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What’s in a Name? Advice on Naming Your Business

 thoughtful-721507_1920By Christopher J. Bachler

Why do big companies hire marketing consultants just to come up with the “right” business name? Because it really matters!

Small entrepreneurs don’t always understand that. They often pick names that just “sound nice,” and give no strategic thought to the matter. But that can be a costly mistake! Yes, a good name matters. Certainly your customers are mainly interested in what you provide and how well you serve them. But your business name tells your customers who you are, what you do, and what they can expect from you. In short, your business name should convey the lion’s share of your positioning message.

While people give lots of thought to names for children or pets, they don’t always give much thought to their business monikers. They might just pick something that sounds good to them, giving little thought to how it might sound to their customers. Or they might grab the first idea that comes to mind, such as their own personal names. Yes, it’s easy and it does identify the person running the business. But is that the wisest choice?

Choosing a Name

To begin with, you don’t want a name that is:

•    Hard to remember
•    Potentially offensive
•    Poor at identifying what you do
•    Dull
•    Too similar to the names of other businesses

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You do want a name that:

•    Grabs attention
•    Describes what you do
•    Makes you stand out
•    Is easy to remember
•    Makes a good impression on your customers

Before you select your business name, make sure it’s not already taken. You could face legal challenges if it is. At a minimum, you’ll confuse your customers. The Internet is the easiest place to begin your search. Enter the names you have in mind into your favorite search engines. Other excellent sources to search include:

•    http://www.uspto.gov/main/trademarks.htm
•    www.networksolutions.com
•    http://www.thomasnet.com
•    trademark.com

Also check with your County Clerk’s office and with your state’s Secretary of State, which you should find on the Web under your state government’s web site. (Example: Minnesota.gov).

Don’t Be Too Quick To Pick

Take time to kick around some ideas, and study the example of successful companies. Ideally, your name should dovetail with your positioning strategy. For example, if you wish to stress quick service, economy, or special expertise, your name should stress that. Then review your ideas with people whose opinions you value.

Lots of entrepreneurs use their own names. If you’ve developed a strong personal connection with your primary customer base, that might be advantageous to some degree. But it may not say enough unless you add something more, such as: “Bob Reagan’s Unbreakable Widgets.”

Lots of people who use their personal names add “Associates” to the end. Presumably, this is to create the impression that they’re the heads of an organization. Quite often, that’s not the case, and it only makes them look deceptive and a bit foolish. Moreover, it accomplishes nothing in the way of establishing their business identities.
If you purchase a business from someone else, and if that person’s name and business was both popular and successful, it might be wise to maintain it. After all, when you buy a business, you are buying that company’s reputation more than its tools or facilities.

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Other Considerations

If you will be listed online and in the yellow pages, having a name that begins with the letter “A” will help you get to the top of the list. However, this is far from being a priority, especially if there are few others in your line of business. The quality of your name is always most important.

Lots of companies make claims in their names, such as “Quality Widgets.” There’s nothing wrong with that as long as it’s provably true. Better than making a general claim is to be more specific. “Jiffy Lube” is a good example of a name that makes a specific promise that appeals to customers.

To make your name easy to remember: (1) keep it short; (2) make it distinctive; (3) add some emotional appeal; and (4) try to make it clever. Look around to see what business names strike you this way.

There’s nothing wrong with cute or clever as long as it doesn’t confuse your customers or make you look silly. Always err on the side of caution, however. There’s a reason why good businesspeople have a reputation for being kind of conservative.

Generally speaking, changing a name is not a good idea because you’ll be forced to rebuild your name recognition. That’s why it’s so important to pick a good name at the outset.

Christopher J. Bachler is a 20+-year veteran business writer and editor, based in Drexel Hill, PA.


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