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.

Don’t network.

I was recently invited by my alma mater, Vanderbilt University, to speak at student orientation for the incoming MBA students. As I thought about what to say, I realized that one of the most important lessons that I had learned since graduating was that you don’t always have to follow conventional wisdom to succeed in life.

For example, I have always revolted (even if it was silent and within my own head) when given the advice to network. I just could never see the point in spending time making lots meaningless connections.

When faced with the prospect of a “networking event” I “should” attend my face would involuntarily go something like this (grimace).

This clearly has me in the minority. That said, my career and my life are interesting and fun. I have never wanted for lack of a meaningless connection.

My advice to those incoming MBA students : Don’t network (it’s relationships that matter).

Don’t network into meaningless relationships with colleagues who bore you – find the people who can make you laugh all night, who light up your mind and light up your heart. Surround yourself with people who make the time fly by.

It is relationships with people that make a successful career and a successful life.

Think about the things that have come along and made a difference in your life. For me, that is always tied to a person. Meeting my husband. My friend John recommending me for a job out of MBA school (we had laughed all night). Writing a recommendation for a friend named Cindy in whom I believed (we had heady debates). It’s always someone I know, really know. Not a meaningless connection.

To tie this back to the high tech world, it seems to me there is a lot of networking that goes on in selling these days. What if we stopped worrying about having tons of “connections” and instead started really listening to what our customers really need? I suspect we would all benefit in myriad ways. Imagine responding to genuine needs of a community vs. self-centered selling based on only the desire to make a profit. True relationship building is part of the first while shallow networking is part of the latter. For this un-networker, one of those surely sounds better.

Radical Transparency

In my last post, “IT Buyers Search for the Truth and Come Up Empty Handed,” I talked about the lack of trust companies have with their technology vendors these days. And I posed the question related to vendors being transparent with customers: what are we so afraid of?

I had an experience recently that was so unusual, so fantastic, so transparent that I wanted to write about it here.

I am the CEO and Founder of a start-up called Wisegate. We are in stealth mode, are working with a tight budget and needed a web conference service. I found GoToMeeting had a free 30-day trial so I signed up.

The month of using the service was fine (easy to use, good experience) but that is not the story here. Four days before my free trial ended they sent me an email telling me my free trial would end in 4-days and telling me how to cancel the service. They did this right up front in the email, no small print, no convoluted machinations required to cancel.

That is transparent behavior! I was so impressed and felt like I could trust them to make it easy should I need to cancel in the future that I stayed with the service and did not cancel.  Since then I have told quite a few people about this experience which I can only call radical transparency.

This is a great example of how behaving in an honest, open manner can grow business. No fear required.

The Art of Predicting Demand

Stephen Walker is the Managing Director of Colborn Morrison, a boutique business strategy, research & advisory, and project-based consulting services firm, based in Richmond, VA.

There are a variety of components that must be in place to create and execute on a B-to-B revenue growing marketing strategy; differentiation from competitors, the ability to reach your targeted audience, and a clear, well articulated message to simply name a few.

However, on an almost daily basis I’m exposed to companies – of all sizes and across all industries – with marketing strategies that inevitably erode into failure because they lack the cement that holds together a successful marketing strategy: a baseline understanding of what the market in general, and their current and potential customers in particular, will need 3, 6 & 12 months down the road.

Two quick clarifications about the previous sentence:

  1. Although I’m fully aware that no one has a crystal ball that shows them the future, there are a number of overarching themes and trends that marketers can leverage to develop a baseline, or general, understanding of future market demands
  2. I’m emphasizing the word need because it is entirely different from what all too many marketing plans focus on – want. Especially true in the current uncertain economic climate, characterized by budgetary freezes on most everything not essential and directly revenue-generating, what your corporate customers want has virtually nothing to do with what they buy.

Sharing this notion just last week with the V.P. of Marketing for a risk management and compliance software and service company lead said V.P. to exclaim something along the lines of: “Well Stephen, that makes sense and all but a marketing strategy doesn’t happen overnight.”

Of course, forming and putting in place a timely, well-directed, and ultimately successful marketing program does not happen overnight; that’s why building out a marketing program on the foundation of understanding what your customers will need at the time when that program is up, running, and firing on all cylinders is so important!

Although obviously each company’s marketing strategy will differ according to their size, product or service, current and target customer base & audience, etc., there are a number of overarching themes and trends that can, if studied and correctly contextualized into the overall thrust and goals of the marketing program, serve as predictive barometers of market demand.

Two of the more prevalent overarching themes and trends today include:

  1. Those induced by Government – good examples being significant legislative, policy, and regulatory trend changes
  2. Those induced by the private sector – one good example being the rapid evolution of technological advancement.

I know, that sounds pretty general; because it is. However, as mentioned before, the key is putting these overarching trends into context and translating:

  • How that trend will eventually impact the market and what type of demand it will create
  • How your company’s core capabilities and offerings can already be positioned as a leader in meeting that demand.

To quickly illustrate the conversion of general trends to demand predictions, take the notion of what I call “Mobile GRC” – applying relevant corporate compliance and risk management policies & controls to the countless millions of corporate PDA’s, smartphones, and other un-governed mobile devices containing sensitive, confidential, business-determinative information.

How might this create demand in say, the healthcare sector? Well, consider the potential market impact of this phenomenon in light of recent HIPPA crackdowns and President Obama’s pledges to tighten regulatory requirements, modernize healthcare information systems, and both strengthen and stringently enforce patient confidentiality requirements – when hospital personnel can already access patient information from their mobile devices.

During a two week period this year, I personally found 3 “company” Blackberry’s, with no password protection, in the back seat of taxi’s; and I don’t even ride the taxi that much! It’s just as likely to assume that one of those phones belonged to a doctor as it is to assume that it belonged to a stockbroker – which is a completely different, but perhaps even more valid argument for Mobile GRC we’ll save for another day.

In the ridiculously (and ever increasingly) competitive technology and services market, timing is everything; market share, revenue growth, expansion, and ultimately success will accrue to those companies who master the art of predicting demand.

Interview with Jennifer Vancini, Business Development Strategist

Today we’re thrilled to be chatting with Jennifer Vancini, the acting General Manager of US Operations for the Symbian Foundation, about the role marketing plays in the successful execution of a business development plan.

Jennifer has over 15 years of experience leading strategic business development initiatives and alliances from genesis to maturity. Her experiences include building and managing business development teams, growing alliances, defining and executing business growth strategies for both start-ups and Fortune 1000 companies.

Jennifer offers a real world view on how the right marketing plan and programs can make or break your success when opening new markets.

Attain Marketing: In your opinion, what are the ingredients that make business development strategies successful and how does marketing factor into this success?

Vancini: Simply put, business development efforts are most effective when the needs of the target customer are clearly understood and the company, and its products, sufficiently meet or exceed these needs. It is essential for marketing to support business development efforts by properly framing the value proposition and then providing campaigns and sales tools that will move new target audiences to take the desired actions.

Attain Marketing: What causes business development efforts fail and what can companies do to be more successful?

Vancini: Many companies are too focused on short term revenue goals, which is understandable given the way people are often incentivized. However, they don’t spend the time or money required to develop new markets, which are ultimately necessary to sustain long-term growth objectives and smooth out revenue fluctuations. Companies falsely believe they can develop a few random marketing tools and then magically gain traction in a new market, but that isn’t the case unless, of course, the market was low-hanging fruit to begin with and the company lucks out. I don’t rely on luck for repeatable success.

A successful business development program takes time to develop and execute and includes the selection of target markets with the highest probability of success, customer and competitive intelligence gathering, strategic positioning and message development, and creation of ongoing lead generation programs.

Attain Marketing: In your experience, what issues arise between business development and marketing teams that impede success?

Vancini: The common mistakes all stem from the same problem. Despite the fact that marketing and business development people are both charged with expanding their company’s client base, they rarely start out on the same page.

I’ve seen classic examples of this throughout my career, such as:

The “one-off” marketing campaign. In this instance, a lack of budget and commitment to a new market is replaced with a few disjointed and shotgun marketing campaigns. This short sighted approach often produces disappointing results because marketing activities are not part of an integrated and ongoing campaign.

Another common mistake is trying to be all things to all customers. This is usually a result of limited resources, limited market understanding and impatience. Instead of focusing efforts around a tightly defined audience, the company rushes into new markets with broad messages and ineffective campaigns that try to reach too many people and often the wrong people.

Lack of credibility is often a hurdle when entering a new market. You can’t assume your company’s reputation will automatically transfer from existing to new markets. Prospects won’t believe your claims unless third-party experts and/or customers back them up. You must take the time to build credibility points and endorsements from influencers in new markets.

Finally, new business development ventures are often misaligned with corporate branding and strategy. Time must be taken to ensure that new business development marketing programs align with overall corporate branding strategies. Branding is much more than a logo. The consistent, cohesive presentation of a company brand, which includes all touch points to a customer and market (promotion, product, service, sales, etc.), increases customer confidence. On the other hand, branding “free-for-alls” make a company look unprofessional and unreliable. Depending on how radical the departure is, it can also raise suspicion in the customer’s mind that his/her business development contact is acting on his or her own without buy-in and support from the rest of the company.

Attain Marketing: What tips can you provide to our readers that will help them avoid these mistakes?

Vancini: The main point is to view marketing and selling as an integrated process. Teams from both sides should collaborate and execute on an overarching set of goals and objectives. Management support and proper budget – is the first step to success. Other tips include:

  • Concentrate business development and marketing activities on a few, well-budgeted product and service offerings to avoid fragmented resources and reduced market exposure for each product.
  • Organize the demand-creation process in a way that lines up with target customers’ view of the world and how they prefer to buy your products.
  • Base your marketing messages on well-researched business issues and solutions instead of forcing your target customer to think about these issues and how solve them from your perspective.

Attain Marketing: Great points. As you know, everyone is sensitive about the economy today, so we have to ask you how companies can successfully market their business development projects with limited budget?

Vancini: I expected that one. But really, integrated marketing campaigns don’t have to be expensive – it’s not an all or nothing proposition. What’s important is to be sure that all marketing programs are tied to business development objectives and selected campaigns can generate the best ‘bang for the buck’. Even in good economic times companies can find themselves operating with a self-defeating scarcity mindset, especially small companies who compare themselves to rich competitors. Just do the best you can with what you have, make choices that have the strongest link to objectives and be realistic about the results.

If your sales and business development people on the front lines feel they don’t have enough marketing support, they’ll come up with their own programs and tools. I’ve seen this range from creating their own PowerPoint templates to making up a new product line on the fly. Not only does this become a diversion from where they should be focusing their time, but messages and brands get diluted and overall results are hindered.

More than ever, opening new markets is key for a company’s long-term growth. When marketing and business development are aligned, companies have a significant competitive advantage and will have the greatest chance for success.

Is it Time to Get Real with Your Marketing?

Like many of my fellow marketers, I am by nature a rose-colored glasses kind of person. I can put a positive spin on just about anything. And if an overly complex product gets labeled “feature rich,” I’m okay with it.

It is like real estate listings where a small house is dubbed “charming” and a total dump is a “fixer upper’s dream.” To me these twists on terms are acceptable because it suits my view of the world.

But in marketing, above all else, it is our responsibility to understand prospective buyer’s needs, wants and desires. It is our mission to correctly frame our product’s value proposition and support the sales cycle with the information prospective customers need to make a buying decision in favor of the product we represent.

Sara Gate’s post on “IT Buyers Search for the Truth and Come Up Empty Handed” forces us to examine whether standard technology vendor marketing practices have failed to meet this responsibility.

Most IT buyers are practical, analytical, cautious and maybe even a bit cynical (okay, some are very cynical). After reading hundreds of technology vendor data sheets – inflated with exaggerated claims, ROI and cost saving numbers – it is easy to see why a lack of trust has evolved.

The truth about product functionality, cost of ownership, and deployment requirements seem like reasonable requests. But I can hear the conversation now about providing “real” answers to these questions: “But our competitors say…” “We will build that functionality if someone buys it.” “Under the right circumstances, a company could deploy our product in a day.” Yeah right, like if the world stopped spinning!

So the question becomes, how real is real enough to win back the trust of IT buyers and where do we draw the line? Microsoft is not going to change its Vista marketing materials to read, “Guaranteed to crash your system” nor would I advocate it.

But perhaps it is time to face the truth that whether we like it or not, the ability to share information (the good and the bad) is rapidly evolving thanks to the rise of social media. And people, in general, are fed up with the Stepford Wife approach to marketing.

Over time, the impact of this trend will be widespread, leaving vendors with a choice to (1) uphold their idealist views of their product and continue to alienate IT buyers, or (2) inject more realism into their marketing.

If you decide in favor of realism, here are a few ideas on how to win back the trust of IT buyers without losing the sale:

  • Stop marketing vaporware or product features that don’t exist. I am not sure how many companies would admit they do this, but the practice is widespread. And when you aren’t fooling anyone anymore, it is time to drop the act.
  • Don’t try to be so perfect. IT buyers have been through enough deployments to know that they never go off without a hitch. So next time you write a case study, don’t leave out that challenge your customer faced during deployment. Instead focus in on how they overcame the obstacle. Prospective buyers will appreciate the honesty and feel better prepared for their own deployment.
  • Two wrongs don’t make a right. Just because your competitors claim they can save companies 90%, doesn’t mean you should. If you cannot support the claim, don’t make it. Prospective buyers would rather see a documented case study with hard numbers that supports a 20% reduction in costs, than be given an empty over-inflated promise.
  • Respond to the conversation. If your marketing materials emphasize usability features, and yet the word on the street is that your user interface sucks, perhaps it is time to pick a new angle for your product until the usability issues are fixed. Tools like Monitter, BoardTracker and Technorati can help you track what people are saying on Twitter, message boards and in the blogosphere.
  • Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. The days of sweeping bad news under the carpet are gone. Be the first to tell your customers if something goes wrong and let them know what you are doing to solve the problem. They will be much more willing to forgive and forget (and you may even win some devoted fans in the process). Social media tools like Twitter are great for spreading your “not so good” news with a personal touch.

It’s your turn …
Share your thoughts, ideas and perspectives on technology vendors’ approach to marketing, IT buyers growing distrust, and how marketers should respond.

IT Buyers Search for the Truth and Come Up Empty Handed

Sara Gates

We’ve asked Sara Gates, a respected leader in the information security world who is well known for helping companies move from early to mainstream markets, to be a guest contributor for the Attain Marketing blog. Sara’s expertise in strategy and product management – combined with a “get it done” attitude and practical approach to solving ITs most critical and timely challenges – brings a fresh perspective on B2B marketing that we hope will benefit all of our readers.

I have had the chance lately to speak with a number of mid and large size companies’ IT Buyers about their buying process. I found the following: IT buyers do not trust vendors. At all. Not one little bit. I should mention that I have been a vendor for over 10 years so hearing this has been a bitter pill.

These buyers seem to have become accustomed to this lack of trust. One Director of IT at a Fortune 500 company said, “trying to figure out which vendor is lying to you the least is tough” (ironically he is with a technology company). His sentiment is shared across a majority of people surveyed. In fact, over 90% of those surveyed indicated that they no longer trust their technology vendors.

They have a heck of a time getting to the truth on simple questions such as:

  • What does the product actually do and not do?
  • How much is this product going to cost me to deploy?
  • How much is this product going to cost me over the next few years (i.e., not just license cost)?
  • Are there special skills needed to deploy and run this product?

As these questions indicate, the lack of trust stems from a lack of transparency into the vendors’ products and services.

I have to ask: What are we vendors so afraid of? What would it hurt if the answers to these questions were available? What would the cost of transparency be? What would the joy of transparency be? I can’t help but wonder if there is a different, more transparent, way.

The Value of Claiming A Niche

I have a dear friend whose personal hallmark is, “I’m not for everyone.” She typically makes the statement right up front as a disclaimer when she meets new people. And she is right.

She is a strange mix of business savvy sales person, think Ivonka Trump, combined with the unplugged and raw style of comedian Kathy Griffin. Enthusiastic, demanding, driven yet funny, quirky and humble – people either love her or run for cover when she enters a room. This fact doesn’t bother her… life is too short to try to please people with whom you share little or no common vision or interest.

She is not trying to force relationships or pretend to be something she is not just to earn someone’s business or call someone a friend. She is more of a niche marketer by nature, focused on creating highly productive relationships with other like-minded individuals.

And in this manner my friend has created quite a loyal following of friends and colleagues who worship the ground that she walks on. I think there are lessons to be learned from her on the value of niche marketing:

Be true to your brand. Know who you are and what you stand for and don’t compromise.  People will question the credibility of the offering if the sales pitch changes for every new opportunity that comes along.

Don’t try to be all things to all people. You will fail miserably. No one thing can be the cure all. I can’t tell you how often we see companies lose market momentum because their resources are distracted chasing after some dead end custom project for a one-off customer.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Generic “one-size-fits-all” messaging doesn’t sell high priced enterprise software and services. If you have limited resources (as is the case with most early stage companies), it is unrealistic to think you can effectively market to multiple verticals. Hint… if all of your industry vertical solution pages contain the same messaging, you may benefit from choosing a niche.

The 80/20 Rule. If eighty percent of the output comes from twenty percent of the input, we can all benefit by defining and targeting the twenty percent of the market that can bring us the most value.

And finally… Don’t be afraid of commitment. So many companies are afraid to choose a target market because they may choose the wrong one. But like the eternal bachelor, by not choosing they effectively alienate all the contestants through a lack of commitment to a single focus.

Speak the Language of Customers

To effectively market a new product, you must be able to name it and frame it in terms that resonate with your target audience. Potential customers will not buy what they cannot name or understand.

All too often we see technology vendors define their positioning behind closed doors, then cross their fingers and hope the message spreads like wild fire. The end result can be disappointing if not catastrophic.

Positioning exists in people’s minds, not in your words. If you want the market to understand your value proposition, you must frame a position in words that actually exist in other people’s minds.

Too much time spent with your founder and developers can desensitize you and make you believe those acronyms and techno-terms are commonplace, but don’t be deceived. If your friends and family have trouble articulating to others what your products does and why anyone should care, then you may need to rethink your positioning.

So where is a B-to-B tech marketer to find the words to describe the coolest invention since sliced bread? Try listening to prospective customers. Tune into their conversations to find out how they are describing the challenges they face and products – benefits and features – that are relevant to the solution you provide. Then integrate that language into your marketing materials.

Tactical Tips for Learning the Language of Customers

  1. Find the bloggers that are writing about your topic area. Subscribe to their feed, read their stuff and the comments they receive regularly.
  2. Join LinkedIn and industry groups that cater to the market segment you intend to serve. Tune out the vendor rhetoric and focus on user posts and comments.
  3. Use your network to find people who match the profile of your prospective buyers. Ask for 15 minutes of their time to discuss the market issues. Try not to let your viewpoint influence the conversation…just listen.
  4. Monitor discussion boards and forums to understand the real strengths and weaknesses of your competitors. Drinking too much of the company Kool-Aid can be harmful to the health of your marketing messages. A dose of reality will help ground you.
  5. Research keywords that are in use by your target demographics. Tools like Google AdWords Keyword Tool or WordTracker can help you research the popularity of keywords that may be used to categorize your products and services. Be leery of keywords that yield little or no results.

Your press releases, collateral, email campaigns and even product packaging can all benefit from the language used by real life tech buyers. With your new market-aware messaging in place, your founder may miss those special terms that he/she coined, but your prospective customers just might thank you with a shortened sales cycle.