Think You Have a Great Name, Think Again!

Written by Francis Adanza. Posted in Founder Story

We have all heard of brand names like Google, Cisco, Nike, Starbucks , and Lowe’s. Have you ever wondered how these companies got their names? You probably haven’t heard of Ansearch , N-TRON, InSport International, Caribou Coffee, and Handy Andy. To me Ansearch sounds more like a search engine than Google, N-TRON seems more like a network router than Cisco, InSport is closer to sports apparel than Nike, Caribou Coffee appears more relevant to coffee than Starbucks, and Handy Andy sounds more like home improvement than Lowe’s. We all know there is more involved in marketing than just names, but I wanted to learn how developing the right name can improve my marketing effectiveness. Today, I was able to sit down with Athol Foden, Founder of Brighter Naming, to pick his brain for naming insights. Athol has over 15 years of experience in helping clients name companies, products, services, and taglines. Please visit his website for great articles on name generators, characteristics of good names, and naming biases and influences.

In addition to this blog, Athol will be joining us next Friday, December 7th at the Bootstrappers Breakfast in Palo Alto. Come join us and engage in a round table discussion and ask Athol your own questions.

Q: How does a strong company name influence presence in the marketplace?
It allows you to stand out from the crowd, gain quick and clear customer mindshare, and shorten all your sales and marketing messages.

Q: What do you think is more important, a name or a logo?
In retail, a logo (or even more importantly a color scheme) are the most important when you are selling “off the shelf” via packaged goods. For items where the logo cannot be seen, for example fashion clothing, the name recognition is more important. In high tech, when selling via the internet or phone, the name is more important. In some cases, the icon (mini logo) may be also very important e.g. embedded in a website, cell phone, etc.

Q: In our experience we see startups rollout a product name which is different from the company name. We believe they should put all their weight behind one name instead of confusing people with multiple names. What are your thoughts about this strategy?
Most startups only have so many marketing dollars at their disposable, so it is often easier and cheaper to have one name to initially promote. However, if the company will have a number of product lines in the near future (under 18 months), then you need a naming architecture that plays off the company name, or you need separate product names.

Q: It seems like naming the business is an emotional step that most founders want to own, how do you convince people you can produce a better result?
Many smart founders waste many, many hours before they call for help. Very few have the talent, experience and knowledge to do it themselves (unless they will always be a small Mom and Pop). This is especially important for a business that will go nationwide soon. The legal costs and risks alone are enough to have many ask for help. However, they still own the process and final decisions. All we do is enable the creativity, provide names that are legally clear, and facilitate the decision making process.

Q: Your website says you can help a startup come up with a name in three weeks, how much of the founders time does this require for you to deliver?
For a small business, we only engage the founder in meetings and discussions for about 3-4 hours a week during the project. Of course, they spend time (usually after hours) thinking about the names, discussing with colleagues, etc. We want to make sure they are very comfortable with the final name.

Q: What are the legalities of finding a name?
To register a small sole proprietorship, it only has to be clear at your local county business office. They don’t check with anyone else, or to that matter really care. To incorporate, it only has to be clear in your state. They don’t check with anyone else, not even their own counties! All this is OK, as long as no one else in your same line of business has the same name… and you will never run into them doing business anywhere in the world.

So the real protection is to do a thorough nationwide search, starting with both registered and common law (unregistered) trademarks, which provide Federal protection. A simple Google search is not enough.

Q: Without having to hire an expert, what are three pieces of advice you would share with startups to figure out a good name?

  1. Don’t try to find one name. First list as many as you can… 100+ is a minimum starting point.
  2. Don’t be naive. People have been naming businesses for years… and 1000 trademarks are filed a day. You will probably have to be somehow unique or different. Think outside the dictionary.
  3. Remember, you are naming it, not describing it. First list all the major players in your industry and all competitors. Make sure you don’t end up sounding like them.

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