What's In A Name? Branding Your Company, Product, or Service


One of the most important business decisions you will ever make is what to name your company and its products and services. Studies show that as much as 75% of all consumer purchases are made because of a name, or more specifically, a brand. A successful brand can fetch a 20% to 30% premium in the marketplace. It can make a company more profitable and much easier to sell when the time comes. Entire companies are acquired just because of a successful brand. In short, the name of your company and/or its flagship product may turn out to be your #1 asset.

Company or Personal Name vs. Product Name

One of the first decisions you may need to make is whether your company name and product name should be one in the same. It depends upon the nature of your business. The fourth company I started was called Innovative Communication Systems, or ICS for short. Our flagship product was called Ask Me 2000. People would call the office and ask to speak to the President of Ask Me. We changed our name to reflect what people knew us by best. There are many other examples of this inevitable name game.

Before being acquired by Microsoft, Visio was started as Shapeware. RealNetworks use to be called Progressive Networks. The products are what people came to know best, so it was prudent for these companies to rally around one brand rather than two or more. You will be lucky if you can establish just one successful brand, so don’t waste money trying to promote both your company name and product name. If the nature of your business demands that you have different names for your company and products or services, you should do the best you can to connect them together.

Microsoft has done this extremely well. The company name is almost always used in conjunction with every product name: Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Office, etc. Users might not know the difference between Word and WordPerfect, but most know Microsoft.

Another spin on this is to associate your own name with the product or service you are offering. This is particularly important if your business is consulting or professional services. After all, the most important brand you will ever own is your own name! People are likely to engage someone they know by reputation. Examples of this are "Andew Tobias’s Managing Your Money" and "The Tom Peters Seminar." For more information on the concept of branding yourself, visit the discussion on Fast Company.

General Guidelines

The main objective of a name is clarity and recognition. The average person is bombarded with over 3,000 messages and brands every day. You want to reduce buyer confusion and indifference through the use of your name. You want to stand out. There are five primary considerations when naming your business or product:

1. Can the customer relate to it? Does it evoke a positive mental image?
2. Is it available? A name may be available in your state, or even in the U.S., but is it available globally?
3. Is it protectable? What is the likelihood of getting the name registered in all jurisdictions where you intend to do business now and in the future?
4. Will it translate well? Does the name have any negative connotations in other languages?
5. Is it extensible? Can the name be used in a series? An example of this is the "Dummies" series of books: Excel for Dummies, Windows for Dummies, Wines for Dummies, etc.
I try to avoid listing do’s and don’ts. Things change. Rules can be broken. Instead, let me propose the following guidelines as "things to think about and things to be careful about."

Think About:
being distinctive (evoke strong images)
being descriptive
being global
being unique and creative
being memorable (Yahoo)
registering and protecting
being easy to say and spell

Be Careful About:
sounding like a competitor (micro, tech)
using your own name
adapting a local or regional name
sounding like every other business (copycat)
choosing a name that promotes the category
using initials
being cute, too creative

Trends In Naming

One of the biggest trends in naming a company or product is transparent names, or contrived names. These are names that have no dictionary meaning. They can take on whatever meaning or image the company decides to create for them, since they are not associated with any person, place or thing, in any language. A name like OPTICON, for example, sounds good and can be made to look good with the right creative flair. The advantages are:

It is distinct; free and clear of competition
It is unlimited in language; free and clear of translation problems
It is proprietary; free and clear of restriction

The downside is it is not descriptive. A company would need to invest heavily in marketing and branding in order to build a favorable, recognizable image for a name like this.

Step-by-Step Process For Naming

Understand the competition's names, images they evoke, and messages they convey.

Brainstorm -- be creative.

Emphasize key strategic advantages; suitability to the audience; positioning in the market.

Be sensitive to gender, race, religion, geographic biases (words have different meaning to different people).

Investigate and debate the disadvantages of the name.

Test the use and applications; test longevity.

Check availability; search for conflicts, similarities.

Register and protect; Create a mark around the name (distinctive look and feel with colors, graphics, typestyle).

Have the name independently evaluated, scored.

Tip: Trademark searches do not delineate between upper and lower case, dashes, slashes or other characters. Web site domain names don't either.