At this time in early Spring 2020, it is clear that a number of businesses, large and small, are being adversely impacted by the global health crisis. Many poorly managed operations will find it difficult to survive, as will some well managed, under-funded businesses if the situation continues for too long and Government support is not provided.
Experience shows that from the ashes, new businesses will emerge, ready to take over with renewed vigour and vim. With a million questions to ask themselves as they make the decision to start up, one small decision which could have a big impact on future success is what to call the new entity. On one hand, it’s an emotive matter; on the other, this can be a valuable tool if used properly.
When Mackman works with start-ups, they are typically dedicated entrepreneurs who understand the value of marketing and of investing in best practice from day one. For those who are not in that position there are some real risks involved, so here is some advice on the question of business and branding names.
Before we start, the reason we use terms like ‘company and/or brand’ in this piece is because whilst most new companies’ names are also their brand name, this is obviously not always true, as some companies own many brands with different names, whilst others own diverse product and services offering using the same brand name. For the context of this piece, we will generally assume that the company and brand name are the same. Let’s start with the issues:
Naming a child is usually one of the most joyous decisions that new parents get to make. Whether after a relative, or a close friend, or simply because you like the name, the decision is about what will make you and the child feel happy and comfortable. It is not about whether the name will make you financially viable, or whether it will cause you to be sued. If you think naming a child and naming your new business and/or your brand are the same thing, perhaps you should think again about starting up…
As with believing that naming a company is like naming a child, it is not good practice to just decide that you like a name and go with it. The name you need to drive your businesses forward to survive its infancy and to go on to thrive needs to be researched, tested and proven as a strategic tool.
If you’re planning to run a real micro business, such as dog walking or gardening, then your name can be personal, catchy and fun with little chance of any reprisals. But whilst you may be able to create a name which you consider to be distinctive, compelling and enduring, is it acceptable to intellectual property experts and lawyers around the world? If you are not sure, beware of the risks.
This comment no doubt reflects a real situation in which a prospective business owner is either significantly under-funded, or believes that there are more important things on which to spend their seed capital. As with the importance of getting branding and propositions right, if you are set up with an existing customer base in the kind of commoditised sectors where cost is more important than value, then your name is much less relevant. But in most markets, your company and/or brand name, and all of its connotations, has to provide the most comprehensive message possible, and help to give you a competitive advantage.
As we say elsewhere, new companies have a blank sheet and the opportunity to build marketing into their business brand and proposition from day one. The name should be a part of this, and represents an opportunity to make a really valuable contribution. Here are some forms of name that we typically consider in order to find the right fit:
A name that either directly explains what the company does, or at least implies it is one of the most obvious and popular qualities.
Examples include The Cambridge Satchel Company, We Buy Any Car, 7-Eleven.
We say that brands should be ‘distinctive, compelling and enduring’. The name is probably the key contributor to the first of these words with the ability to be distinctive and memorable. This also important to help make your brand Search Engine Friendly.
Examples include Amazon, Apple and FCUK
Again within our ‘distinctive, compelling and enduring’ mantra, the name should be able to withstand changes in fashion and societal opinion. Unless it is effectively a ‘pop-up company’ created to deal with a specific, short term need, it ideally needs to be timeless rather than trendy.
As well as ensuring that you are not breaching the rights of another company with the same of a similar name, you need to ensure that your name can be protected, and go through the process to get it protected.
Obviously you want your name to have positive connotations, but one of the reasons to work with a professional branding agency is to ensure that your chosen name does not have an embarrassing or harmful meaning when translated. For example, in 2001, Honda introduced their latest car, the Fitta, only to discover that “fitta” is a vulgar term for a woman’s genitals in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. The Fitta was quickly rebranded as the Jazz.
As we have advised in the past, in many sectors the importance of becoming listed on page one of Google cannot be understated, nor can the impact of failing to do so. Your business’ name can make a massive difference in how quickly and easily you rank on SERPs. If your business name is friendly to your target keywords, it can make a huge difference. The Internet is awash with advice on SEO, but for the sake of this piece, the advice is to make sure that your name gives you a head start in order to generate leads.
Here is a short guide to the types of company name that new businesses can consider.
Probably the most traditional and timeless way to entitle a company has been to name it after the founder. While not ruling this out these days, it is an option that needs careful consideration and a great deal of collateral support – effectively to brand the founder as well as the company. Yes, decades and even centuries on, we know what the Ford Motor Company, Meryl Lynch and Heineken are and stand for, but arguably that is despite being named after the founders, not because of it.
Imagine if Microsoft, Apple and Nike had been named after their founders. How would we have felt about the ‘Jobs Mac’? These days, the name needs to work harder in most sectors. Exceptions to this caution exist where the founder already has a personal brand that can add value to their product. Many sports people have their own fashion brands and John Lloyd was a tennis player who started his clubs. But even then, Sir Jonathan ‘Jony’ Ive did not name his recently founded design company after himself, despite being probably the most celebrated designer on the planet. Calling his company LoveFrom says so much more about him than his name does.
One contemporary space where a brand can still succeed if named after its founder is at the ‘craft’ end of the food and beverage market, plus some other micro sectors where authenticity has a huge value. Direct contact with the brewer, baker or farmer/butcher in a localised market can be an excellent way to build a strong small business, or to initiate a larger one. Ben and Jerry’s came through this route and it also worked out okay for Jack Daniel. Just don’t allow vanity to cloud your judgment…
These are names that are created by their founders and their advisers that are formed from words that did not previously exist. The primary advantage is that, providing the research has been done, they are easier to protect, distinctive (providing they are also memorable) and easier to search online. Examples include Adidas, Accenture and Xerox, although Adidas was founded by a German cobbler called Adolf ‘Adi’ Dassler, so it has half a running spike in the ‘Founder’s Name’ camp too.
However, as with the Founder’s Names that do not have the benefit of a well known founder with positive characteristics, the company will need to invest in a lot of marketing and communications to explain to the world what their product or services is. Without a lot of advertising investment, who would know what ‘Xero’ is? While its main rival ‘Quick Books’ is close to being a Descriptive name (link to below) which at least gives prospective users a clue without having to buy media spots to explain it.
These are the names that make exceedingly obvious what the company does, and immediately brings their proposition into focus for any prospects. How much more do ‘We Buy Any Car’ need to say in their advertising to get the attention of someone who wants to sell theirs? Easyjet is another, as is eBay and, despite their demise, Toys R Us too.
On the flip side, this form of nomenclature is potentially very restrictive should these companies wish to diversify. A name like Easyjet cannot easily be attributed to any other sector, even though, for example, its booking website and dynamic pricing model could be relevant to other forms of transport, booking a train through Easyjet would appear to be too much of a brand stretch.
Evocative brands combine their naming and their brand story to allude to the characteristics that they wish to portray. Often they include a sense of metaphor, perhaps using places, animals, stories or foreign phrases to colour the companies and brands they represent.
Pulling these off with conviction tends to be the natural habitat of the experienced copywriter, because ideally there needs to be a balance between literal relevance and lateral reference.
Oracle, Nike, Nest (Google) and Kayak are all successful examples whilst the rebranding of the UK Post Office as ‘Consignia’ in the early 2000s is still taught as one of the biggest renaming fiascos of all time!
We advise, to be avoided… Acronyms have invariably arisen over the years as convenient, shorted versions of the names of established companies such as General Electric, British Airways, Donna Karen New York and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Given the plethora of TLAs (three letter acronyms) in particular, it is difficult to remember acronyms. Also, many have multiple applications which can be unfortunate – such as the Automobile Association and Alcoholics Anonymous; both of which are perfectly respectable organisations but trying to appeal their different audiences via Google without tripping over each other must be tricky
One interesting hybrid which has emerged has been Airbnb. Clearly the name combines the word ‘Air’ with ‘bnb’. Modern legend has it that the word ‘Air’ arises from the fact that the two founders were penniless and forced to sleep on inflatable ‘air’ mattresses, whilst the bnb is a variation of ‘b’n’b’ being established slang for ‘bed and breakfast’. We surmise that this name ticked the boxes for being distinctive and great for SEO, but also that the power of the business model has taken the name along with it, rather than the other way around. Just as the name ‘McDonalds’ could barely be more bland, but their business model, not their name, has made them the most successful restaurant group worldwide.
As an aside, whilst all of these types of company and brand names are options for any new businesses and brands, and need very careful consideration to both give them the best start and longest life, none exist in isolation.
Part of the reason that names are so important is that they are pretty much the first thing you see of any company or product, whether visiting their premises, buying their product online or instore or looking at a list of prospective B2B suppliers. At all these touch points and many more, the name is the focal point. However, more often than not, the name is surrounded by other material; whether visual imagery, written content, filmed material or whatever it may be. Very often, the message nearest the name of the company, often expressed as a logo, is the tagline or strapline. These four or five words should provide a pithy, irreducible description of what the company or brand is or delivers. The company name and tagline need to work together in perfect, synchronised harmony with the whole being bigger and better than the sum of the parts.
However, in conclusion, this does not detract from the importance of the name. As a new business with a clean sheet of paper in front of you to begin to plan your marketing, it’s the name that matters most in marketing terms. That’s the one thing that has to work, to resonate, to engage, to entice all by itself when it is all that can be seen or heard. It also sets the foundation for all that follows.
If you need help with this momentous step into your future, get in contact with us on 01787 388038 or pop us a message on our contact form and one of our specialists will get back to you shortly.