How To Name A Company
Naming new companies, or renaming existing companies, is typically the most challenging type of naming project, not just for us, but for anyone. Why? Because the stakes are higher. Products and services come and go, and their names, while very important to the success of those products or services, usually don’t carry the burden of determining the success or failure of the entire business. But when the entire identity of a company is being determined, its very existence may be on the line. And since the stakes are so high, the number of stakeholders tends to expand dramatically, and internal corporate politics can play a decisive role in the effectiveness of the outcome.
The Pitfalls of Democracy
The first priority is to determine who will be part of your internal naming team. It is important that you include people who will, A) lead all or strategic divisions of the new company, and/or B) provide significant insight or quality to the naming deliberations. But with that in mind, it is very important that you keep the overall number of participants as low as possible: five is probably ideal, ten is getting too crowded; any more than that and the process will likely break down. If too many voices are included, you end up with too much noise: too many irrelevant ideas/opinions/comments, too many logistical hurdles, and the specter of endless meetings and debates that are never quite resolved. So stick to a small, workable number of key decision makers. You can make a decision to share parts of the process, or provide regular progress reports, with others in your company–just don’t feel compelled to include everybody.
Including too many people in a company naming process, or worse, allowing everyone to “contribute” and “vote,” is a sure way to end up with a least common denominator type name that everyone can live with, but which inspires nobody. Case in point: Kraft Foods renaming itself Mondelez, where they opened up the project to the whole company and received 1,700 names suggestions from 1,000 employees, took a prefix from one person and fused it to a suffix from another, and voilà, a thoroughly boring name was born. Make sure you never conduct a company naming process like this, unless you want to create a mediocre name that will disappear among the millions of other mediocre names in the marketplace.
Positioning, Positioning, Positioning
We say it over and over, because it is so important: you must understand your brand positioning–essentially the unique story, tone and personality you want your brand to project to the world–and then only consider names for your company that map to that positioning. This will help insulate your process from falling prey to a great killer of potentially powerful names: the subjective response. Subjectivity raises its ugly head when key decision makers, who often have not been participating in the project on a daily basis, elevate or strike down name candidates based on whether they “like” or “don’t like” them, or when they say things like, “My wife used to have a beloved dog with that name that died a few years ago, so this name would be too painful for her.” Such subjective responses are almost entirely meaningless, because your customers out in the real world don’t care whether your VP of Sales “likes” a name, or what associations your CFO has to the name. All that matters is whether or not the audience can become emotionally engaged with your brand, and what meanings, stories and associations they can bring to your brand, without being told to do so by a direct, literal name.
So how do you keep the process objective? By having everyone on your naming team agree on the brand positioning in advance, and then making sure all the names under consideration support that positioning. That way, when someone inevitably says they don’t like a particular name, you can hold their feet to the fire: “Why don’t you like the name? Does the name support the brand positioning we’ve agreed on, and if so, that’s all that matters. If the name fails to support the brand positioning, in all or in part, that’s a legitimate problem that we need to understand.” Now you have moved beyond “like” and “dislike,” and brand positioning has become the dominant, objectifying principle guiding your naming project.
Be Bold and Confident
We go into great detail about the final stage of the naming process on our Name Evaluation page. But the key concept here that is specific to company naming is to make sure you act with complete and utter confidence. If a small, very involved group of top decision makers at a company decide on a bold, memorable name, after a thorough and rigorous process, you can bet there will be some, maybe many, from within the rank and file of your company who will not get it at first. They will grumble, they might get angry, and they might give you many reasons that sound perfectly reasonable why the new name is a bad idea. While it is important to handle internal politics diplomatically, to make your employees feel included to some extent in the process, it is also necessary that you present the new name to them logically, making a strong business and brand positioning case for the name, and then cutting off debate and declaring unequivocally that this is the new name. After living with a new name for awhile, even diehard opponents will eventually come around and embrace it–it just takes some people longer to understand the power of powerful names. If you have total confidence in your decision, your employees will follow you; but if you lack confidence, they will become restive and disgruntled. So be bold, and be confident.
An Address is Just an Address
Many companies come make the mistake of assuming they need an exact-match .com domain name. Unless you have a pure-play B2C Internet company, you do not need this; a modified domain name will work just fine. Insisting on an exact-match .com domain name will potentially cost you much more money and greatly reduce your brand development options. It is much better to have a great name with a modified domain than a weak name with a matching domain. And thanks to modern search engines, it is much more important that your company website is properly optimized for your industry than whether your domain name matches or not.