What's in a name?

If you are starting a new business, or are going through a rebranding process, selecting the right name for your company could be one of the toughest decisions you make. Actually, the name of your organization is arguably the most important brand asset you will have, yet many existing names are “off-limits” when a rebranding begins, or the name has been formed before the marketing team arrives. Let’s examine the importance of the name, how to name, reasons to rename, and types of names and then revisit the concepts of “off-limits” or “we already have a name”.

The Importance of a Name

Many small business owners feel it’s their right to name their company whatever they want, as if they are naming their children. Small business owners who have had early success but need marketing to go to the next level, cringe at the loss of brand recognition a rename might cause. What neither realize is that a poorly named business causes all sorts of problems in many areas. If it doesn’t communicate well, or differentiate, or stand as the pinnacle of your story, heaps of extra resources (time and money) is required to “make up” for this deficiency. The best names capture the imagination and create an immediate connection with your audience. Sure, it takes time for your organization to become a “household” name, but a correctly chosen moniker inspires interest and identity from day one.

The name is present always, in every form of communication – conversations, emails, voicemail, websites, stationery, products and presentations. The wrong name is unmemorable, confusing and ultimately damaging. Choosing a name is a fundamental task in building a business and should be tied to a business’ position, differentiation, vision and mission. If you’ve chosen your name without considering these things, you may want to reconsider.

How to Name

There are a myriad of exercises and techniques that help generate potential names, but all of them should stem from the brand strategy. With a solid understanding of who you are, what makes you different, and who your audience is, you can embark on this exciting and sometimes nerve-wracking journey. Here are some qualities of an effective name:

Meaningful

It communicates the essence of your brand and supports the perception your are trying to create.

Distinctive

It is unique from your competition, and easy to remember and spell. It is brief and appropriate, but not generic.

Forward-Looking

It allows for growth and change, is able to withstand market shifts and preserves possibilities.

Expandable

It allows for “brandplay”, building extensions that are connected and compelling.

Protectable

It is legally defensible, and can be owned and trademarked. A good domain is available.

Positive

It has no negative connotations and produces positive associations.

Visual

It works well in graphic implementations such as a logo, in text and throughout the brand touchpoints. The results of the brainstorming process should be wide and varied. Each name needs to be considered in context. You also need to consider such arbitrary things as how it sounds (rhythmic) and ease of pronunciation. It’s no small task, but the right name will drive all forms of publicity.

When to Rename

There are a whole host of reasons why an organization might want to rename themselves, effectively leading to a brand overhaul. Often there are several reasons, overlapping and culminating with a major change in direction or focus. Here are several reasons to change your name:

a) Your name no longer fits who you are and what you do. b) Your name has a trademark conflict or is not unique to you alone. c) Your name misleads or misinforms. d) Your name is no longer current, looking backwards instead of forward. e) Your name does not differentiate (position) you from similar organizations.

The benefits of changing your organization’s name is the advantage of a clean slate. Rather than trying to reposition yourself with messaging, or a new brand identity, and a lot of effort in your advertising, a name change hits the “reboot” button and clears the path for innovation, forward thinking, repositioning and strategic planning. Your new name will fit you better now, look to the future, differentiate you, make you more modern and help avoid confusion and conflict. No doubt, a new name is very appealing.

Before plunging in, you also need to consider the negative effects of a name change. Even with all those positives, there are drawbacks. They may be minimal, or conquerable, but they should be examined.

Most of what you need to consider falls under the umbrella phrase, “brand equity”. This implies that there is existing value in your current name. The questions are:

a) Does the value of the brand rest in the name? b) Have you invested a lot of time, money and effort into your name? c) Does your audience identify with you BECAUSE of your name? d) Can your relationships compensate for a period of climatization? e) Will you lose clients/donors? f) Will a name change alter your core values?

In the end, if there are some results that are unfavourable, but can’t be avoided, the question will ultimately be, will the good far outweigh the bad? It is best to consider the pros and cons in a list and compare the positives to the negatives. I suspect that if an organization is successful already, but needs a rename for any of the above reasons, a rename will likely strengthen their relationships and open the door for growth through clear, unique communication. The campaign alone, that lets everyone know about the name change, is a fantastic opportunity to re-introduce yourselves, re-educate your audience, re-assert your values and generate renewed enthusiasm for your business.

Types of Names

There are a wide variety of name types that can be considered. Below is a list of some common ones:

Founder

Many organizations are named after those who founded them. The benefit is that usually, an individual name is unique and defensible. The downside is that the organization will always be tied to a person.

Descriptive

A descriptive name explains the nature of the organization. The benefit is clear communication about your intent. The downside is that the name can be limiting down the road, or if kept wide open, too vague as a description to be defensible or meaningful.

Fabricated

A made up name is completely unique and easy to copyright. The drawback is the extra effort required to educate your market up front. Over time this gets easier, and a good tagline can overcome much of this barrier.

Metaphor

Things, places, animals, etc. can be a powerful tool to tell your story. It communicates a quality or the essence of your brand. If the metaphor is too hard to comprehend, however, this approach could prove to be detrimental.

Acronym

These are tough to remember and difficult to copyright. An acronym can be a nice, short name, recognizable among your niche, but rarely starts out that way. Often acronyms are the result of saying a name that’s too long, for too long. It gets shortened overtime, sometimes before your brand story has become solidified in the minds of your audience.

Unique Spelling

Altering the spelling of a word can differentiate you on a topic that is popular. It allows you to defend a well known word or phrase, but may not be enough on its own. Many good names use a combination of these, such as marrying a unique spelling of a common descriptive word, with a fabricated name.

So What’s in a Name?

A lot. More than most people consider when choosing one. Is there a magic bullet, one single name like a soul-mate, that is perfect for every business? I don’t think so. To think, “I will know it when I hear it” is a tricky concept. If knowing means: it meets all the criteria you’ve laid out and embodies the brand story, then your intuition rests on strong foundations. A well chosen name will embody the feeling of, “it couldn’t be any better”, as it gets repeated over and over again. Does this mean that a name that wasn’t chosen with all this foresight is useless? No, but if you had known all this before choosing, would you have been so quick to pick a name and lock it in forever? If you’re at the naming crossroads now, I recommend you put some thought into it.

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