Godin’s Sunday post is titled “The new rules of naming“. Here’s our take on these “rules”, point by point:
For a long time, I didn’t like my name. I spent more than 30 years spelling both my first and last name in school and on the phone. It didn’t help that I had a little trouble with my S’s when I was a kid.
Of course, now I think it’s fantastic that my grandfather overruled my mom when she wanted to name me Scott. (I think he had an issue with the branding of a type of toilet paper, but that’s a different story).
Scott’s a tough name in the Google world. Mark is even tougher. Michael is probably toughest of all.
We went through a lot of hoops in naming Squidoo. I realized as I was explaining the process to a friend the other day that the same logic applies to any product or service or company in our bottom-up world, so here goes:
OK, he’s promising to lay out a logic and a process.
A long time ago, the goal of a name was to capture the essence of your positioning. To deliver a USP, so you could establish supremacy in your space just with your name. International Business Machines and Shredded Wheat were good efforts at this approach.
IBM and Shredded Wheat are names that have nothing to do with positioning. Each name is a generic descriptor. Apple and Virgin and Yahoo are names designed to capture the essence of their respective company’s positioning. Names that are designed to portray positioning cannot be purely descriptive. Ever.
It quickly became clear, though, that descriptive names were too generic, so the goal was to coin a defensible word that could acquire secondary meaning and that you could own for the ages. That’s why “Jet Blue” is a much better name than “Southwest” and why “Starbucks” is so much better than “Dunkin Donuts”.
That’s the Hobson’s choice? Either pick a descriptive name or a coined name? Names like Apple, Virgin, Yahoo and Igor need not apply? We believe that the most effective route in naming is to name your positioning rather than your goods or services. Seth’s “new rules” eliminate that choice, the most powerful choice.
“Naming companies” flourished, charging clients hundreds of thousands of dollars to coin made up words like Altria.
Altria is a shitty name, as is Agilent. The irony is that the set of flawed goals and assumptions that lead companies to embrace names with negative marketing and branding value, like Altria and Agilent, are the very same goals and assumptions that lead to Squidoo: domain availability and a unique spelling to raise it to the top of Google. And ease of trademark, of course. (Seth, you migh want to file a trademark for Squidoo, since it does not appear in the trademark database. That’s a good naming rule by the way, and it’s not even new.) This is a horrible choice of priorities and a horrible choice of name direction. Any spod worth his salt knows that less than one percent of your internet traffic will be generated by people searching your actual name. The notion that Squidoo or Altria are working well for Google searches is true only for searchers who know the name, who know what Altria or Squidoo does, and still want to find them. Those people will find them anyway, even if they are called “Mikes blog”. So our stand is that even though these names were chosen to perform only one task, the task itself is a banal, unnecessary, low-level strategy point.
Then domains came along. Suddenly, people were charging (I’m not making this up), $300,000 for goggles.com. The idea was that if you could grab a domain name (there’s only one goggles.com in the entire world), then people could easily find you.
I think many of these rules have changed, largely because of the way people use Google.
Goggles.com, Pets.com and Drugstore.com were not the result of a rule that was in place. They were part of an ill-informed trend. Generic branding was and will always be a bad idea.
If you want Jet Blue or ikea or some other brand, you’re just as likely to type the brand into google as you are to guess the domain name. In essence, we’ve actually added a step in the process of finding someone online. (How else would anyone find Del.ico.us?)
This means that having the perfect domain name is nice, but it’s WAY more important to have a name that works in technorati and yahoo and google when someone is seeking you out.
Sort of a built-in SEO strategy.
Flickr is a good name. So is 37signals. The design firm Number 17, however, is not. Answers, About, Hotels and Business are all fine URLs, but they don’t work very well if someone forgets to put the <dot com> part in. Do a Yahoo search on radar and you won’t find the magazine or the website in the making, and do a search on simple and you won’t end up at the very expensive simple.com domain.
If you’re trying to make your way as a blogger, calling yourself Doc or Scoble or Seth is a much simpler way to establish a platform than calling your blog “Mike’s Blog”.
Sound obvious? Of course it does. But books still get titles like “Chip Kidd, Work: 1986-2006, Book One”.
Yes, it is obvious, don’t do anything generic. Is that a new rule?
So, that was the first task. Find a name that came up with close to zero Google matches. The only English language matches I found for Squidoo were for a style of fishing lure (we bought 6 gross, more on that later).
If I had a choice between a killer domain with a generic word in it or a great word that led to a less than perfect domain, I’d take the
first, second every time.
There are no killer generic domains. Again, Pets.com, Drugstore.com, Business.com are all generic and therefore bad choices. What is meant by “a less than perfect domain” here? One that’s not a generic descriptor like Pets.com? Is there a new rule hidden in that thought?
The second thing that’s happening with the explosion of made-up unique names is that the very structure of the word now communicates meaning. Web 2.0 names often have missing (or extra) vowels. The “oo” double o is a great way to communicate a certain something about a net company.
Um, we are actually now in Web 3.0. Web 1.0 was Chairs.com, Automobiles.com and Search.com. Web 2.0 was Agilent, Xignux, Razorfish and Bluekangaroo.com, (Squidoo is a good example of this trend, though 5 years late to the dotbomb party). Web 3.0 has arrived, hopefully, and people are beginning to realize that the Web never did change the fundamentals of language, imagery and metaphor. Web 3.0 is simply a return to rationality and an abandonment of intellectual laziness. Web 3.0 is understanding that behind it all, you are most importantly communicating with OTHER PEOPLE AND NOT JUST A GODDAMN PIECE OF SOFTWARE. And just what is “that certain something” the “oo” is doing a great job of communicating? Seth doesn’t say; it’s a vague, unsupported and un-actionable statement. Is it an homage to Google and Yahoo!? Is this a new rule: put a “oo” in the name to guarantee success?
“HRKom” doesn’t sound like the same kind of company as, say, “Jeteye”. This is all very irrational, artsy fartsy stuff, and it’s also important.
If it’s important, explain it. What’s important? Is this another new rule?
Altria and Achieva and Factiva and Kalera all sound like companies invented by naming firms. Which is a fine signal to send to Wall Street, but nothing you’d want to name your kid or your web 2.0 company.
The shift, then, is from what the words mean to what the words remind you of.
WTF? What is this nugget based upon? It sounds like some sort of conclusion, but from where? And to what? Is it a “new rule”? Is it demonstrated by, “Squid means Squid, Squidoo reminds you of Squid”?
The structures of the words, the way they sound, the memes they recall… all go into making a great name. Starbucks is made of two words that have nothing at all to do with coffee (except for their profits!) and the reference to Moby Dick is tenuous for most of us. But over time, the shape of the letters, the way they sound and the unique quality of the word makes it close to perfect.
So, using the fantastic NameBoy service (also a great name), I found thousands of available domains that managed to sound right and were unique. It took more than a month. Along the way, I almost bought FishEye.com but the owner (who has a charter boat in the Cayman Islands) wasn’t budging.
The notion that NameBoy is a great name means one of two things: either that a name no longer has to stake out different territory than its competitors (new rule!), or that Seth cut a deal for the domain name from NameBoy in exchange for the “shout out”. Or maybe he just forgot that naming, branding and marketing are competitive sports. Here are some company names any Google searcher would encounter when looking for services related to names and domains:
- ABC Name Bank
- Brighter Naming
- Moore Names
- Name Designer
- Name Development
- Name Evolution
- Name Generator
- Name One
- Name Pharm
- Name Razor
- Name Sharks
- Name Tag
- Naming Systems
- Naming Workshop
What does NameBoy accomplish in the above competitive space? Nada or greatness? Keep in mind, these “new rules “say “greatness”.
The last thing to tell you is this: you need to sell a name internally. There are two things you should keep in mind:
This selling internally bit is essential; it’s not a great name if never implemented.
1. don’t use a placeholder name. People will fall in love with it. Find your name, use that name and that’s it.
No! Do use a placeholder name! It’s one of the best things you can do! Placeholder names are created before people get too nervous, political and fearful. By the time launch rolls around, people might be used to it and love it. Naming something too close to launch will inspire panic and compromise. IBM’s new mainframe was code named “T-Rex”, but the actual name was changed to “eServer zSeries 990.” AMD’s chip, code named “Sledgehammer,” became “Opteron,” while Intel’s “McKinley” chip became the “Itanium 2.” In all these cases the code names are much, much better, proof of which can be found in the fact that many people still refer to these and similarly code-named products by the code names long after the products have been released with “official” names.
2. don’t listen to what your friends and neighbors and colleagues tell you about a name. We had a placeholder name (yikes), I had to change it and everyone hated the new name. For weeks! Now, it feels like it couldn’t be anything else.
If you need to sell a name internally, and you don’t have to “listen to your colleagues”, then you don’t actually have to sell it internally, do you? This means that you are either Richard Branson or Steve Jobs.
The entire point of “secondary meaning” is that the first meaning doesn’t matter at all (especially since you picked a name with no meaning to begin with). Over time, a surprisingly short time, your unique word, especially if it sounds right, will soon be the one and only word.
That’s not writing, it’s typing. Why give up primary meaning, imagery, emotion, and metaphor? We’re back to the misguided premise that your most important audience already knows your name and what you do, wants to find you on Google, but might not be smart enough to.
Are these really “new rules”, or just an attempt to rationalize being saddled with “Squidoo”?
Remember when it was “smart” to name your business “AAA Aardvark & Sons Plumbing” so you would grab the top spot in the search engine of the day, The Yellow Pages? Quickly, you had competitors called “AAAA Acme & Daughters Plumbing” and soon a good portion of plumbing company names were indistinguishable from each other and nothing more than garbled nonsense. These new rules are merely an extension of that short sighted strategy.
If you can’t say “Henry Wadsworth Longfellow” without repeating the last two words and chuckling, we may have found a name you’ll love. The name of this furniture store comes from the founder’s family name, but c’mon. And mind you, this is not a “one off”, this name sits proudly in large letters on over 300 brick and mortar stores throughout the southeastern U.S. The name? Badcock. Yes, Badcock.
Our question is, with that last name, how do you make reservations for dinner, hotels etc? Would they page you at the airport, or refuse? Would you have trouble getting a credit card? So is this name just crazy or crazy like a fox? Given that the name is sucessful and hasn’t hurt business one whit, does that give you added courage when choosing your own company name? Does it drive home the point that consumers aren’t literalists and a good laugh is good for business? Or does it just mean the conversations you’ve been having with your favorite sweater could be relevant and meaningful? Probably the latter.