Aug 23, 2011

Naming Your Business to Drive Sales

Naming your business is one the most challenging branding activities. But get it right, and a great name sets the entire tone for your business and brand.

It’s the stickiness factor. A great name drives sales by making your brand more:

  1. Findable
  2. Referable
  3. Memorable
  4. Desirable

If the name resonates, it will stick in your customers’ minds. It will help to distinguish your products and services from the competition, and help your customers to think of you first when they have a need for your services.

Naming your business is a balancing act

Too often entrepreneurs look at brands like Apple and Starbucks, and try to emulate them with their own unique, experiential names. But what they forget is these brands have decades of consumer experience wrapped into them. More importantly, their names evolved from descriptive names to symbols.

Today we recognize Apple’s products by their iconic logo, but it was founded as Apple Computer, Inc. in 1976. It took over 30 years for Apple to drop “computer” from their name. It was a timely change in 2007 considering the growth of their product portfolio and brand reputation.

A great name is both functional and experiential. It’s a balancing act. Too experiential, and the name won’t have any context or meaning. And too functional, and the name will be boring and undifferentiated.

Use your customer relationships to help you find the right name for your business. Consider who you are, what you do, who you serve and how your services impact your customers. These cues help guide the naming process, because your name should describe what your business is while indicating what it’s like to work with you.

Finding a great name is tough

Coming up with an original, compelling name isn’t the hard part. It’s finding an original, compelling name that hasn’t already been taken. If you’ve spent any time looking for domains on GoDaddy or other domain registrars you know what I’m talking about. Almost every vowel and verb you can think of has been registered.

Finding the right name takes creativity. The key is mixing and matching words until you find something unique, memorable and available. For example, RIM called their email device Blackberry, because the original devices looked like a black strawberry. It had an oval shape, and the keys looked like seeds. The Blackberry name stuck.

Another way to avoid the domain name registry woes is to make up a word. I’m generally not a fan of this approach, because made-up words can be unfamiliar and hard to remember. Names like Verizon and Cingular are not natural words, and they took millions if not billions of advertising dollars to create strong brand recognition.

But not all made-up words are flawed. Twitter is a unique name that is easy to remember, and it doesn’t sound unnatural. It also has functional and experiential qualities. Communicating short snippets of text leads to the metaphor of birds chirping. It helps users contextualize what it’s like to communicate on the platform. Twitter lets people “tweet” short pieces of information. The name is sticky.

Take your time to get it right

Coming up with a great name can be time consuming and frustrating. It took me close to 250 hours to name LEAPJob, a sales and marketing recruiting firm.

To find the LEAPJob name, I had a daily routine of looking for and combining words. I made countless lists playing with various word combinations. When I found a name I liked, I tested to see if it was an available domain. My objective was to get a name where I could own the domain stack: .com, .net., .org, .ca. I didn’t want to share the name with anyone else.

LEAPJob came from one of those word combination exercises. I started with the word “leap,” and tried as many combinations as I could with it. I wrote down “leap frog,” and “leap job” was the very next pairing.

But the name LEAPJob wasn’t the clear winner. At the time, we had a short list of three names. We developed identities for each, and tested them on our market. LEAPJob resonated above the other two. It was experiential, it gave a sense of the services, and it set the tone for the brand.

Sometimes you will find a name quickly. You’ll just know it’s right, and figure out a way to make it work. Those names are a blessing. But if you’re like me, you’ll have to dig-and-dig-and-dig until you find the right one. Just don’t compromise. A great name is the starting point for building a sticky brand.

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