How Not to Name Your B2B Technology Company

Let’s be honest, the perfect company name can’t make a bad business model succeed, nor will a bad name cause a good business model to fail. And yet, when all things are equal, going to market with a memorable and compelling company name is like swimming with the current – it’s just plain easier.

A wisely chosen name requires fewer repetitions (and therefore less effort and marketing dollars) to promote. This is typically considered a good thing when you are a resource and budget strapped start-up.

So finding the perfect company name is easy, right? Absolutely! Anyone can do it – well that is until you do a bit of research and realize none of your brilliant ideas seem to be available.  The Internet age has led to a boom in technology start-ups and a bust on available brands.

This lack of availability has led to an onslaught of meaningless made up names (Twitter, Vonage, Skype) and inventive brands where basic grammar and spelling rules need not apply (eBay’s rogue “B”, reCAPTCHA’s runaway caps lock, Flickr’s missing vowel). There are many examples of success within these categories, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is the right approach for your start-up. Your competitive position, marketing budget/resources and company goals are just a few of the factors to consider before naming your company according to the latest branding fad.

The Branding Creative Process: How to Get Started

Brand names can be developed and categorized in lots of ways – branding firm Igor offers a useful naming guide, which beaks down the categories into the following: Invented, Functional, Experiential and Evocative.

  • Invented brands typically include names built upon Latin roots (Agilent, Alliant) or poetically constructed names that are based on rhythm and the experience of saying them (Google, Kleenex)
  • Functional brands are asked to perform only one task: explain to the world the business that you are in (AllTheWeb, FriendFeed)
  • Experiential brands offer a direct connection to something real without being overly task oriented (Explorer, Safari)
  • Evocative brands differ from others in that they evoke the positioning of a company or product, rather than describing a function or a direct experience (Yahoo!, Apple).

There are no absolutes in naming – for every followed or broken branding “rule” lurks a failure or inexplicable success. However, we typically advise our business-to-business technology start-up clients (who lack either the budget or desire to hire a traditional branding firm) to skip the invented and functional names in preference for the experiential or evocative approach. Why? Because these methods typically produce a memorable name that inherently speaks to the value of the offering on an emotional, human cord without being overly cutesy, costing too much to promote or limiting future growth.

Swim with the Current: Choose a Compelling Company Name

If you decide to go it alone and name your new technology company internally, the following checklist can help you gauge whether the brand names you are considering may help or deter your marketing efforts. While there will always be exceptions to these rules, if you answer “Yes” to one or more of these questions, you may want to re-think your company name (unless you have the advertising budget of a Xerox or IBM, then by all means ditch this list and name the company whatever the heck you like – and call us, we’d love to help you spend some of that budget promoting that new brand ;)):

  1. Does the name have any negative associations? Be sure to consider all the intricacies of meaning beyond the intended usage. To start, do an Internet and news search to see what comes up. If you are selling into multiple markets or on a global basis, you need consider the negative associations across all target market languages and possible pronunciations.
  2. Is it difficult to pronounce? Write the name down and put it in front of 10-15 of your friends or colleagues. Ask them to read the name back to you. If two or more of them looks at the name in a confused manner or stumbles to read the name correctly, it may be red flag. A name that is difficult to say is difficult to remember. This means it will require a larger marketing budget to get the name to stick with target audiences. The ideal name is short and sweet. It rolls off the tongue. This typically means it will have two or three syllables (or even one).
  3. Does the name sound too technical? Hint: if your name is an abbreviation, acronym or contains roman numerals, it may be “too” technical. Remember the best brands speak directly to the value of the offering on an emotional level and make the brand memorable… strings of letters, numbers and technology jargon offer no emotive value and can pigeon hole your company as an out of touch technology vendor versus a visionary solution provider.
  4. Does the name sound similar to an established competitor? The goal of branding is to differentiate yourself from your competitors, not make yourself indistinguishable. Having a name with the same or similar keywords can cause market confusion and produce unintended results.  One of our clients, whose name started with same word as two of its competitors, was referred to in articles and reports collectively with its competitors and all were ridiculed for their lack of creativity. This is not a branding battle worth fighting if it can be avoided.
  5. Were you forced to pick a name by a deadline? People often don’t give themselves enough time to pick the perfect brand. Coming up with a great name takes time.  Perhaps the ideal name can just come to you as an epiphany, but more often than not you need to be more systematic and objective in your naming process. If you have to have a name by next Friday, you’re probably going to miss out on a lot of creative and compelling possibilities.
  6. Does the name explain a function of your offering? Naming your company after a single task or function of your offering can limit future growth if you decide to expand your offering or take a new approach based on market feedback. In addition, a functional name is typically derived from a limited number of industry keywords – and your competitors are probably already using these words. In the end, you can find yourself with a name that offers little, if any competitive positioning. If you have chosen a functional name, perform an Internet search to gauge competitive usage before you commit to the name.
  7. Does it infringe on existing names or trademarks? Infringement can be widely interpreted by some, even if you think challengers would be wrong or outright ridiculous to question your trademark application, it is best to do your research. The United States Patent and Trademark Office offers a searchable database of registered and pending trademark applications, as well as, helpful guides on the ins and outs of the trademark process.

Your Turn: Share Your Branding Advice

This list is compiled based on my ringside view from our marketing firm. I’m sure the list can be expanded upon and improved, so please feel free to agree, disagree or weigh in with your own branding experiences.

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