Post-it note to make that name stick.
Keeping a brand healthy is really no different than keeping yourself healthy. It just requires a few checkups and some simple exercises. Make sure to ask yourself, your current customers and potential customers if your name, tag line and logo really reflect where you are as a company. Does the name evoke the right feelings, convey the right ideas and make your customers want to know more about you? Or does it mislead them, confuse them and require constant explanation. The first few seconds of an introduction are the most valuable real estate in the branding world. Make sure your brand image is healthy and vibrant, and you'll not only liven up the business -- you'll revitalize the bottom line.
Monday, November 13, 2006
The answer lies in our five senses. Unlike most company brand images, which exist statically as printed names and logos, the holidays are deeply anchored in our experiences, in the areas of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Christmas conjures the fresh scent of pine needles and the sound of cheerful carolers. Thanksgiving evokes the smell of pumpkin pie and the welcome taste of warm cider. In addition to the sensory stimulation, we associate emotions as well. Valentine's stirs feelings of love and romance while New Year's Day brings a sense of renewed hope and unity. And this holds true for countless holidays celebrated by various faiths and cultures worldwide. They are richly embedded in the fabric of our lives and are therefore woven deeply into our memories. It's no wonder then that the holidays are easy to recall, categorize and associate. Through shared sensory reinforcement the holidays develop their own internal brand consistency, without the need for outside management and intervention.
So in comparison, take a look at your present business, product or service. Can it be identified with just a color, a symbol, a feeling? How can you create more texture to your company and brand by enriching it with sight, sound and emotion? The computer chip manufacturer Intel has done a wonderful job of creating a musical signature for their product. The familiar four-note melody adds another layer of identity to the company's brand, making it easier to recall. UPS has wrapped itself in the color brown to add further recognition to their ad campaigns. Ask "What can Brown do for you?" and most consumers can identify the carrier without any assistance. Nexium has successfully marketed the "Purple Pill" in a way that allows the customer to communicate their interest to a physician without having to recall the prescription name. For Double Tree hotels, fresh baked cookies greet weary travelers each night. Perhaps the best example of holiday-type branding is the food products company Newman's Own, which was created for "Shameless exploitation in pursuit of the common good." To date, the company created by actor Paul Newman, has donated over $200 million to charities worldwide and gathered a loyal following. While other companies try to attract with a fancy label, Newman's resonates of selfless giving.
So if your company were a holiday, how would it be celebrated? What would it sound like, look like, taste like, and feel like? What would be the mood and how would it be remembered? Then look for ways to infuse that feeling throughout the organization. Find new and innovative ideas to help permeate your customer's experience. Connect with them using as many of the senses as possible and find that one common emotion you want them to feel when doing business with your firm. In the end you will create many more ways to remember your business. But more importantly you'll create new reasons to celebrate it.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
1. Decide if you are building a business or a brand.
I mention this since many online entrepreneurs are focused on short-term goals. They want to get their site up fast, get ranked high and start making money. This all sounds good but it leaves a business vulnerable in a number of ways. Short term thinking usually leads to literal names that will (supposedly) rank well with the search engines. In addition, literal/functional names are thought to better inform visitors about what products and services are provided.
While descriptive names do convey a sense of what you do, they fall short in creating an identity, a sense of how you do what you do. So you end up in a sea of sound-alike companies. LendingTree.com (a metaphor) is much more memorable than e-loan.com, loansfast.com or loan-place.com. Amazon.com (another metaphor) brings richer imagery to mind than BooksAMillion.com.
Unless you own a primary domain name with a lot of natural type-in traffic, descriptive names usually fall flat in the long run. You may make a decent living, but it would be difficult to grow a long lasting company called MensDressShoes.com. It would always sound generic and descriptive and would rely heavily on the ever-changing algorithms of the search engines. Most descriptive names rely on web surfers typing the search term into the web address box as a .com, hoping to find a relevant company. But what if this changes and consumers turn more and more to using search engines? What if the search engines change their valuation of having keywords in the domain name? You have then built a company that relies on the unpredictable nature of Internet search engines to make you profitable.
Having said all that, even if you wanted a generic short word, it's probably now beyond most businesses' price range. Diamonds.com recently sold for 7.5 million dollars. Best advice -- build a brand name and then point generic/descriptive names to the main website address.
2. Come up with a naming strategy.
Go to a directory such as Yahoo.com or dmoz.org and look up competitors in your field. Examine the most common naming methods they use (i.e. proper names, key attributes, metaphors, etc.). If you discover your industry heavily utilizes one form of naming, avoid it and use another. If half of the companies are using the evocative theme of discovery (i.e. Internet Explorer, Netscape, Safari, etc.), then try something different such as an analogy (i.e. Firefox). Map out a list of your competitors' names and see how your names compare against them. Consider such naming techniques as:
• Focusing on a key attribute (Priceline.com)
• Focusing on a key attribute (Priceline.com)
• Adding a suffix (Travelocity.com)
• Creating an invented name (Expedia.com)
• Utilizing an evocative word (Orbitz.com)
• Mixing words in new combinations (HotWire.com)
The more strategies you employ, the more naming options you will have at your disposal. Be careful of misspelled names since they will create one more obstacle when it comes to finding your domain name. Some companies can manage this because they have large budgets (i.e. Cingular.com); but as much as possible, focus on names that can be clearly stated, understood and spelled.
3. Search to see if the names on your list are available.
A great place to start is DomainTools.com. They will not only allow you to look up a domain name to see if it's available, but they also have a link for domain suggestions when the desired domain in not available. While these suggestions are not always the most creative, they may spark some additional ideas. Plus they show related names that are for sale or at auction on other sites. Another good site is BuyDomains.com. Unlike DomainTools.com, which simply lists whether domains are available or not, BuyDomains.com actually owns its own inventory of over 675,000 names. They will not be available for the $6.95 that GoDaddy.com would charge for an unregistered name, but they do have a good supply of names for between $2,000 to $4,000. Considering the importance of a good domain name, this is relatively inexpensive. In addition to BuyDomains.com, there are sites such as Afternic.com and Sedo.com that also offer a wide selection of domain names, many of which are searchable by category.
You can also broaden your opportunities by adding a good prefix or suffix. Avoid the trite "online" or "cyber" endings. In the case of my naming company, I added the intensifier "Pure to the light bulb filament "Tungsten" to form the domain name PureTungsten.com. Other prefixes and suffixes include "My," "Go," "Now," and "USA."
4. If you can't get the .com, then move on.
Starting a new business has enough challenges already. So why add to it by starting with the .net version of your name? I've had a number of naming clients come to me with this issue. What they thought would be no big deal turned out to be very painful. Consumers default to the .com address; and without it, you will be constantly reminding customers to use the .net or .info or .us extension. To further compound the issue, many important and sensitive emails will end up going to the .com address. Imagine if a competitive company then buys the .com? You would now have a sticky situation. Avoid it by getting the .com first and foremost.
This is also true of the infamous hyphen. Most people will type a name without the hyphen. So unless you want to constantly explain it, don't rely on customers to assume your name has a hyphen. If you have a number in your name, try to get both the spelled out number and the actual number. If you must chose one over the other, go with the spelled out name since names generally contain letters vs. numbers (i.e. CapitalOne.com).
5. Be sure to register all the possible typos and misspellings.
Think of all the possible ways your new name could be misspelled (hopefully none if you've done your work!). Then register these names. This will prevent domain squatters and link farms from selling your traffic to your competitors. Since consumers default to the .com name, it's more important that you get common misspellings than it is to get the .net.
As with any name, you would be wise to check the http://www.uspto.gov database to see if there are any companies in your goods and services category utilizing the same or similar name. If that looks clear, you will still need to file a trademark application, which you can do online, or hire a good trademark
This completes your crash course on naming an Internet based business. If the task becomes overwhelming, you can hire a naming firm; but be prepared to pay $7,500 to $75,000 to get a good name, tag line, matching domain name and artwork. If you follow the above guidelines, you should be able to keep yourself from making any major missteps and be on your way to online success. And in both the short run and long run, that's the name of the game!