Choose the right company brand name, retire rich

by andy on May 26, 2010

Coca ColaThat’s silly of course.  It’s not that easy.  But many entrepreneurs have a hard time coming up with a company name.  Fortunately there’s a strategic approach that will yield good results.

If you choose the name right, you have given yourself a huge leg up on the competition.   And I would argue you write your ticket to success.  As long as you continue to execute, you really will retire rich.

A company that is almost guaranteed to succeed because of their name is Groupon.  Groupon is a combination of the words group and coupon, which is exactly what the company does – group coupons.  The FAQ on the Groupon website says that Groupon is named after a town in Switzerland where Goodyear tires are on sale, which is clearly a joke (I hope), but at least one site on the web scarily seems to accept this as fact.

Groupon has such a suggestive name for the space among their competitors, yet it’s a newly invented name, which makes it perfect.  Band-Aid is to bandages like Groupon is to… groupons.   You get the idea.  Competitors include Shnoop, 8coupons, and DealOn.  None of which have a good brand name, using the criteria I will lay out in a second.

Not all that surprisingly (to me at least), after just two years in business, Groupon was recently valued at over one billion dollars.  It’s a great idea that caught on like wildfire.  And why are they valued dramatically higher than their competitors?  Brand name.

There are five things that a company must do to build a strong brand name on the web, and therefore everywhere.  The web has definitely become the dog and not the tail when it comes to brand.  I’ve created a top five list of branding requirements that is an augmented version of a list from one of my favorite authorities on brand, Al Ries.

1)      The name should be short and simple. Only having a short name is not enough if it’s hard to spell, pronounce, and remember.  A good way to make words simpler is to have repetitive letters or sounds; not all unique letters.  Examples of short but not simple names are Schwab, Autobytel, and Shnoop.  Dreadful spelling makes for a name that is hard to share with others, and easy to misspell when typing in your web browser.

2)      The name should be unique. To be a strong brand, uniqueness is the ultimate requirement, either on the web or not.   Single generic words are too hard to rank highly for on the web, although having a word that makes up a keyword phrase is good for SEO.  This is what trips up web entrepreneurs when they want to rank for a competitive search term.  They choose a generic name thinking this will help their rankings.  However, to survive for the long haul, you need a unique, non-generic name.  That’s why several internet companies from the nineties are still going strong like Amazon, eBay, and Yahoo.  And before the Internet era, all the current top brands of the world are unique names like Coca Cola, Intel, Disney, and Toyota.

3)      The name should suggest a category. This is not a requirement to describe the category explicitly, only suggest it. There is an art to this, because the name should imply the product category but not be a generic word.  For example, a name like hardwarestore.com is too generic and likely will ultimately fail similar to Pets.com, the definitive story of dot com failure.  But Home Depot as a brand works great because it implies the category.

4)      The name should be speakable.  For word of mouth marketing to be possible, the word needs to be understandable.  The real test for this requirement is whether you can have a phone conversation with a friend and convey the word without spelling it for them.  On the phone, letters like “F” and “S”, or “B” and “P” can get confused, forcing the person communicating the word to say something like “yes, it’s this cool new company called ‘Zvents’.  No, not “the fence”.  Its Z as in Zebra, V as in Victor…”

5)      The name should be rhyming or alliterative. A good trick to make a name more memorable is to repeat letters, either by rhyming or alliteration (repeating consonants).   Company names that follow this branding suggestion are Blockbuster, Coca Cola, and Zoho.

Let’s look at my company name, Yigdigs, for example, to see if it hits some of these branding requirements.  Yigdigs is a homes for sale by owner website.  The Yigdigs name was chosen to be associated with homes, but not be tied to For Sale By Owner (FSBO), because the long term strategy is bigger than that.  “Digs” is synonymous with “home”, and yig rhymes with dig.  In addition to suggesting a category and rhyming, Yigdigs is also short, simple, unique, and hopefully speakable.

What other great brand names will likely stand the test of time similar to Amazon, eBay, and Yahoo?  Some that already have for years are the Top 100 global brands as compiled on Bloomberg.  The top 100 list includes Citi, Oracle, Google, and Sony.   Additionally, a few companies on the Inc 5000 list that I think are likely to have their success boosted by a strong brand name are SolarWinds (a local Austin favorite), mSpot, Workway, and oDesk.

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