Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Choosing your company name

I mentioned in a post the other day a lengthy conversation I had with a young Canadian entrepreneur planning her startup business.

Of all the feedback I offered her on her concept, she seemed to have the most problem with my questioning her choice of business name. I think she and her partner came up with a name that almost works. It’s the usual mash of two unrelated words (similar to last week’s BlueCat Networks, I guess, although I would argue that the technology sector is more accustomed to these word-collision names than most industries).

The name she chose makes sense – but really, only once you know what the company does. The partners have an intricate explanation for the name, but the name doesn't help you understand the company better until after you know what it does.

It was the second time in two weeks that I've had this conversation with a startup entrepreneur. The other company is also hoping to become a prominent Internet brand using a made-up name that most people wouldn't understand or retain long.

Now it’s easy to say that most brands don't describe what they do. But keep in mind that Inco started life as International Nickel, and Heinz began as Anchor Pickle & Vinegar Works. Just maybe, resource-short startups have different branding needs than do established companies.

But in the end, it doesn't really matter whether someone understands your name. The question is, will clients remember it? And how will it sound when they tell their boss they want to place their next order with FrogBog, or whatever Frankenword you’ve chosen?

Remember, as a startup your biggest problem will likely be credibility.

Sure, all the good dot-com names are long gone. But keep looking for the right name. Using an obscure and complex Frankenword, or an in-joke only you and your partners understand, just builds barriers between you and your customers – not bridges.


Julie Rusciolelli said...

Good post Rick. When I started up Maverick Public Relations almost nine years ago, we agonized over our company name. We hated brands with last names in them and wanted to stand out from the crowd of our competitors. We were thrilled to register the name Maverick PR in Canada .. no one had it and it delivers our brand persona in one fell swoop. Problem is our brand stands for delivering outstanding and out of the box thinking, and if we don't hit that mark each and every time with our clients, we fail to deliver on the brand promise.

A ton of thinking should go into naming a company, let's face it, you have to live with it for a long long time.

Anonymous said...

If a company is innovating a new product or idea, would it not be a good idea to 'create a new word' that has 'verb potential' like Google, Amazon, Ski-do, Xerox? when they started they may have been obscure, but now few people don't recognize these words, and what they do. But I tend to agree that a company that is copying others would be well advised to stick with the conventionally easy.

Lauren said...

Hi Rick-
Young entrepreneur here!

In defence of 'mash of two unrelated words':
The way I see it, the battle is often one between originality/'coolness' and practicality.

Then again, if you can get a core group of people talking about your original/cool name in the right context, then practicality becomes less of an issue- people (customers!) begin to mention your company name and just know what it means.

Also, an original/cool name leaves more room for branding and a visual image of what the company is about. Once you decide exactly 'who' your brand 'is', the intricate explanation I offered on the phone becomes real, with a history, certain morals, and personality.

The result: The image clients/customers have in their head is more than the exact product on offer, but a feeling of the company's culture and values.

All that being said, I'm still not 100% decided :)

Ray Wali said...

Good day all,

As the founder of Mango Moose Media(Guerrilla Marketing Agency) I have to say that I am a fan of the unique names.
Originally called Car Wraps Outdoor Advertising, we outgrew our name when we added new products/services that were not Car Wrap related.

Being in the advertising industry,
I wanted a name that would stand out and you would only need to hear once. I contemplated naming the company after my last name, but thought that would be boring and traditional..the exact things we are not. So i chose a name that has a personal meaning, very brandable, and represents that we are not afraid to be different.

Also a major driving factor was the fact that it would be easily searched on any major search engine.

These new crazy names are the new generation of young entrepreneurs (I'm 28) coming to the forefront. Gone are the days of The RSQ Inc, and Smith Inc.

Go Blue Cats, Pink Frogs, and Mango Moose's!