It's All in a Name
A serial entrepreneur, Christopher is the founder and CEO of several companies, including 1-800-Good Credit, Worldwide Telegraph and CustomTollfree.com. He has been an EO member since 2001. You can reach Christopher at [email protected].
Running a business comes with its share of problems, in terms of both mechanics and aesthetics. In my experience, one of the most important challenges every entrepreneur faces is the naming or re-naming of a company. I’ve been involved in the creation of more than a dozen companies, and I have had the privilege of advising on the development of hundreds of others. Here are some of the lessons I learned when it comes to picking a name that will garner success, now and in the future:
Names that are easy to remember are a sure-fire way to increase advertising effectiveness. These kinds of names are easy to pronounce and often have a visual component (think Target and Duracell). The difficulty, though, is that they can be tough to trademark. Also, the specificity of easy-to-remember names can limit a business to a particular region or industry. The perk of these names, however, is their high spend-to-result ratio. If an entrepreneur picks a highly memorable name, he or she can spend relatively little and still net huge results.
Trademarking That Works
By choosing a name that is easy to trademark, entrepreneurs can ensure that they will have a strong legal claim to their business identity. These kinds of names are often "made-up" words like Novartis, Accenture or ZymoGenetics. Other protectable names are based on unique proper nouns, such as Phillip Morris or Martha Stewart. One drawback of easy-to-trademark names is that they can be confusing. Also, entrepreneurs who choose these names can expect to spend more money on advertising to help customers recognize the name and understand the business behind it. This leaves entrepreneurs with a lower spend-to-result ratio.
Some companies have reaped great benefits from names that are both familiar enough to be memorable, but distinctive enough that they’re relatively easy to trademark. These are often called nonsense names. Some nonsense names—Apple, Amazon and Yahoo—combine a known word with an unexpected industry. Other nonsense names combine two familiar words people find easy to pronounce and envision, but meet the uniqueness criterion for trade-marking because you wouldn’t expect to see the two words used together. An example of this is Yogabutter (a local yoga studio) and Talking Rain (a soft drinks pioneer). I experimented with this nonsense approach by creating Purespace, a business that did short-term space rental for holistic practitioners. The name provided customers with a sense of our business, and it bred inquiry.
Testing the Name
I’ve learned that the worth of a business name is in the reaction of the customer or trademark attorney. To determine if their name has long-lasting appeal, entrepreneurs should find out if it allows them to access the tools they need for business. One way to do that is to Google the name. Business owners should ensure that someone isn’t already using the name—or something similar—in a way they wouldn’t want associated with their own business. This could cause confusion and lead to potential legal problems. When in doubt, it’s best to consult with an intellectual property attorney.
A carefully selected business name can save thousands of dollars a year in advertising costs, and it can keep the company on an extended path of greatness. The wrong name can sink a business by making marketing expensive and frustrating, or making it difficult to protect your business identity. When it comes to naming a business, you can never be too careful. After all, your success and future are on the line.