As any parent knows, choosing the name of your child is a lot of pressure. There are vital factors to consider: will they be able to spell it; will other people be able to pronounce it; does it mean something else in another language; could it possibly be a euphemism for a sexual organ that will make them a laughing stock?
The same applies to naming your business – your other baby. Along with a logo, your company name is a powerful marketing strategy that can make or break your brand (let’s not forget how Google was originally called BackRub!)
Want to avoid an expensive rebrand in future? Follow these tips from today’s catchiest companies.
Plan for expansion
When Sir Richard Branson was naming Virgin Records, he almost went with a different option – Slipped Disc. But the forward-thinking entrepreneur opted for Virgin – inspired by the fact his team were all new in business – because it would suit other industries. “Slipped Disc Records has a certain ring to it and fit with our edgy new label,” he writes. “But how would we have grown that brand from music into all sorts of different areas? Slipped Disc Airlines – now, that’s not so good!” When choosing your brand name, test it with different products – Virgin Records, Virgin Airlines, Virgin Credit Cards. “Think of your favourite singer,” says Richard. “The masters of transformation, from David Bowie to Madonna, often change characters and refresh their brand regularly.”
Make it pronounceable (or embrace it’s un-pronounceability)
Despite having a name that, in theory, is easy to pronounce, MailChimp’s customers still struggle to say the email marketer’s name correctly (a fact that came to light when they recorded an audio advert for the Serial podcast). With companies like MailChimp relying on word-of-mouth publicity, that causes a big problem. The solution? They created an entire marketing campaign around the issue, teaming up with creative agency Droga5 to produce a series of short animations, shown in movie theatres, that play on the faux-pas – MailChimp, MailShrimp, KaleLimp, FailChips, VeilHymn, SnailPrimp, JailBlimp. The moral of the story? Test your name on as many different people, from as many different cultures, and as many different countries as possible. And if you do find yourself in an unpronounceable situation, turn it into a publicity opportunity.
Think of the mental picture
These days, most people associate a little blue bird with a certain social media platform. But Twitter’s image was almost very different. “We looked at what we were doing and when you received a tweet over SMS, your phone would buzz,” says Jack Dorsey. “It would jitter. It would twitch. And those were the early names, Jitter and Twitch. Neither one of them really inspired the best sort of imagery.” Instead, they delegated to another member of the team, Noah Glass, who took the word Twitch and went down the dictionary looking for alternatives. “We were like, maybe this isn’t the best name for us because in certain cultures [the word twit] could be demeaning,” says Jack. “But it has been amazing in terms of building the brand because the users have taken it and invented their own vernacular around it, like tweet and twitterpated.”
Avoid the namesake trap
Although naming your blog or business after yourself can be tempting, it can also be detrimental, as business experts discussed at an event hosted by Martha Stewart. Their verdict? Choosing your own name can affect scaleability and sellability of a business in the future. For that reason, Julie Rice, founder of SoulCycle, decided to avoid this strategy when launching her now-famous exercise brand. “Early on, we knew that if we were going to take an exercise business and scale it, people couldn’t be attached to one [cycling] teacher,” she says. “They needed to be attached to the concept of the business.” In fact, two research papers found that founder-named businesses are less valuable than their counterparts. It’s a good thing Pepsi rebranded from its original name, Brad’s Drink.
It’s OK to be mysterious
And remember, you don’t have to share your name’s origins with customers. For years, Etsy didn’t share the inspiration behind the word, preferring to allow customers to come to their own conclusions. Since then, founder Rob Kalin has revealed its secret – it’s actually not designed to make sense. “I wanted a nonsense word because I wanted to build the brand from scratch,” he says. “I was watching [the movie] Fellini’s 8½ and writing down what I was hearing. In Italian, you say ‘etsi’ a lot. It means ‘oh, yes.’ And in Latin, it means ‘and if.'” It’s not the only brand name inspired by popular culture. Starbucks was named after the sailor Analysis Starbuck in the American novel Moby Dick.