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Top 3 Brand-Naming Mistakes

September 30, 2019

names-860x9999Entrepreneurs are creative people. They can’t help themselves, they just are. The first thing an entrepreneur creates is a business idea. Whether it’s a product or a service or just some new, improved way of delivering everyday benefits, the idea pops into his or her head and they just run with it. Very often, the second thing entrepreneurs create is a name for their new enterprise. This means that the business idea is only a day or so old and, already they’re making a branding error. I say that with some assurance because most entrepreneurs have no instinct, training or experience in naming things. But they’re creative, right? So they barge ahead without ever thinking of seeking help with what can turn out to be a life or death decision for the brand. 99% of them are going to name their brand the wrong way, make a mistake, and then spend the next five years paying for it. The wrong name can shackle a brand and force it to swim upstream. Try marketing anything when the target market is unenthused or, worse, turned off by its name. Even if the startup brand does get off the ground, it may be too late to rescue the situation by the time the entrepreneur finally owns the naming mistake and seeks professional help. There are so many rookie mistakes that business people make, we can’t address them all. But I’d like to share three all-too-common clunkers that can make a brand a loser before it even gets out of the gate.

The first and most important feature of a brand’s identity is its name. You absolutely have to get this right. That means you should ask for help. Talk to a brand strategist, a professional namer or, at the very least, do some reading on the subject. Do not just wing it. I have heard of countless entrepreneurs who go it alone only to regret it. I have only heard of one entrepreneur who, with no prior naming experience, nevertheless did everything right and ended up with a fantastic brand name. That was Sara Blakely when she created Spanx. So, if you’re about to name your own startup, at least read about Blakely’s naming journey. It’s amazing how much she got right … against all the odds.

Start by recognizing that every name is taken. That’s true. It gets harder and harder to find a name that is meaningful, marketable and distinguishing every day. Then, you find it and learn you can’t register it as a trademark because someone else beat you to it. That’s why, these days, it takes an organized process to come up with a stellar name. Grabbing them out of thin air is bound to bring disappointment. But entrepreneurs are not going to change so let’s talk about the three biggest traps you should avoid.

1 – Don’t drown in the alphabet soup
Monogram names like GE, IBM and BMW are great – if you’re GE, IBM or BMW. But that’s only because they’ve been around a while and have built up brand equity in their names. Since they’ve established themselves, hundreds of thousands of businesses have coined monogram names. Every two-letter, three-letter and, probably, four-letter combination has already been adopted – probably several times over. To take on a monogram name now, without decades of name recognition behind 

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you, is to become just another leaf in a huge pile of leaves. You won’t stand out. You won’t be remembered. I know of two entrepreneurs, Buck and David, who decided to merge their two companies. Buck’s firm had a decent brand name. Not great but decent. It could have easily served as the name of the combined companies. David’s business also had a decent brand name. It would have also served the merged company well. They decided to opt for a new name entirely. Also a worthwhile choice. But then they named their new company BDX. B for Buck, D for David and X for who the hell knows what. Just because they wanted a third letter. This was the worst choice they could have made. Not only does it condemn the new company to meaningless anonymity, but it also falls into second most common trap.

2 – Don’t sell to yourself
I met a man who’s tech biz was called Carmen. Curiosity got to me and I asked him how he came by the name. Turns out, in high school, he had a huge crush on a popular girl named Carmen. He never worked up the nerve to talk to her. By naming his company Carmen, he felt he had overcome his shyness and would never again fail to pursue his dreams. O-kaaay. It’s good to find inspiration in one’s past. But, besides being borderline creepy, it’s an origin story that has meaning to only one person, the entrepreneur himself. The brand name, at its best, is a way to open conversations with the market. Good brand names have meaning to the intended market, not to the marketer. The entrepreneur would have had more success if he had adopted a name that inspired and engaged his market. His Carmen story is about his own personal inspiration and would have best been kept personal. Likewise, it’s understandable that Buck and David want to pat themselves on the back for building a successful company. But the new brand name is the wrong place to do that. They should have found more personal ways to congratulate themselves. The company’s name should be market-facing, not self-facing.

3 – Don’t forget its a small world
Do you have a website? Congratulations, you’re an international business. That means you never know where your next opportunity will come from. Make sure your name has no unintended meaning in other key languages. The classic case is the Chevrolet Nova. Sales were moribund in Latin and Central American countries because, in Spanish, No-va means “doesn’t go”. And right behind multi-cultural meaning in importance is registration in multiple countries. Don’t let competitors block you off from tomorrow’s important markets. Think globally from the get-go.

Here’s hoping you don’t make these three common mistakes in developing your brand identity. In fact, here’s hoping you avoid naming mistakes altogether by recognizing that, even as creative as your are, you aren’t an expert on everything. Ask for professional help when naming your brand.


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