What's in a name? A lot, when it comes to small-business success. The right name can make your company the talk of the town; the wrong one can doom it to obscurity and failure. If you're smart, you'll put just as much effort into naming your business as you did into coming up with your idea, writing your business plan and selecting a market and location. Ideally, your name should convey the expertise, value and uniqueness of the product or service you've developed.
There's a lot of controversy over what makes a good business name. Some experts believe that the best names are abstract, a blank slate upon which to create an image. Others think that names should be informative, so customers know immediately what your business is. Some believe that coined names (names that come from made-up words) are more memorable than names that use real words. Others think most coined names are eminently forgettable. In reality, any type of name can be effective if it's backed by the appropriate marketing strategy.
Do It Yourself?
Given all the considerations that go into a good company name, shouldn't you consult an expert, especially if you're in a field in which your company name will be visible and may influence the success of your business? And isn't it easier to enlist the help of a naming professional?
Yes. Just as an accountant will do a better job with your taxes and an ad agency will do a better job with your ad campaign, a naming firm will be more adept at naming your firm than you will. Naming firms have elaborate systems for creating new names, and they know their way around the trademark laws. They have the expertise to advise you against bad name choices and explain why others are good. A name consultant will take this perplexing task off your hands--and do a fabulous job for you in the process.
The downside is cost. A professional naming firm may charge anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $35,000 or more to develop a name. The benefit, however, is that spending this money now can save you money in the end. Professional namers may be able to find a better name--one that is so recognizable and memorable, it will cut down your costs in the long run. They have the expertise to help you avoid legal hassles with trademarks and registration--problems that can cost you plenty if you end up choosing a name that already belongs to someone else. And they are familiar with design elements, such as how a potential name might work on a sign or stationery.
If you can spare the money from your startup budget, professional help could be a solid investment. After all, the name you choose now will affect your marketing plans for the duration of your business. If you're like most small-business owners, though, the responsibility for thinking up a name will be all your own. The good news: By following the same basic steps professional namers use, you can come up with a meaningful moniker that works . . . without breaking the bank.
What Does It Mean?
Start by deciding what you want your name to communicate. To be most effective, your company name should reinforce the key elements of your business.
Gerald Lewis, whose consulting firm, CDI Designs, specializes in helping retail food businesses, uses retail as an example. "In retailing," Lewis explains, "the market is so segmented that [a name must] convey very quickly what the customer is going after. For example, if it's a warehouse store, it has to convey that impression. If it's an upscale store selling high-quality foods, it has to convey that impression. The name combined with the logo is very important in doing that." So the first and most important step in choosing a name is deciding what your business is.
Should your name be meaningful? Most experts say yes. The more your name communicates to consumers, the less effort you must exert to explain it. Alan Siegel, chairman and CEO of Siegel & Gale, an international communications firm, believes name developers should give priority to real words or combinations of words over fabricated words. He explains that people prefer words they can relate to and understand. That's why professional namers universally condemn strings of numbers or initials as a bad choice. On the other hand, it is possible for a name to be too meaningful. Naming consultant S.B. Master cautions business owners need to beware of names that are too narrowly defined. Common pitfalls are geographic names or generic names. Take the name "San Pablo Disk Drives" as a hypothetical example. What if the company wants to expand beyond the city of San Pablo, California? What meaning will that name have for consumers in Chicago or Pittsburgh? And what if the company diversifies beyond disk drives into software or computer instruction manuals?
Specific names make sense if you intend to stay in a narrow niche forever. If you have any ambitions of growing or expanding, however, you should find a name that is broad enough to accommodate your growth. How can a name be both meaningful and broad? Master makes a distinction between descriptive names (like San Pablo Disk Drives) and suggestive names. Descriptive names tell something concrete about a business--what it does, where it's located and so on. Suggestive names are more abstract. They focus on what the business is about. Would you like to convey quality? Convenience? Novelty? These are the kinds of qualities that a suggestive name can express.
For example, Master came up with the name "Italiatour" to help promote package tours to Italy. Though it's not a real word, the name "Italiatour" is meaningful. Right away, you recognize what's being offered. But even better, the name "Italiatour" evokes the excitement of foreign travel. "It would have been a very different name if we had called it 'Italytour,'" says Master. "But we took a foreign word, 'Italia,' but one that was very familiar and emotional and exciting to English speakers, and combined it with the English word 'tour.' It's easy to say, it's unique, it's unintimidating, but it still has an Italian flavor."
Before you start thinking up names for your new business, try to define the qualities that you want your business to be identified with. If you're starting a hearth-baked bread shop, for example, you might want a name that conveys freshness, warmth, and a homespun atmosphere. Immediately, you can see that names like "Kathy's Bread Shop" or "Arlington Breads" would communicate none of these qualities. But consider the name "Open Hearth Breads." The bread sounds homemade, hot, and just out of the oven. Moreover, if you diversified your product line, you could alter the name to "Open Hearth Bakery." This change would enable you to hold onto your suggestive name without totally mystifying your established clientele.