“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” quipped Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. When it comes to your loved one this is certainly true. In business, however, nothing could be further from the truth. Having the right name will have a huge impact on what people think of you. The wrong name always stinks according to the book, “Hello, my name is awesome.”
While a great name will make it easier for people to connect to your product, a bad name can alienate, confuse and quite simply bore potential customers. As these blinks will show you, a funny spelling, a quirky made-up word or a pun might seem like a good idea at first, but if you’re not careful it might come back to haunt you. Luckily, there are tried-and-tested ways to make sure this doesn’t happen.
Do you remember the first time you heard of a website called Facebook? What was your immediate impression? Did the name make it sound like a hip place to be?
Chances are, the answer is yes. And that’s exactly how it should be: a good name should create positive, brand-aligned associations without being difficult to understand. The name Facebook, for instance, instantly conjures up thoughts of people connecting.
Flickr is a more challenging brand name. Even though it’s a successful company, this photo-sharing platform has long struggled simply because people don’t know what its name stands for. You definitely don’t want people drawing a blank when they hear your name.
That’s why, in order to discover the perfect name for your company, you should follow a conceptual approach captured by the acronym SMILE. It stands for:
- Suggestive: Amazon is a great name because it implies that the retailer carries everything from A to Z, and is massive like its namesake river. If the company had initially been called Bookshop.com, it probably would have followed a very different path.
- Meaningful: to convey meaning to potential customers, don’t name your company after yourself, since strangers don’t associate anything with your name.
- Imaginary: an evocative, visual name is hugely powerful. Think of Timberland, which suggests woods and outdoorsiness. This was exactly the effect intended by the founders.
- Legs: choose names that create space for wordplay. Ben & Jerry’s is masterful at doing this with its ice cream flavors: think Chunky Monkey and Half Baked. Choose fun, playful names people might even want to see printed on a T-shirt.
And finally, a recent Fast Company article showed that 50 percent of every business is driven by emotion. For instance, just think of the fragrance, Obsession. Above all, making people smile when they see your name is key. Because as we’ll see in the upcoming blink, you definitely don’t want to leave anyone scratching their head.
Whenever you encounter a brand name that utterly befuddles you, chances are that the company violated one of the Seven Deadly Sins of Naming. Any one of these violations will leave your customers scratching their head. And to remember what those sins are, we can follow the acronym SCRATCH:
- Spelling Changed: It’s not clever to spell your brand name in a non-intuitive way. Häagen-Dazs, for instance, has a major spelling problem! Use voice recognition software to make sure your name doesn’t fall into this trap: to see what potential customers may find when they google you, ask Siri to search the name.
- Copycat: if you name your product iSomething, it screams copycat and undermines your brand.
- Restrictive: Canadian Tire is a major chain that stocks more than just tires — it also sells toys and tents. Many Canadians have figured out that the store carries a wide variety of goods, but expansion has proved difficult for the company, since its growth is limited by its name.
- Annoying: your name shouldn’t annoy potential customers. Suffixes like -ly, -mania or -topia sound forced and contrived.
- Tame: if your name is flat and uninspired, it won’t work. Your brand name simply won’t stand out if it uses generic words like “cloud.”
- Curse of Knowledge: when you communicate with potential customers who are unfamiliar with your world, insider knowledge can be a curse. If you sell cycle pumps, don’t name your company after the Schrader valve. Even though “Schrader” might be meaningful to you, anyone who doesn’t know what the word means will be confused.
- And finally Hard to Pronounce: think about it, how would you pronounce THX? The AV company should have used a different name. Along the same lines, don’t use backward names, like the San Francisco software company that called themselves XOBNI, a reversal of “inbox.”
So there you have it. Pick your name wisely.