In the past, you could discover a brand just by searching through the Yellow Pages. Entrepreneurs started their companies’ names with “A” or “AA” just so they’d come first in each category. Today, a company name must do more than appear first alphabetically; it must convey a powerful and memorable image. Creating a fantastic business name is a crucial step toward building and growing your brand. A memorable name connects with customers and sticks with them.
Here’s the dilemma for small business owners: hiring a pricey business-naming firm or branding company isn’t realistic. We have to figure out the perfect name for our company without the help of a big-budget advertising agency. And even if you spend a mint to develop a company name, there’s no assurance that customers will embrace it. FedEx is a terrific example of crowd-sourced branding. Founded in 1973, the goal of this powerful and respected brand was to provide a service that was needed in the pre-fax business community: overnight document delivery. Originally named Federal Express, the company was not affiliated in any way with the government. Perhaps its original intent was to suggest that it was an arm of the post office and somehow “federally” associated. This may have been its first naming error. Customers eventually found it easier to simply call it “Fed Ex.” The name stuck. In 2000, the company bowed to its customers’ higher wisdom and made the nickname the new brand name. Smart move for FedEx, which did over $42 billion in 2012 and has 300,000 employees. It’s a true success story. Do you think it would have dominated the market with a name like “AAA Shippers”?
In my lynda.com course Sales Skills Fundamentals, I show how creating customer value—and embracing your customers’ values—will be the most powerful drivers to selling. But how do you prompt someone to stop by your store, call you up, send you an email, or fill out your website contact form? The company name you create influences whether or not customers connect with you.
When selecting your company name, a primary consideration is your web domain name; if the domain name is unavailable, you may have to go back to the drawing board. Secure the domain name immediately after settling on your firm name. I find that GoDaddy.com has the best rates and customer service for domain-name registration. If your company will be receiving a high volume of phone calls, you may also wish to consider a vanity phone number as well. A great example of how this branding was accomplished is 1-800 CONTACTS. Their brand name, toll-free number, and domain name are the same. Pretty clever work on their part!
Here are three things to remember when branding your company:
● Develop and establish your brand identity as a leader in your industry. Avoid naming your company after yourself unless you are the “product.” The chair, CEO, and chief designer of kathy ireland Worldwide® is Kathy Ireland. As a lifestyle brand, it makes complete sense to have the company named after the founder. If Waffle House restaurants had been called Joe and Tom’s Cafe after the founders, do you believe they would have become a chain restaurant with 1,700 locations?
● Before falling in love with a company name, write down at least 20 possible names. Generally, business names fall into two categories: those which describe what the company does, such as Lyft (a ride-sharing phone app); or memorable names that don’t have a specific meaning to the customer such as Red Bull, which really isn’t descriptive of the product being sold. As you decide on a name, focus on the future growth of your company and where you expect your brand to be in the coming years. If the iconic sandwich franchise Subway had called itself Connecticut Submarine Sandwiches in honor of the place where it was founded, it would have severely limited its potential for growth into new markets. Having a name that could grow with the brand helped them expand into nearly 38,000 restaurants in 98 countries.
● Far too often, you will decide on a name that is already legally trademarked by someone else. Don’t even consider using that name. Thanks to computers, you can easily conduct your own US Patent and Trademark Office search for any brand name and see if it has already been taken. If you can’t secure the domain name for your brand, or something darn close to it, then pick from one of the other names on your list and move on. If registering your trademark nationally is too complex or expensive for your small business when you’re starting out, then I’d suggest initially securing a state trademark protection for a nominal fee. In California, for example, this fee is merely $70, accompanied by a simple form that’s provided by the Secretary of State. This measure of protection is strong and is the entree to a stronger, national trademark which you can secure once your business has grown.
Once you’ve settled on your small business name, watch Developing Brand Identity Collateral with Steve Harris, as well as Brand Building Basics with Lorrie Thomas Ross to help move your brand forward. Learn more about these courses at lynda.com.
1-800 CONTACTS is a registered trademark of WellPoint Inc. FedEx is a registered trademark of Federal Express Corporation. GoDaddy is a registered trademark of the Go Daddy Group, Inc. kathy ireland is a registered trademark of kathy ireland Worldwide®. Lyft is a trademark of Zimride, Inc. Red Bull is a registered trademark of Red Bull GMBH Ltd. SUBWAY® is a registered trademark of Doctor’s Associates Inc. Waffle House is a registered trademark of Waffle House, Inc.