What’s in a Name?

Naming is the initial, and often an important, part of the marketing process. Coming up with cool, unique name will not guarantee the success of your business. On the flip side, a poor name can make the marketing process more difficult.

How our minds use names

Names serve two key functions for our minds: identification and categorization. Understanding both will help in the naming process.

Identification helps us to separate one name from another – for example, the difference between Ritz Carlton and Days Inn®. The identification process also gives our minds a place to store characteristics and feelings we associate with that name.

Names also allow us to categorize information. Our memory works by drawing associations among pieces of information. The more associations we are able to draw, the more information we are able to remember something. Once we place a name in a category, we are able to associate it and compare it with other names in the category.

What makes a good name?

Names ultimately stake out a piece of ground in our memory. For that reason, ideal names have brevity, distinctiveness, and longevity.

Brief names are the most memorable. The monosyllabic moniker Dell is an excellent example. In fact, many companies have shortened their names over time in reaction to the marketplace. International Business Machines is now IBM. Federal Express is now FedEx. United Parcel Service became UPS. The list goes on.

Distinctiveness presents an interesting challenge of being unique but familiar, relevant to the target audience but unlike any competitor, and memorable without being generic. Humana strikes the right balance. The name obviously connotes a connection to people but is still unique in its pronunciation.

Longevity means the name cannot be identified with any particular moment in time. Think of the dot-com era. With few exceptions (e.g. Expedia.com), most dot-com names did not survive the fallout of 2001. The survivors like Yahoo! and RealNetworks were companies that did not use “dot com” as part of their name.

Considerations when choosing a name

Naming is a fickle process. Sometimes it happens immediately; sometimes it is a grueling march. In addition to the qualities of a good name, the following thoughts should help in the process.

Choose a name that can expand with your business. Jiffy Lube is a national franchise with dozens of services. Unfortunately, most people associate the company with a single service: an oil change. Amazon is the opposite. The company started in books but was quickly able to expand its business into a global marketplace for books, electronics, apparel, and plenty of other categories.

Avoid geographic references. Ultimately, they could limit how people think about the scope of your business.

Consider coined terms. Humana again is a perfect example. The downside is choosing a name that people have difficult either spelling or pronouncing.

Consider the Internet. The right URL is a must-have for any business. As with names, a short URL is best because we spend so much time typing it when using the Internet or sending e-mails. Names likes www.tennesseseetelecommunications.com just will not cut it.

A final consideration – services name

With the best of intentions, businesses spend a lot of time naming their services, often in some derivation of the company name. Each name represents a brand name that the company must support as part of its marketing. Ultimately, the customer views the business services as a whole rather than a sum of its parts. Focus on the whole and how your business customizes the whole to the prospect’s specific needs.

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