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Stealth Marketing

Your Company Name
Frances Mann-Craik, CEO, Addison Marketing 

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Our friend William Shakespeare was very poetic, but did not have a clue about branding. Your brand name is the first and most important element in your marketing communications program. Building brand is about burning your company’s unique and positive attributes into the mind of your customers.  Selecting a company name that reflects your firm’s unique value, and is memorable, will aid in your long-term success.

Naming Trends:  Founder’s Name, Generic, Made Up, Evocative…

A recent Business 2.0 article titled “The New Science of Naming” provided a timeline of naming trends over the past century.  Yet a review of these trends shows very little “science” and a great deal of ego, art, and at times desperation in company naming.  (The name “Accenture” is often cited as an example of desperation.)

While a well-chosen company name will by no means determine the success of your company, a poorly chosen company name can have a very negative affect. 

Naming approaches have changed over time.  Names have moved from straightforward descriptions to words used out of context to quirky made up words and back again. 

In the pre-Internet days, a brand always had a visual component: Coke has the shape of the bottle and the stylized writing; McDonald’s has golden arches. In the Internet-era, the brand name alone without a visual component must carry the entire responsibility for being the key “memory tag.”  

Naming Approaches

Founder’s Name(s) – popular in the early days of industry, company founder’s used their own names: Ford, Kellogg’s, Procter & Gamble. Founder’s names were also popular in the early days of the computer industry:  Hewlett-Packard, Varian and more recently Siebel Systems.

Straight Forward Descriptive Terms/Acronyms – General Motors (GM), International Business Machines (IBM) and Systems Analysis and Program Development (SAP) are all examples of company names that become acronyms with meaning.

Real words used out of context – Apple and Orange are catchy but without a suggestion of the business.  This type of name requires marketing work to establish meaning and build the brand.  If they are catchy, unique, and well marketed, they are likely to be remembered.

Made up words – Xerox, Vivendi, Google, as with real words used out of context, these made up words require significant marketing to build meaning in the minds of customers.  The longer and harder your name is to spell, the more marketing effort will be required to build name awareness.

Generic Common Noun –,, generic common noun names are straight forward, but contain an element of risk.  In the US, common noun product names are generally associated with “generic” products, which are recognized as “cheap” products.  Overtime, the market has proven that proper nouns, to which people can attribute a brand value, are the names remembered as having value. 

Real words suggestive of the business - Jawbone, Oracle, Blackboard and Research In Motion (RIM) are simple names that are intuitive and have real meaning “in the spirit” of what the company does. 

The Naming Process

Whether you seek the professional advice of a naming and branding firm, or take the project on internally, the steps will be similar (although the costs could be dramatically different).

You want to name your company in a way that highlights the uniqueness of your business.  Therefore, much like the process of positioning, the process of naming starts with identifying your unique value proposition versus your competition for your target audience.   

  • Marketplace and Competitive Research – define market opportunities, understand the business context of target customers and evaluate competitors.
  • Develop your “Unique Value Proposition” for your target customer.  What is the “promise” your company strives to make that differentiates it from its competition?  Identify your core values, personality and identity.
  • Creative Brainstorming – pull together your team to review your unique value proposition and get creative.  In brainstorming, every idea is a good idea (as it may lead to another better idea).  This exercise is often most successful with the addition of popcorn and beer. 

Consider the following elements while brainstorming your company name:

  • Unique and memorable – Hotmail, Yahoo, The latter was one of the biggest flops in Europe’s history, but failure was not due to the name – which will be long remembered – but due to being unable to deliver on its promises.
  • Suggestive - A word or words suggestive of a category without being generic.
  • Pronounceable - Word-of-mouth is the most effective publicity, be sure people can say your name, and in multiple languages.
  • Easy to spell – In the Internet era your website is one of your most powerful tools, so customers must be able to find it.
  • Appropriate for you target customers – Blue Martini, for example, would not work as a children’s website.
  • Cross-cultural  – think about a global name. The old story of the US auto manufacturer that introduced a car called the “Nova” into Mexico, not realizing that in Spanish Nova means “no go,” is a perfect example of the potential problem.
  •  Make a short list of the best name ideas and see which ones meet the key requirements:
    • Internet domain address available
    • Trademark available
    • Works internationally (if applicable)
    • Easy to say
    • Easy to spell
    • Memorable
  • Test the names that make your short list with your target market audience, advisors, employees, friends and family.
  • Select your name.
  • Own your name.

Once you have chosen a great name, start the ownership process.  You’ll likely be investing a great deal of time and money in promoting your name and do not want to have to change it after you have created good will and market awareness.

Register your domain name (preferably a “.com”) in every country where you plan to do business. In addition to registering your name with your own local domain, you may want to consider other domains  .de, .fr, .uk, .com, .ne.  You may also want to register name variations that are close to your name.

Trademark your company name if the company name will be used to identify your products or services.    The International Trademark Association  ( has useful information and links on worldwide trademark issues.

The best company names are:

  • Intuitive
  • Easy to say
  • Easy to spell
  • Easy to remember


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