Thomas Mitchell - June 2, 2016
Doesn't Weebly, this website's platform company, sound adorable? The goofy name was carefully calculated for a company valued last year at $500 million, but marketing mojo aside, it's human nature to give things cute names. Naming things, even corporations, is a way to make them seem more human, more approachable, no matter how inane the name. But once upon a time, companies had names that helpfully identified what they did, like the Ford Motor Company or General Electric Corporation. So how did they become known as those two cool old dudes, Ford and GE?
Post-Victorian Brand Marketing
At the turn of the century, a "brand" was the same thing you'd burn into a steer's rump — a shorthand symbol of your company zapped onto your product (the term "logo" wasn't coined until 1930.) General Electric created the stylized "GE" in 1892, and by 1900 it had evolved into its present recognizable turbofan form. Similarly, the Ford oval and typescript reached its current overall state in 1912. As advertising reinforced these brand impressions over time, "Ford" and "GE" joined the public lexicon as verbal shorthand for the company names.
Now we most often call those "brands" Logos (Greek for "Word" and short for logotype) and the term "brand" has a broader and crazily evolving meaning. While Ford and GE are well-known brands with lots of products and globally recognized logos (thanks to over a century of broadcasting virtually the same ones) we now talk about your personal brand, "brandedness" — and "brand" is just as likely to be a verb as a noun. In fact, in the ad world we consider it a badge of honor when a brand we helped create starts getting used as a verb — think Google, Skype, TiVo. That indicates a huge level of public acceptance. It also means that, thanks to the internet, a globally successful brand can now be built 1000x faster than it took back in the days of the young Fords and GEs.
So, what's in a name?
Here's a simple equation, and five steps to help discover your ideal company name.
BRAND = (NAME + IMAGE) x EXPOSURE
Working from the end, EXPOSURE is a measure of the audience that sees and hears about your brand, and is a variable. IMAGE is a composite of everything the Brand projects to the audience — logo, advertising, copy, websites, social media, etc. —and is a big variable. NAME, however, is not a variable, and you have only one shot to get it right before spending money on Image and Exposure to boost your Brand. In other words, your business name is a critical choice. How do you make it?
1. Plan on two names
You need a legal name for legal stuff, and a public name for selling stuff. They don't have to (and in most cases shouldn't) be the same, but the public name should be memorable, short, catchy and ideally available as a URL for your website (more on that in a future post.) Your legal name will probably include LLC, Inc. or other. If your brand name is your personal name, like many fashion labels, you can stop reading now.
2. Research, research
You already know what your company is going to do and who your competition is. Take a look at all your likely competitors and write down their names. Then search nationally on Google for companies in your business sector, and write down the names of the ones you like.
3. Then write down ten new names you've thought up
and invite friends over for a naming party to suggest others and review the competitors. You may be surprised. We were involved in this process with a new local restaurant that became known as The Dogwatch Cafe. I thought that name was dumb — people were going to go there to watch dogs, huh? Well, dang. I was outvoted. "The Dog" is now hugely successful and the owners are building another one. The lesson learned?
4. Go a little crazy, but memorable
Who would have thought that an outfit named Google would become... lord of the universe? Apple does not sell fruit. Zappo's? Awesome shoes. None of these names is descriptive, related to the product or service they sell. They don't make sense. The companies are successful because the brand they relentlessly and consistently project with their products is memorable, and their products are good. That's how branding works: Relentless and consistent. But don't forget Good.
5. Protect your investment
Your company name and logo are as important as your bottom line. If neither is legally protected, it devalues your company or worse, leaves you open to poaching. Check the name you've decided on at Trademarkia.com for availability, and if it's good to go, invest in the trademark process.
So now you've got a name, right? May it last forever! Next step: Brand Building 101 with Killer Logos — The Best, the Worst and Why you need Professional Help.