For tech companies that are breaking new ground in the way we manage water, branding can be decisive. Lynn Nichols of X Intellectual Property, one of the leading experts on branding in the Silicon Valley, shares her view on how names can help early-stage companies set themselves apart as emerging leaders.
How do the best companies develop names that become brands?
When creating a name for a company, the first instinct is often to describe the company’s services or product in the name. Startups especially succumb to the fear that “if we don’t put it in the name, people won’t know what we do.” But a name can be used to do so much more than describe. A name that simply describes misses out on important opportunities for a business with big aspirations.
Names are always conveyed in some context, written or verbal, so it’s not hard to figure out what the company does. Early companies that follow the startup descriptive instinct instead wind up with a liability: a name that emphatically labels them a startup.
Founders and CXOs should ask themselves if that’s the name they want to be know by
5 years down the road when they are an industry standard, a household technology, when they want everyone to be talking about the brand .. when competitors have entered their market space.
Isn’t it risky to adopt an innovative name?
Yes, but its risky not to. If you don’t go in a new direction in your industry with the company name, you run the risk of someone else out-innovating you in name. And suddenly you sound old school, even if your technology is not, because your competitor has been more thoughtful in forging a new path, paid attention to competitors’ positioning, identified an elegant way to convey a new idea, or is bolder.
How does a company develop a great name?
An opportunity to name a company is an opportunity to stand alone. By examining existing naming patterns in your industry and choosing a different route, you can convey though the company name itself that you are a leader, an innovator, that you have new technologies that surpass legacy technologies. Your name position can both stake out unique territory and convey that you are the only solution to that problem, rather than simply the best alternative among many.
A business name is also an opportunity to make your audience pay attention to the Big Idea behind what you do. Ideas are magnetizing. People talk about companies and the ideas they inspire.This opportunity is especially important with new technologies that are poised to grab public attention when changes in society or public policy make their industry highly topical.Ideas create loyalty and relationships, ideas sell services and products.
A name alone can make people pay attention, as Apple found out in its early days.
What are some ways to make a name powerful?
A powerful name begins with a thoughtful distillation of the brand core to a single idea that makes the most impact. Rather than describing what the company does, this idea may reflect the company vision for the technology, the end benefit for customers, characterize a difference from competitors that resonates, or it may speak to a particular audience.
Name positioning is a key next step. When the business name breaks with established patterns in the industry, people pay attention. Take a close look at names in any one industry and you’ll see identifiable trends in form and meaning: large numbers of technical descriptive names, or names cobbled together from supposedly meaningful pieces that sound corporate and empty. The tech startup world is well-known for churning out name after name ending in –ly, -able, -box, -panda, or two one-syllable words that make no sense when shoved together. Often the same words are used over and over in an industry, e.g. ‘caring’ in the senior care industry, words for spark or explosion among PR firms, or evocative feminine names in the high-end salon industry. Mapping out a different strategy for the form of the name can give the name much
larger impact. And aside from positioning, careful attention to word choice alone can result in a name that resonates with a particular target audience. Think Bitcoin as the name for a digital currency, which sounds innovative, and Coin, a type of electronic wallet, which does not.
The type of name should be carefully thought out as well. Different types of names – descriptive, evocative, invented – have different strengths and weakness depending on the industry. And beyond business names, product names need special ingredients to ensure they, and not a generic term, are used for the product.
What is the potential impact of a good naming strategy?
Your company can easily be distinguished from competitors, and future competitors. People don’t avoid saying your name because it’s too long. In fact, people remember your company name and tell others about it. You stake out a leading position in your industry in name recognition, others are left to play catch up.
There is even more impact for your business as you raise your awareness in your target market and create a larger audience. Your Big Idea drives customers to you. A name that intrigues provides incentive for your audience to take a closer look. A name can grab attention because it represents a new way of looking at the industry. People talk about your company and your technology because the concepts are well-packaged and resonate.
In short, you are on the radar screen of your client audience because they are engaged by the ideas you represent. Your name is the flagship reflection of those ideas.