What's in a name?

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Some product and company names make excellent sense, while others are puzzling.

Yet, names have succeeded in spite of odds, or failed when the chosen name looks like a perfect fit.

Dreaming of a new name

It's not unusual for companies to have two names: the company name and the brand name.

I'm curious how marketers and others go about searching for the perfect name. How do you find a dream name for your company or brand?

—Patti, Student

Dreaming up a new name works better when you involve others and look at the business or product focus. Many successful businesses (and products!), have names that don't tell you anything about what they do. Consider doing these two things when searching for the perfect name:

1. Match the name with the business or product

2. Involve others to brainstorm

Match the name with the business or product

This approach may seem like common sense, but can you think of brand names that give you an idea of what they are? Consider video game consoles. Two names sound like their products (PlayStation and Xbox) while one doesn't (Nintendo). How about hotels? Many of them have "Inn" or "Suites" tacked on.

Christine Pilch, partner with Your Brand Partnership, says associating the right name could lead to a competitive advantage:

Think of the Swiffer duster or Lean Cuisine. These names leave little doubt to what the product is, and they make marketing a whole lot easier. Before you start thinking about the name though, back up and do your positioning work. Research your customer base and determine specifically who they are, what they get from you and how you can provide it better than anybody else.

Once you know these specifics about your customer base, you can develop your unique selling proposition and the abbreviated version of that ... your tagline. Think about what you've learned through your positioning work. The right name should appeal to these people specifically. Sure, many people buy their home improvement supplies from Lowe's, but it took a lot more effort on their part to get into people's heads than the folks at Home Depot had to do. Its name says it all, what it does and who it appeals to, middle class do-it-yourselfers.

Mary Bowling, promotion/SEO team with Blizzard Internet Marketing, advises staying away from "too cute" names, especially when naming a business:

Don't be too cute—you'll only impress yourself (and maybe your mom). Your name should accurately convey what you do. If it's important to your business, it should also tell potential customers where you are located. If you miss the mark on these two things, you'll lose a lot of people in the initial phase of the shopping cycle. For example, "Cowboys and Engines" is clever, but can you tell from the name what this business is selling? "Denver Mobile Car Repair'"sounds boring, but it really targets the right customers by clearly explaining what they do and where they are.

"Marketing R Us" would be too cute, wouldn't it?

Involve others to brainstorm

Brainstorming is a great process for coming up with brilliant ideas. It's tough to do alone. Patti Norris suggests bringing in lots of people:

Unless you have a HUGE advertising budget to get your meaningless but cute name (Yahoo, Google and iPod) out there, I find it's generally best to come up with something logical that people can relate to your company or product. Probably the easiest way to take a stab at this is to sit down with as many people as you have who know something about the product or company (especially from the customer/user perspective) and just start making a list of the uses, attributes and unique selling points.

From that list, pull together some word combinations that sound good and will be easy for people to remember. Keep your audience in mind too; a "cute" name is better for children's or retail consumer products than something directed to engineers in the B2B world. You can be specific with a product name, but look for something more general that speaks to your overall vision or mission for a company name. You don't want to be forever linked by a company name related to your first product when you've expanded into other areas.

Nia Carter, president of Spread the Word Marketing Communications, relies on a team of sales professionals, business developers, marketers, and friends who aren't familiar with sales or marketing:

I get the professionals together in a room, and we brainstorm names. After we review a list of well-known product and service names, and after I explain what I wish to accomplish for my clients, we generate a list of names and have everyone vote. Then we examine each name on the semifinal list for positive and negative implications ( public relations value, does it advertise well, does it work for events and so on.) The final list is presented to my non-sales/marketing friends who let me know which name reveals the most to them. I have the final say—based on my "gut."

Jennifer Vignone shares a naming experience:

For the last financial institution I did consulting with, I designed an application that needed a name. The name had to convey what it was in some way (an analytic tool for the Fixed Income Mortgages Trading Desk), as well as create a personality/brand for the product. We had no marketing professional, just me—the user interface designer. I had led design workshops and marketing meetings for my last firm, also a financial institution, but hadn't ever had to name a product. So I got the team involved. This meant the business owner and the traders, as well as all of IT.

We had email surveys, suggestions and discussions, and worked with internal branding and marketing to make sure we followed their guidelines. I tried to create a buzz that was pervasive and had everyone thinking. That said, it came down to the inspiration of the business owner, who came up with the name in a flash thought, and it was brilliant. Whether or not what I tried to cultivate as far as a buzz, excitement, involvement, helped to contribute to the "flash" I can't say. But we had our name, and it was a great experience. Having everyone excited about the product made them feel involved.

Sheryl Kravitz, principal with SK Consulting, provides other suggestions for coming upon "the one":

Smart marketers must first seek to understand the business or industry segment and customers the name should resonate with. Second, they need to identify how the name will fit within the context of the organization (e.g., the employees must fall in love with it so they can sell it with pride of ownership). Third, the name should fulfill specific criteria—it must be relevant, lend a competitive edge, be easily understood and pronounced and be culturally appropriate in other languages.

And finally, it should be legally protected. The best names tend to become verbs because the audience falls in love with them. For example: "googling" somebody, "fedexing" it—the name becomes part of how we do things in our daily lives. They become synonymous with an emotive association. Naming is highly subjective and strategic, and the process for getting a great name is often easier said than done.

Got a headache from all these names? Just take two aspirins ibuprofen and don't call us in the morning. Better yet, if you have lovely weather, maybe rollerblade in-line skate or throw around the Frisbee flying disc. Or let us take care of it and send us your challenge.

Next Marketing Challenge: Can You Help?

Out with the old and in with the new

I've been hearing a lot of talk about "traditional marketing" versus the "new marketing." What is considered traditional marketing and how does new marketing differ from the old way of doing things? And which is better?

—Kathleen, business owner

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Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.