A long time ago a businessman came to me for advice.
He was starting a men’s clothing store and wanted to know what to call it.
I asked him his surname.
“That’s a great name,” I said. “George. The name of kings.”
I didn’t tell him it was also my dog’s name.
He shook his head.
“No, it’s old fashioned. I want a modern name, one that describes my customers’ aspirations – they want to be cool… hip. I’ve actually got a name already.”
I was taken aback. I thought he’d come for my help. Turned out he just wanted my approval. So, what was this wonderful name he’d come up with?
Terrible. At least that’s what I thought. But I said something like, “I much prefer ‘George’. It belongs to you. It has a reason for being there on your shop front. Sell funky gear, give your shop a hip design and George will become a cool name.”
He didn’t buy it. And that was that.
I never heard of him or his shop again.
That chap was like so many SME owners: they’d rather use some gimmicky name instead of their own.
But why? Clothing stores like Abercrombie & Fitch and Benetton have done all right using their founders’ names. So have brands in other markets, like Bacardi and Dyson.
Of course, there are lots of successful brands with names I don’t like. Microsoft for example – incredibly bland. Or, on a much smaller scale, Dr Oetker foods – very unappetising. Who wants pizza that sounds like it was named after a German scientist? But people do.
Considering that, I’ve come to this conclusion:
A bad/weak name won’t necessarily stop you succeeding (e.g. Microsoft).
But a good/strong name can help you go further (e.g. Apple).
I agree with marketing gurus Al Ries and Jack Tout, who say: “The most important marketing decision you can make is what to name the product.”
How to come up with a better name
Below are a few tips for naming your brand. These aren’t rules; rather, they are general guidelines that have helped me. I hope they will help you too.
- Choose a short name. Long names can be striking (e.g. Lost Boys International, a digital marketing agency) but they tend to get reduced to initials (LBI). Unless your long name becomes famous – e.g. International Business Machines – before you shorten it, nobody will remember what your initials stand for. An acronym can work though, if it forms a new word, e.g. FIAT.
- Avoid punny names; they lack stature. Can you name a successful brand with a punny name?
- People’s names are great, especially if they’re connected with the person or people who founded the business.
- Choose a memorable name, of a thing or a quality, one that creates a picture in your mind, like Apple or Orange.
- Choose a name that stands out in your category, e.g. O2, the mobile telecoms provider. Or one that helps position you. For example the name Apple made that company’s products sound easier to understand than a lot of the technology that was around at the time.
- Read the chapters about naming in Al Ries’s and Jack Trout’s classic, Positioning.
Any questions or anything to add? Or do you disagree with my views? Feel free to comment below.