How Should You Name Your Business? By Vik Rajan, PersonalBrandMarketing.

com Just the other day I was having breakfast with a local business owner. He had attended my Long Island Hispanic Chamber seminar last month on Personal Branding. He wanted my perspective on what his customer told him: “Never trust an entrepreneur who doesn’t have his name in the business [name].” That guy may have trust issues, but he does provoke thought. Many entrepreneurs are tempted to name their business after themselves, or their alleged team: “John Smith & Associates.” On the other end of this spectrum, many coin a word, a neologism, like Xerox. Either way, as potential customers, we are left confused as to what the business does (by reading the name alone). Every business name is an answer to two questions: “Who are you? What do you do?” Our first marketing job is to make them ask those questions. Our most memorable answer is our business name. Properly naming our business is therefore significant. Our name is even more memorable than visual logos, as Daryl Travis explains in his book Emotional Branding. Clearly Coca-Cola, Google, and IBM believe this: They simply use their names, written distinctively. Target, on the other hand, has been making it a point to use their visual logo in place of their name; of course, their logo is very reminiscent of their name. But most often, smaller businesses awkwardly mix both their name and some other visual cue. This may be superfluous and confusing. If your visual logo does not help your prospects remember who you are and what you do, then stick with making your name memorable.

Still the Name Battle rages on: On one hand, of course, we want prospects to understand who we are, and what we do. Yet on the other hand, many of us enjoy being creative with our mark. There are a myriad of outcomes to this battle. “The Company Name Spectrum” will help you choose the right business name, for you. It will surely inspire you to cite examples and role models. You may be able to discern the questions that should be asked. It’s much easier to use this Spectrum graphically, with right counseling. Ask me for a copy of its poster. Your company name should always consider two aspects: your business Culture and its Capability. How we refer to our Culture is how we answer, “Who are you?” Cultural references talk about you, your values, or your people. When “cultural reference” is high, it highlights your name, a mascot, or the community to which you belong and serve. Can you think of examples? Other businesses opt out, and prefer to go with zero cultural reference. Small businesses who do this risk sounding like un-caring bureaucracies. “Big Box” stores are full of them: Home Depot, Staples, and Stop’n’Shop. Mostly they describe what they sell (capability reference). The middle-ground is surprisingly interesting. A middle-of-the-way “cultural reference” is a metaphoric answer to “Who are you?” It’s when you imply, “How you are.” Yahoo! sounds like a fun company. Both Amazon and Google imply big-ness (if you know what a googol is). But just from the business name, we can infer little else.

Names that only answer the Who-are-you Question purposely leave its product or capability to speculation. Often it’s to pique curiosity. Unfortunately, it leaves most prospects ignorant or confused; and they may not care enough to become resolved. Both Amazon and Google were not over-night successes, especially in having people know what they do. Just calling your business or product “Mike,” may be fine if you can leverage a personal brand like Jordan. The name itself makes no reference to the product. As a small-business owner, you should leverage the second factor: Your capability or product reference. But you don’t have to be boring. Referencing your product or capability – as in Mike’s Pizza – is a better answer those questions. Mike’s Pizza isn’t terribly unique, and is therefore hard to trademark. Incidentally, Wal-Mart leverages Sam’s legacy of frugality, and relates to its culture through personal branding. “Lifestyle brands” often leverage personal brands; the fashion industry is full of them. Metaphors, analogies, and wordplays are neither devoid of reference, nor explicit. Capability metaphors imply how you do what you do; but not quite what you do. For example, Panasonic must have something to do with “all sound,” etymologically (its roots). Neologisms (words that you coin), with low to no reference to your product or capability, puts more pressure upon your marketing. Such names, mind you, are easier to register as your trademark. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to naming your company. Sure, cultural references – those about you or your values – help to engender trust. And capability

references – explicit descriptors of your product – help prospects understand what you can do. And metaphors imply both in a more creative way; though you risk confusion. Your name doesn’t have to be “all or nothing.” If you’d like to be able to trademark your name, use neologisms. If you’d like to quickly convey your value, use descriptors. Either way, you should always consider these factors and capitalize upon your distinctiveness. So how did you come with your business name? Where does it fall into “The Company Spectrum”? If you’d like a free copy of its poster, please ask.

Vikram Rajan is the author of 6 audio-books and writes a business column for 15 print publications. Every week, Vik posts 3 new personal brand marketing tips for lawyers, accountants, financial planners, real estate, and health experts at Copyright 2007 CoGrow Systems, Inc.

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