Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

July 27, 2007

What's in a name?

Choosing the right one can speak volumes for your business

By Terri Hughes-Lazzell

Naming a company isn't as easy as one might think. Couples, many times, struggle for months to choose the right one for their child. Entrepreneurs, likewise, have the same experience.

Experts in branding have a few tips for small business owners who may be faced with the sometimes vexing problem of selecting a name for their ventures.

"The first thing that business owners usually get wrong is that this should be a business decision, not a personal one," said Steve Manning, managing director of Igor, a San Francisco-based naming and branding agency. "Business owners need to sit down and list here are all the things a name can do for us, and decide which ones they want the name to do."

Manning said if the process is approached correctly, it eliminates the need for money spent on public relations and marketing.

"It should set you apart from other companies, demonstrate the company's philosophy and be something that when people hear it, they don't forget it," he said.

An example of this is Apple Inc., he added. At the time the company was created, its competition all had what Manning called high-tech-sounding names. Apple wanted people to embrace the computer, bring it into their homes and feel comfortable that they could easily use it.

All of those ideas, Manning said, are embodied in the name, which is one people didn't forget. Other examples are Virgin Air and Yahoo, he added.

Igor said a business' name can:

• Achieve separation from competitors.
• Demonstrate to the world that the company is different.
• Reinforce a unique positioning platform.
• Create a positive and lasting engagement with an audience.
• Be unforgettable,
• Propel itself through the world on its own, becoming a no-cost, self-sustaining PR vehicle.
• Provide a deep well of marketing and advertising images.
• Be the genesis of a brand that rises above the goods and services a company provides.
• Completely dominate a category.

Manning also warned against trying to be too literal. He said Apple could have used the name "Simplicity Computer" and it just wouldn't have had the same result. And, he said, don't work too hard at looking up definitions.

"The thing that kills the naming process is running to the dictionary for a definition," he said, explaining that most people don't look up the meanings of names and will interact with the word more as a metaphor for something, not its literal meaning. Exhibit A: Chrysler Corp.'s Crossfire car.

"People think of a James Bond kind of thing, not what a crossfire really is," Manning said.

In choosing a name, Manning suggests an exercise in which a possibility is put on a wall and everyone discusses the reactions they have to it, positively or negatively. Then, he said, they should examine how they interact with the name. Will it still do the job that they want to do, even if they don't personally like the name?

"If it speaks to consumers' emotions, it may be the best name," Manning said.

Another suggestion: Don't try to explain the business in the name because people don't need the explanation, they need something to remember.

LaBov & Beyond Marketing Communications in Fort Wayne is an example of how the owner's name, Barry LaBov, is used as a play on words for the marketing company, which often works with clients to name products.

"Coming up with a name for a company or product line is similar," said Keith Wells, COO of LaBov & Beyond. "How you do that depends on what you're trying to convey."

LaBov & Beyond conducts a brand assessment in which it looks at a name from different perspectives. Like Manning, Wells said to make sure that you know what you want to convey and what perception people will get from the name.

"The name is the brand," Wells said. "And there's a saying that a brand is not created, but discovered. It's what the public thinks of you, so you want to represent yourself well and get out the right message."