Interesting snippet from an article in today’s NY Times on the Terri Schiavo case, on naming legislation after a victim and how gender plays a role:
“This legislation, later declared unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court, was called Terri’s Law. (This is a common legislative tactic: identifying a bill by some unfortunate’s name to enhance its emotional appeal. It is worth noting that first names and diminutives tend to be used when the person is a woman or a child. Men are usually accorded greater dignity. Hence, we had the Brady Bill, a federal gun-control law named for James S. Brady, President Ronald Reagan’s press secretary, who was shot in 1981. No one thought to call it Jim’s Bill.)”
Harry Shearer skewers the world of corporate naming.
Tax Preparation with a Live Preparer Online. LiveWire
“Financial Services” is one of the most crowded trademark / intellectual property sectors, but if you know what you are doing you can still find the perfect name:
Tesla is a fantastic name for revolutionary electric car company, but not a name that could navigate a typical corporate naming process and survive.
The death of a thousand cuts would include:
- We can’t acquire Tesla.com, we’d have to use Teslamotors.com, a non-starter. Electrificity.com is available. Let’s go with “Electrificity” instead. We can get the domain.
- Nicola Tesla’s inventions were all in AC, not the DC battery power the cars use. Edison was the man when it came to DC. Tesla advocated the opposite
- Most people don’t know who Tesla was
- “Tesla” was a big selling ’80s hair band
Most Teslas are sold online, and though they were unable to secure Tesla.com, they knew the common wisdom that going with Teslamotors.com would hurt sales was and is nonsense.
Tesla knew it was a great name even though Mr. Tesla’s work was with AC electricity, not the DC electricity the car runs on, which was the domain of Edison. They knew Tesla is a much sexier word attached to a sexier, more mysterious personality. The name Edison is just boring all around. So no one cares about the glaring discrepancy – they just associate the name with electricity.
For Tesla, going with the domain Teslamotors.com and using the name Tesla was a better move than changing the name to Electrificity or some such because they could get the Electrificity.com.
And let’s face it, the name Tesla is memorable, has a great look, sound, meaning, mystery and sexiness to it. Do you walk away from that over domain availability? (Hint: “What would Elon Musk do?”)
But it IS a case by case decision. Many businesses require a matching domain, but they have taken that to mean ANY matching domain w/o regard to the marketing, branding and advertising hole they are digging. In most cases these random domains hurt sales.
We are all for a matching domain name, but it must be a powerful one.
Prior to that, it did not exist.
“At the time the state of Texas spent about $20 million annually to clean litter from highways. McClure[from ad agency GSD&M] said that “bubbas in pickup trucks” who regularly littered beer cans and other items out of vehicle windows and ordinary Texans who believed that littering was a “God-given right” were targets of the advertising campaign.
“McClure said It occurred to me that the only time I’d heard the word litter was in reference to dogs. Mess seemed like it would resonate better.”
“Don’t Mess with Texas” was embraced by Texans immediately and went viral – because it works on two levels. It works descriptively as an anti-littering message AND as a much bigger idea tapping into the Texas zeitgeist of swagger. The slogan became a rallying cry of state pride.
The campaign is credited with reducing litter in Texas by 72%.
High-powered slogans, taglines & company / product names are easily identifiable: They Always Work On More Than One Level!
Cloak has just the right amount of mystery, intrigue, fun & functionality to make this name both memorable and viral. Download on the AppStore.
Via Fast Company Design:
“Sick of running into your ex? Brian Moore was, so he developed Cloak, an app that warns you when other people are nearby
There is no shortage of social media apps out there that will loudly broadcast to everyone where you are at every second of the day. Rarer is the app that exists to obfuscate you. This, though, is the goal of Cloak, a new app that wants to keep other people from being able to find you.”
An important first step when naming a business, product or service is to figure out just what it is that your new name should be doing for you. The most common decision is that a name should explain to the world what business you are in or what your product does. Intuition dictates that this will save you the time and money of explaining it, which actually turns out not to be true. Why not?
The notion of describing your business in the name assumes that the name will exist at some point without contextual support, which, when you think about it, is impossible. The name will appear on a website, a store front, in a news article or press release, on a business card, on the product itself, in advertisements, or, at its most naked, in a conversation.
There is simply no imaginable circumstance in which a name will have to explain itself. This is fortunate, because having a descriptive name is actually a counterproductive marketing move which requires an enormous amount of effort to overcome. A descriptive naming strategy overlooks the fact that the whole point of marketing is to separate yourself from the pack. It actually works against you, causing you to fade into the background, indistinguishable from the bulk of your competitors.
The following is a list of companies in the naming and branding arena. While each of their names describes what they do, you can clearly see the heavy marketing price they pay for such a shortcut:
DNA Brand Mechanics
The Branding Iron
I.D.ENTITY Identity 3.0 Idiom
Creating New Names
The Name Works
The Naming Company
Ivarson Brand Vision Strategic Name Development The Brand Consultancy Lexicon Branding Independent Branding TradingBrands The Better Branding Company Not Just Any Branding
There are three pieces of advice that will serve you well in avoiding a similar dilemma:
- Names don’t exist in a vacuum: There are competitors–the idea is to distinguish yourself. Business is a competitive sport.
- Names don’t exist in a vacuum: The notion of describing your business in the name assumes that the name will exist at some point without contextual support. This is never true for any business or product.
- Names don’t exist in a vacuum: When judged without the context of a clear positioning platform and an intimate understanding of how names work and what they can do, the best solutions are either never considered or quickly dismissed.
For example, any one of the following intuitive concerns could have been enough to keep these powerful names from ever seeing the light of day:
- Says “we’re new at this”
- Public wants airlines to be experienced, safe and professional
- Investors won’t take us seriously
- Religious people will be offended
- Tiny, creepy-crawly bug
- Not macho enough – easy to squash
- Why not “bull” or “workhorse”?
- Destroys trees, crops, responsible for famine
- Derogatory cultural slur
- You’ll be picketed by people from small, hot countries
- Yahoo!! It’s Mountain Dew!
- Yoohoo! It’s a chocolate drink in a can!
- Nobody will take stock quotes and world news seriously from a bunch of “Yahoos”
- Only foretold death and destruction
- Only fools put their faith in an Oracle
- Sounds like “orifice”–people will make fun of us
- Means something is missing
- The Generation Gap is a bad thing – we want to sell clothes to all generations
- In need of repair
- A slow, ugly, and dangerous fish–slow, ugly and dangerous are the last qualities we want to associate with our fast, powerful, sexy sports car
- The “bottom feeding fish” part isn’t helping either
Fannie Mae / Freddie Mac
- I don’t want hillbilly residents of Dogpatch handling my finances.
- They don’t sound serious, and this is about a very serious matter.
As you can well imagine, this kind of negative deconstruction is at the root of why a committee can’t agree on a non-descriptive name that has any meaning. It’s also what gave birth to the second major school of bad naming: the “unique empty vessel” that “can become whatever you want.” Here are some of the victims:
Acquient, Agilent, Alliant, Aquent, Aspirient, Aviant, Axent, Axient, Bizient, Candescent, Cendant, Cerent, Chordiant, Clarent, Comergent, Conexant, Consilient, Cotelligent, Equant, Ixtant, Livent, Luminant, Mergent, Mirant, Navigant, Naviant, Noviant, Novient, Omnient, Ravisent, Sapient, Scient, Sequant, Spirent, Taligent, Teligent, Thrivent, Versant, Versent, Viant, Vitalent and Vivient.
As with the descriptive list, these names are not part of an elegant solution, they are the seeds of a branding nightmare. This type of name is arrived at because of the lust for a domain name, consensus building and as a shortcut to trademark approval. At some point in the process marketing left the room, and nobody seemed to notice. And while they may technically be unique, it’s at the level of a snow flake in a snow bank.
The third type of name is the evocative name. These include the aforementioned Apple, Stingray, Oracle, Virgin, Yahoo etc. While everyone respects evocative naming when done well, most corporations don’t go down this road because it’s the toughest to understand and execute.
On a very fundamental level, here are the basic ingredients of the best evocative names:
A competitive analysis is an essential first step. How are your competitors positioning themselves? What types of names are common among them? Are they all projecting a similar attitude? Do their similarities offer you a huge opportunity to stand out from the crowd?
Apple needed to distance itself from the cold, unapproachable, complicated imagery created by the other computer companies at the time who had names like IBM, NEC, DEC, ADPAC, Cincom, Dylakor, Input, Integral Systems, Sperry Rand, SAP, PSDI, Syncsort, and Tesseract.
They needed to reverse the entrenched view of computers in order to get people to use them at home. They were looking for a name that was not like a traditional computer company, and supported a Positioning Strategy that was to be perceived as simple, warm, human, approachable and different.
The next step is to carefully define your positioning. The idea is to position yourself in a way that rings true in a fresh way–that cuts through all of the noise out there. The goal is to have your audience personalize the experience of your brand, to make an emotional connection with it, and ultimately to take you in. To redefine and own the territory.
One of most important things that the best of the best brands accomplish is to be thought of as greater than the goods and services offered, to create an aspiration. Nike’s “Just Do It’ helps them rise above selling sneakers. Apple’s “Think Different” is bigger than computers. Fannie Mae’s “We’re in the American Dream Business” elevates them from mere mortgage brokers.
On a product level, Velveeta, Slinky, Mustang, Snapple, etc., are tapping into something outside of the narrow definition of what it is they do, and are allowing the consumer to make the connection, to personalize the experience. This type of active engagement created by playing off of images that everyone is already carrying around in their heads is an essential ingredient in creating a great name.
From there, a name should contain as many of the following qualities as possible. The more of them that are present, the more powerful the name:
- A name that people will talk about.
- A name that works its way through the world on its own.
- A name that’s a story in itself, whether it’s at the local bar, on the job, or on CNBC.
- What does the name suggest?
- Does it make you feel good?
- Does it make you smile?
- Does it lock into your brain?
- Does it make you want to know more?
- How does the name physically look and sound?
- How does it roll off the tongue?
- How much internal electricity does it have?
- How does it sound the millionth time?
- Will people remember it?
- Does the name have attitude?
- Does it exude qualities like confidence, mystery, presence, warmth, and a sense of humor?
- Is it provocative, engaging?
- Is it a tough act to follow?
- Is the name a constant source of inspiration for advertising and marketing?
- Does it have “legs”?
- Does it work on a lot of different levels?
The key is to step outside the box that the industry – any industry – has drawn for itself, and to do it in a fresh way that hits home with the audience. To accomplish this, it is necessary to think about names in this fashion:
- Positioning: different, confident, exciting, alive human, provocative, fun. The innovative name forces people to create a separate box in their head to put it in.
- Qualities: Self-propelling, Connects Emotionally, Personality, Deep Well.
- Positioning: different, confident, superhuman, evocative, powerful, forward thinking.
- Qualities: Self-propelling, Connects Emotionally, Personality, Deep Well.
As an exercise, go back and see how the other names deconstructed above–Apple, Caterpillar, Banana Republic, Yahoo!, Palm Pilot, The Gap, Stingray, and Fannie Mae / Freddie Mac–stand up when held to these high standards. These are the qualities that separate a potent, evocative name from a useless one that is built without a considered positioning platform, such as BlueMartini or FatBrain. Random names like these disallow audience engagement, because there are no pathways between the image and the product–there is no connection to be made.
Want more? Download our Naming Guide PDF.
“Typo” does everything you want a name to do. It cuts through all the clutter, it’s viral, is instantly and eternally memorable, demonstrates the notion that this is a ground breaking offering, exudes confidence, is relevant, etc.
And it makes the cash register ring.
Why is this type of name so rare and why hasn’t it been given to a keyboard before? Fear. Irrational fear based on a lack of understanding of how consumers process names. The objection is obvious – “We want to convey that we make typing a better experience, typo is the opposite. It will convey there is something wrong with our product”.
Really? As a consumer does this name make you doubt the quality of the product? No. That possibility is a wholly imagined one and exists only within a naming committee – yet fear of the baseless is the basis for most naming decisions.
The key is understanding that Typo gets its positive power from the same qualities that intuitively are seen as negative nullifiers. You need to ensure the right filters are in place when evaluating names.
Typo’s iPhone keyboard / case
With the help of a Technicolor / CinemaScope treatment, CG looks to have climbed out of the Uncanny Valley:
We could not agree more. Excellent article.
Many entrepreneurs when they’re deciding what to name their new business, put a lot of weight on what domain name they can acquire. But their isn’t unanimous agreement in the startup community about the importance of the right web address. Check out this tweet from serial entrepreneur and investor Chris Dixon:
Names are underrated, but domains names are (increasingly) overrated. Square, Dropbox, Box.net all started with temp domains.
The tweet was highlighted in a post offering advice on naming your startup on the Buffer Blog recently. In it, founder Joel Gascoigne agrees with Dixon and suggests you “take a look at all these successful startups which either had a temporary domain name, or which still have a different domain name to their name,” before offering this list:
Square was squareup.com
DropBox was getdropbox.com
Facebook was thefacebook.com
Instagram was instagr.am
Twitter was twttr.com
Foursquare was playfoursquare.com
Basecamp is basecamphq.com
Pocket is getpocket.com
Bitly was/is bit.ly
Delicious was del.icio.us
Freckle is letsfreckle.com
His conclusion: “Pick a great name, then add something to get a domain name. It really doesn’t matter all that much.”
Do you agree?
Yes, yes we do.
Great name, positioning, branding & advertising. They are on a mission!
All single-word domains were taken back in the last century. Here is a list of the most common domain prefixes and suffixes to help you find a workaround.
You know it, you love it, it’s TED:
TED works as a name because it’s memorable, it demonstrates something new is happening and makes potentially difficult subject matter warm, inviting and simple. It’s also very confident and comfortable with itself – always an attractive quality.
The trouble with TED is it’s a name that companies will tell you they love, want something like it for their similar venture, but would likely get killed in a corporate committee .
“TED doesn’t convey “Best and Brightest”"
“TED” skews too masculine; its a man’s name. The name needs to be gender neutral to appeal to both sexes”
“The thought leaders we need to attract may not want to be associated with something so trivial sounding”
“The acronym “Technology, Entertainment & Design” is too limiting”
Would TED make it through your corporate naming process? If it is a process designed for real world efficacy & power, yes it would.
The name a Naming Firm gives itself provides clear insight into to the kinds of names they believe in – and how good at naming they really are.
If a Naming Firm cannot manage to give itself a distinctive, memorable name that sets it apart from a slew of competitors, that can evolve into a strong brand and come to represent more than just the goods and services being offered, how can they possibly convince others that what they fail to do for their own Naming Firm they can somehow magically do for clients?
Here is a competitive analysis of the names of Naming Firms
“Coin” is simply one card to replace all the credit cards, bank cards, et al in your wallet. It’s linked to your smartphone via Bluetooth so you can manage all the particulars including security.
The name is iconic, definitive, memorable, viral, a deep well for marketing & advertising, lends itself to endless wordplay in the press / Twittersphere, etc.
Most remarkably it is a name that came to be even though the company could not acquire Coin.com. They did it anyway.
Coin realized that the name was too important to have it be decided by dotcom availability – they reside at onlycoin.com, which won’t hurt them one bit.
Had they bought into the ridiculous herd mentality that it’s better to have a lesser name as long as it matches the dotcom address we would instead be reviewing a marketing, branding & advertising albatross like Coinly or Coinify or Coinacopia or LoinCoin. Or worse.
It’s because the companies that chose these names understood all the things the right name could do for them, and decided they wanted it all:
1. Clear separation from your competitors
2. Demonstrate to the world that you are different
3. Reinforce a unique positioning platform
4. Create a positive and lasting engagement with your audience
5. Be unforgettable
6. Propel the brand through the world on its own, becoming a no-cost, self-sustaining PR vehicle
7. Provide a deep well of marketing and advertising images
8. Rise above the goods and services you provide
9. Completely dominate your category
Many new service and food businesses today are looking for the most shocking, funny, sexy, or downright rude name they can think of, in order to stand out from the crowd. Drug references are also big these days, as with the marijuana-themed sub-shop CHeBA Hut (“Toasted” subs) and smoothie chain Maui Wowie (the latter has nearly 600 units).
One of my favorite examples is budding 7-unit franchise chain We Do Lines, which is in the business of painting parking-lot stripes. Co-founder and president Chris Coursi told me the three founders grasped immediately that their name would have to be memorable or they’d be just another face in the crowd, competing with big, established contractor firms.
The Ridgefield, Conn.-based trio experimented with a few names before deciding that one was the most memorable. Going edgy turned out to be a key factor in their business’s success. “It ended up being our best form of advertising,” he says.
Going for the giggles
For chains with a younger audience, the giggle factor increasingly comes into play. At barbecue chain OinkADoodleMoo, co-founder Mark Peebles says he blurted out the nonsense phrase once on a car trip with his then 3-year-old son, while they were having a funny-animal-noise contest.
It got a laugh. A pro griller who was competing on the professional barbecue circuit, Peebles immediately thought it would be a good name for a barbecue restaurant.
Families flocked when the first restaurant opened in 2006. Now, the Dayton, Ohio-based restaurant chain has four units open and two more under construction.
For more sassy brands, click here to see my favorite 10 Crazy Brand Names at Growing Chains.
Seriously. Seeking funding.
NY Times summarized a study from The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on company names, language and money:
A stock ticker symbol or company name that is easy to pronounce may be a significant factor in short-term increases in stock price, according to a report published online yesterday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Two researchers created a list of fictional stocks and then had a group of students rate them according to ease of pronunciation. “Ulymnius,” for example, was rated complex, while “Mayville” was not.
They then asked a second group to estimate the future performance of each of the stocks. As the researchers predicted, “fluently named” companies were estimated to outperform the hard-to-pronounce ones by a significant margin.
…People respond positively to easily processed information in other areas as well. For example, they are more likely to believe an aphorism that rhymes (”woes unite foes”) than one with an identical meaning that does not rhyme (”woes unite enemies”). Studies cited in the report demonstrate that people more often judge easily processed information to be true, likable, familiar and convincing than more complex data.
The Times fails to mention two other curious reports in Sunday’s PNAS, notably, “Polarized axonal surface expression of neuronal KCNQ channels is mediated by multiple signals in the KCNQ2 and KCNQ3 C-terminal domains” and “A hybrid two-component system protein of a prominent human gut symbiont couples glycan sensing in vivo to carbohydrate metabolism”, which are basically concise summaries of the Interbrand and Landor naming processes, respectively.
From upstart American car company Equus, it’s the “Bass” . Yep, Bass.
Another unforgivable branding blunder is the choice of the horse logo on the grill. This $250k muscle car is competing on price with Ferrari and with Mustang for muscle (and looks) – each of which already have an iconic horse logo. Equus’ choice is a lame horse indeed.
Nice and nerdy name – well done. It’s kind of a acronym for: “carbon nanotube digital integrated circuit.” Close enough – acronym origins are mostly forgotten anyway (PDF stands for…Anyone?)
Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are hollow cylinders composed of a single sheet of carbon atoms.
They have exceptional properties which make them ideal as a semiconductor material for building transistors, the on-off switches at the heart of electronics.
For starters, CNTs are so thin – thousands could fit side-by-side in a human hair – that it takes very little energy to switch them off.
“Think of it as stepping on a garden hose. The thinner the pipe, the easier it is to shut off the flow,” said HS Philip Wong, co-author on the study.
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