What’s in a name? Quite a bit if you are starting a business. From cute to clumsy, serious to inane, business names can range from the ridiculous to the sublime. Perhaps starved for opportunities to be creative, some entrepreneurs seem to have the market cornered on how to blunder into what may be the single most important aspect of marketing genius: the name of the business.
It never ceases to amaze me how people arrive at the names for their businesses. Many business people approach me after they have worked with their lawyers and accountants to set up the business, perhaps going the extra mile to incorporate and sometimes having also taken it upon themselves to design their own logo before realizing that it takes a little more talent to create a brand than some amateurish attempt at graphic design. I then have the dubious honor of taking the pooled efforts of these three dedicated professionals some of whom must have slept through business marketing to work with a sometimes problematic name they have agreed upon and create a logo or trademark which addresses the desperate need for a striking, definitive and effective professional image for the duration of its existence.
Many people who start small businesses fail to consider that in the highly competitive arena of local marketing the name should quickly define what the business represents. This results in two problems: The name does not describe what the business offers; or, even if it does, it usually uses too many, or a misguided combination of words, to do so. And to make matters worse, this is usually after a false start with liberal spending to try to promote this new venture, based on an array of inept marketing decisions and the use of deficient marketing tools, a situation which makes it more difficult for me than starting from ground zero.
Case in point: I recently was contacted by a relatively new organization who said they needed a marketing plan. Upon closer analysis, I learned that they had been running an ad in the regional newspaper of their geographic service area on almost a daily basis without reaping any response. In searching their industry via Google, I could not find any mention of their group within the first ten pages of results. Only after searching the name of the gentleman who had contacted me was I able to locate his name on a web page about this organization’s board of directors. Literally entering through the back door, I was able to find a link to their home page which upon observation reminded me of the incompetent ad which had been running in the paper I read every day but like everyone else, had ignored as irrelevant. Understandably, with a nebulous business name, poorly designed logo, non-existent ad message and busy, unprofessional presentation, it’s sad and ironic that this non-profit group offering a valuable service to senior citizens had so miserably wasted their limited funds by trying to do everything themselves to save money. And not one of the members of this in-house marketing group were able to detect any problems with this effort, too close to the forest to see the trees.
Now, with resignation that a do-it-yourself strategy is not always the most cost-effective, the directors were surprisingly receptive to my suggestion that, while I expected resistance, perhaps they could consider a business name change at this early juncture in their organization’s history. Simultaneously, I also proposed that along with the marketing plan and name change, a new professional logo would logically follow in addition to a series of well-conceived ads they could use for promotion on a continual basis. As soon as their signed contract and project deposit arrives, I will undertake this challenge, since they now are anxious to proceed with sudden recognition and appreciation of their failed attempt at self-promotion.
From the perspective of my long career, I assure you that this is a common phenomenon particularly in situations where marketing is done by “committee,” which tragically describes the majority of my clients: law firms, healthcare and dental practices, non-profit organizations, industrial and pharmaceutical companies, etc. And it doesn’t matter whether the business is large or small, or whether it is basically run by a single professional or a group of directors. In most cases, business leaders frequently lack the vision or self-confidence to make marketing decisions on their own, so they engage the opinions of everyone and anyone who surrounds them, regardless of competence to judge the subject. This means that my directives come from such diverse sources as teenage sons of clients, wives of clients, secretaries, summer interns, random customers of clients, anonymous emailed comments from websites, and other miscellaneous “experts,” all of whom emphatically express their views so I am well-apprised of how to do my job effectively.
Of course, I am not so pig-headed that I cannot see the value of such input. On the contrary, I am grateful to know how this diverse universe processes information so I can evaluate every strategy as it is developed to satisfy every possible requirement. Whether anyone realizes that this method of marketing is fairly impossible to achieve is immaterial, since no one can ever measure every single response to marketing efforts anyway. The old axiom, “You can’t please all of the people all of the time” may apply, but you can’t blame a person for trying.
Of the clients I have who do believe that there is one, and only one, way to effectively market their business, that way being their own personal way, based not on advanced study of business marketing, mass psychology, the elements of style or effective strategies of communication, but on nothing more than pure, unadulterated, self-centered ego. I say, hey, more power to them! It is their money they are spending and they certainly have the right to believe what they want to believe. Furthermore, marketing as part art, part science and part luck has as many guarantees as we get at the race track or in the stock market. So who am I to disagree with my clients’ convictions?
Well, just for the record, I do chime in with my own opinions which are backed by 35 years of hands-on marketing experience which includes a successful career in marketing my own as well as my many successful clients’ businesses. If my opinion differs from that of one egotistical client, for example, it is enough that I have advised him of it regardless of his stubborn impulse to dismiss it and proceed with his own strategy despite what I think. He obviously has gotten to this stage of his illustrious career through his own navigational talents and distinctive intelligence so I do respect him and am not offended in any way by his belief in himself, above all.
However, this places an enormous task on my shoulders: To market his business using a name that includes six long words, some of which are esoteric and industry-specific. This means that the logo, in addition to including a striking trademark must also be composed of six words totalling 42 letters. Add to that the need for a tagline, the entire package of which must be large enough to read in such small applications as on checks, on business cards, and in the smaller units the yellow pages offers both online and in print.
Compare this with business names using one short word: eBay®, Google, Yahoo!®, Microsoft®, Apple®, etc. Granted, some of these names do not describe what the business offers. But all of these are highly successful businesses nonetheless. How have they done this? By assigning ample funds to building their brands so that the name of the business needs no definition, it becomes its own word with its own meaning. Such is the power of successful marketing.
You may say those businesses had the advantage of marketing their brands over the Internet but today, we all have that same advantage. Especially with the help of such brands as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube, all four being excellent examples of short, punchy business names which aptly define their raison d’étre. Most of the businesses that approach my company for marketing help are small businesses, sometimes with geographic limitations. Such businesses usually don’t realize how much time, money and repetition of effort is needed to build a brand.
One of our competitors in the metro-New York market recently began airing a commercial to promote their business and invite response from the same market we serve. While I cannot mention the name of this business for legal reasons, suffice it to say that it is a short 3-word insult directed at the very market they are trying to attract. And, moments ago, I was scolded by a telemarketer who responded to my polite statement that his offer to sell my business did not interest me at this time with: “OK…go down with the rest of them!”
Have I missed something? Are insults the new marketing strategy du jour? In both of these instances, injecting negativity, or worse, personal abuse into normally courteous business protocol, in my opinion, does nothing more than deliver a message of disrespect, insolence and humiliation to the very subject you are trying to endear.
Having been raised by a mother who was 40 years older than I, I often heard old American colloquial expressions, a couple of which occur to me now: “You win more bees with honey than with vinegar” and “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!” In marketing, both of these sayings are powerful guides to proper business etiquette and by extension, long-term business success. While you may feel this is a milquetoast approach, the muscle is in a sincere and heartfelt delivery.
How does that relate to naming your business? In a few ways which I will list as a random set of rules to follow:
1. The business name can be your biggest marketing tool if it defines what you are offering but is distinctive enough to stand out from the crowd.
2. Keep it short and sweet, but above all, memorable.
3. Accentuate the positive, with emphasis on value to the market you plan to target.
4. Don’t limit yourself too severely if you may need to branch out in the future.
5. Remember, you may want to protect your business name by registering a trademark, incorporating, or filing a dba (an alternate or assumed name registration for your business known as “doing business as”), so engaging a lawyer to conduct a valid search may be necessary, which could require a list of suitable possibilities rather than one lone choice of name.
With all of the above in mind, it is of utmost importance for you to realize that whatever you end up calling your business, it will be one item in a long list of vital components which together will work cumulatively to establish your business as the success you desire. That is the bottom line.