A rose by any other name

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Any parent knows that choosing a name for their child is a big deal, but coming up with the right name for your business can be equally fraught. Without giving away too many trade secrets, here are a few insights.

There are four main stages to the naming process. First, scope out your brief and do your research. Then, get creative with a myriad of ideas. Make sure you test them and finally, and this is not always as easy as it seems, make a decision.

The scoping phase is about being clear about the brand personality your name will represent. Edginess works in some business sectors, and a conservative approach can seem boring in others.

What’s quirky to you may be too cheeky for your clients, so having an understanding of what makes them tick is a must. Sometimes being brave enough to push the boundaries can make you stand out, but only if you’re comfortable in that space.

It’s important to be aware of who else is in your category, largely to avoid being too similar. Know the competition and get to know the trends, so you can either follow or invent your own.

The creative phase is the fun bit! Of course, I’d recommend consulting specialists who are used to the process (unsubtle self-promotion) but there’s nothing to stop you developing an initial shortlist of your own.
It’s your business after all but the external viewpoint of someone not so close to it is advisable.

One of the dilemmas is often about how literal to be. Do you go for originality or instant recognition? A straight-up description is clear – it does what it says on the tin – and there’s advantages to that. But it’s problematic in a crowded marketplace and, frankly, a little uninspiring.

If you choose to be clever and challenge typical thinking, go for it but proceed with caution so as not to confuse. Customers like to feel that they were smart to work out a quirky name – the joy of the ‘ahah’ moment – but you don’t want them to feel daft for not understanding your clever twist or humour.

As you go through the brainstorming process, you’ll find that names naturally fall in to categories that you can then expand on. Acronyms, made-up words, inanimate objects, mythical figures are just a few of the categories, each with their merits.

Acronyms seem popular here and, perhaps too often, names get shortened for speed. Whatever name you come up with, make sure the acronym isn’t ‘inappropriate’ in text speak, offensive or the same as some dreadful contagious disease.

Made up words often emerge but can need heavy investment in promotion before they get traction. Remember how we frowned quizzically when we first heard ‘Fonterra’, but now barely give it a second thought.

Particularly in professional services firms (lawyers, accountants and ad agencies) the use of surnames is a long-standing tradition, born out of recognising partnership status. We’re used to established firms who have endured far longer than their original figureheads, so I don’t think there’s risk of confusion. If your name could have negative connotations, be careful. My apologies to them but there’s a law firm in Warwickshire called Wright Hassall. I rest my case.

Partner names is obviously the approach I took with my business. I didn’t want ‘Vicki Jones’ because I’m not comfortable in the full spotlight. I felt the partner names option reflected my deliberately unapologetic traditional approach. Apart from family moral support, there is no Dugmore in the business – it’s my maiden name. Even without the explanation, most people seem to like it but, most importantly, it is authentic to me.

If you have to explain your name, does that mean you’ve missed the mark? Possibly, but it depends on people’s reactions when you do. If you explain it and they look confused or disinterested, maybe go back to the drawing board. But if they easily ‘get it’, all is well.

Once you’ve got a shortlist, cull, cull and cull again. Test your favourites with people you trust and be sure to do online searches for domain names, general Google results and trademark checks, engaging a specialist IP lawyer. The most important test is how it feels to say it. Practise answering the phone. It’s like when you name your cat – if you feel like an idiot standing at your back door calling him in for his food, it’s probably the wrong name.

Getting the name wrong in the early days of a business is not the end of the world, but changing is expensive and can be tantamount to starting again, so be rigorous about the process.

You may be able to live with your child resenting you for a dumb name, but if your customers don’t relate to your name, your business may not live with you for long.

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About Author

Vicki Jones

Vicki Jones is director of Dugmore Jones, Hamilton-based marketing management consultancy. Email vicki@dugmorejones.co.nz

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