We’ve been doing a lot of naming over the past few months—enough to keep several of us up at night. It’s a pretty tricky business, after all. It always has been. And while many organizations are determined to develop options internally, naming is not for the faint of heart. Without a clear strategic approach, it can quickly become unfocused and unmanageable.
Of course, as naming experts, we would always recommend having an objective partner to support the effort. But because you may insist on working without a net, here are a few questions to consider. If you can answer yes to all four, then your new name may be a winner.
1. Does the name fit your brand?
Choosing a name that has clear and creative association with your company is pretty essential. Think about some of your favorite brands—what they offer, what they stand for—and you realize just how perfectly the name fits.
Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, is named after the world’s most voluminous river. A leading manufacturer of construction equipment got its name when a photographer mentioned how much he thought their tractors looked like giant caterpillars. And when two ex-Apple execs created a company focused on personalizing humdrum home products like thermostats, they opted for a warm and fuzzy name. They called it Nest.
These are smart names because they’re sticky. They help to convey the value, the uniqueness, or the intention of the brand. Be sure to keep this in mind as you develop options. The right name will be the one that makes it easier for anyone to understand why your company is different.
2. Does it fit your audience?
Make it easy for future brand loyalists to adopt your name. If you want them to fall in love with your brand (or your product), you need to be lovable. Plenty of businesses forget this, and wind up making costly mistakes. Enthusiasm may already have been waning for Palm, for example, but naming its new webOS phone, Pixi, certainly didn’t help matters. How many executives do you know that want to carry a Pixi?
Founders of the hip new clothing store, Hot Mama, believed women would love the name but they quickly learned that most shoppers thought they only sold maternity dresses.
Fact is, it’s pretty easy to become very excited about a name, and without an objective voice in the room, it can be hard to make the right decision. Dan and Chip Heath reported in Fast Company that there were many at Intel who though ProChip was a better name than Pentium, and some at P&G who preferred EZmop to Swiffer. Fortunately, sounder minds prevailed.
The key here is to be thoughtful and very strategic when you’re choosing a name. It’s important to listen to your gut, but be sure your head is in full agreement.
3. Will it still be the right name in five or ten years?
Today, you’re selling one thing only—focus is the name of the game, after all. But what happens when your business takes off and you want to expand? Will your name make it more difficult for people to understand your focus or your value?
Digital lifestyle publisher, Glam Media realized their focus on women meant they were ignoring 49% of the potential audience. When they reworked their business model, a name change was critical. Today, Mode Media is reaching a significant number of men. More recently, New Zealand’s biggest communications company, which was simply called Telecom, determined that name had nothing at all to do with the digital technology services it was now offering. Starting in August, it will be known as Spark.
There may be plenty of good reasons—strategic and financial—to go through a name change somewhere down the road, but typically, that’s a very expensive proposition. The only exception to that may be for those who realize their mistake early on. In 1997, few people had ever heard of a search engine called BackRub, so it was a relatively easy (and cheap) decision to change the name to Google.
In short, it’s best to take a little extra time up front to consider where you want your company, or product, to go. Having those conversations now will help you choose the name that lasts.
4. Is the name really unique to your category?
While it’s obvious to all of us that Dove Soap and Dove Chocolate are two entirely different companies, the difference between hotels named Hyatt and Haiyatt is not as clear-cut. Confusion between your new name and a well-established brand may be intentional on your part, or purely coincidental, but either way, it will cost you. After investing considerable time and budget to build equity in their names, most brands are quick to go after copycats—even before there’s a chance for confusion.
Swatch, for example, has been very outspoken about their trademark on iSwatch, and just how similar the name is to Apple’s proposed iWatch. There have been rumors that the two companies are now working closely together, but that partnership might not have formed without Swatch’s aggressive stance.
And what about names that aren’t quite so similar? With trademarks, it’s always better to stay clear of any names that sound like other players in your industry. Last year, a Florida judge granted an injunction against FIT U healthclubs because the name and business model was so similar to rival, YouFit. And more recently, the folks at Mission Burrito lost a lawsuit with Mission brand tortillas.
The lesson here is a simple one: Do your homework, search the market, and vet your name with a good trademark attorney.
Remember, if you can check all four boxes, then you’re on the right track. If you need a little help—a partner to get you on strategy, keep you focused, and drive you to the best option—you know where to find us.