Tag Archives: brand naming

What StartUps can learn from modern art.

The Best Naming Tool for StartUps

There are two broad ways of naming your brand: literal naming or imagery naming.

The literal describes literally (not surprisingly) what you do or offer: Salesforce and Compare the market – and at the slightly more imaginative end: Band-aid and Rubbermaid. For that reason it can also be called descriptive naming. But this group can also include eponymous naming ie. after a person, usually the founder; so would include Levi’s, John Lewis, Bloomberg, Marks & Spencer. You could claim some of these actually fall into our second group and I think that’s especially fair for a name like adidas, which although short for the founder Adi Dassler is so meaningless on its own, we can call it an imagery name.

Imagery naming is a much broader and more abstract group. It would include metaphorical naming, which has an actual meaning even if it’s hidden away – like Monopoly, Shell, Land Rover. There’s subset of this group: the mythical. So Prudential, Nike, Ariel. Or there are those with no meaning but are suggestive- like Aviva and Google (although dictionary.com tells me it was ‘introduced by U.S. mathematician Edward Kasner (1878-1955), whose nine-year-old nephew allegedly invented it’.)

There are those names that sit somewhere in the middle, other than the adidas type of name. I’d put Pinterest in this middle space although it clearly has a literal, descriptive element. You pin your interest. But they didn’t call it Pin Your Interest, they deliberately removed meaning by crunching the words together like a crisp sandwich. LinkedIn also sits in the middle. Instagram too but I think it is closer to Imagery with a dash of literal (or you could argue it’s metaphorical I guess?).

So there’s a spectrum. Which do you choose?

I’m not going to get into the relative merits of these two directions right now. But there are a host of things to think about and work through. That’s for another time. You might already know which type you want to build upon. My point here is: you don’t need to know before you start generating names if you have the right tool.

And here’s the right tool.

new business naming, entrepreneur naming

This is The Great Bear, by Simon Patterson, which I saw at The Tate Modern, I think in 2001. In his excellent piece, each underground (or metro as they say elsewhere) line is built around a theme, usually a profession – philosophers, musicians, film stars, engineers – but sometimes not – planets. What you need to do is this. Take the same logic and start generating names. Meaning, instead of a profession, you might start with user benefit and create an underground/metro line of names around user benefit. As you move along to the suburbs, stretch the meaning and exaggerate, more and more. So just as suburbs have exaggerated names like Sunshine Gardens, you might have turned a humble user benefit into World Changer. Unlike the real world, the suburbs might end up being the more interesting place.

Then develop another theme. Like user description. Or technology involved. Or product description. The point is to have as many underground lines as you can think of.

Of course, because you can use any type of theme for a line, you can mix both literal naming with imagery naming. You’ll have lines that cross, and nodes that start new themes and therefore new lines. Clearly it won’t actually look like the London Underground but it will have lots of names, good bad and many completely daft. But that’s creativity. Write everything down.

Do as many as you can. Go back to it a day later and go again. See if there are any new lines. And maybe go back the next day. Until you’re done.

Sleep on it. Then evaluate. And we’ll talk about evaluation tools some other time.

What StartUps can learn about naming from Computershare

marketing brand names

Naming and the importance of not getting it wrong in a StartUp

I was going to hold off before I had a rant…but I’ve just had a letter from Computershare. And it’s a sorry story, or more like a farce, of the ‘you couldn’t make it up’ variety. But importantly, there’s a strong lesson for any start-up here about brand naming strategy, something that often does not get given enough thought. At it’s simplest, there are two ways to name your brand: either literal (this-is-what-we-do like SingTel or this-is-who-I-am like adidas, names after founder Adi Dassler, Kelloggs) or imaginative (glorious mythical associations like Nike or attractive fruit like Apple, Orange etc…).

Now keep in mind that these guys were pioneers, starting the company way back and took on the descriptive and potentially category defining brand name of Computershare. If share dealing on computers was invented today you’d give your left arm for that name.

I had a few shares in a company I worked for (M+C Saatchi), nothing impressive and I had to buy them at market price – why bother? you say…I know, but at the time I was learning. They’d started at 125p, dropped to 25p in 2008 and when all my old colleagues sold out, I stuck in there knowing it was a competent company and they knew how to run a business, then pretty soon they got back past 125p, climbed up some more and at some point earlier in 2014 got to 350p. I would have felt smart – or at least brave – if it weren’t for the fact that if I was the real McCoy, I’d have bought more at 25p…so that’s something to learn from…or not. If you believe in the company, buy while it’s cheap.

So when it fell back to under 300p, my newfound investment wisdom kicked in and I thought I’d sell a proportion to lock in at least some of the profit, not loads but good holiday money (although I should point out, we are frugal holidayers).

Here’s the story. I sold online through this company called Computershare, who as far as I can tell ‘own’ the dealing of the shares I bought. Soon I got a screen confirming the sale. But apparently not. A week later I got a letter saying I had to send certain documents, otherwise the deal would be cancelled. Not actually cancelled – instead, they would re-buy the shares at the new market rate, even if it was more expensive.

I was travelling and so didn’t get the letter until too late. So they rebought the shares at the market rate. Fortunately, the price had gone down a little, so at least I wasn’t liable for a large gap. But I was pretty annoyed: surely they could have communicated with me in a more timely, 20th century manner. I skyped them (well, I was on skype, they were probably on one of those heavy, black phones from the black and white Sherlock Holmes films). It went something like this (they claim to have recorded it but that’s way too modern, I reckon they used a stenographer…)
Me: You bought shares for me without my agreement. I could have lost serious money.
Them: It’s in the Ts&Cs.
Me: On the sales confirmation page, why didn’t it say something about the fact I hadn’t really sold them until you got the docs, instead of saying ‘sale confirmed’?
Them: I don’t know.
– Surely you have an obligation to make that clear? With all of your competitors it’s done there and then.
– Yes, it should be clear, I’ll look into it.
– And couldn’t you have told me in amore timely manner, so I could have done something about it?
– We sent you a letter.
– But that took two weeks to get to me and I was away. Why didn’t you email me?
– We don’t send emails.
– What??? You are called COMPUETERshare. Surely you have computers and therefore you have email.
– I know, but we can’t send emails to customers.
– What??? You could have phoned me then.
– We don’t phone customers.
– Seriously? OK, I want to complain but I can’t see anywhere on the website where I can email.
– It’s not on there. You be better to send a letter.
– What??? It’s not 1875…!!!

You get the picture. Funny in a desperately sad kind of way.

Still keen to lock in some profit, I sold again when I was back in the UK, at a lower price unfortunately. So I’d lost some profit. I called them, on the telephone, as I think they’d prefer to call it, made sure everything was right & proper and the sale went ahead. And in the absence of any income coming in here in Singapore, it is paying for our accommodation.

Then I get another letter, talking about regulations blah blah, asking me for more docs…otherwise I won’t get the money. But I already have the money. And it has been spent. So I want to get in touch with them from here to see if it’s still necessary. But of course there is no email address on there, no IM, no twitter….nothing that might actually involve a computer and it’s a long way away and there’s seven hours difference.

So tonight I need to find a quill and some parchment and I will pen my response and put it on the next steamer to London. They should get it in Spring.

So what can your average start-up learn from this when it comes to brand names.
First, if it’s a literal name that describes what you do, you have to live up to your name, not just now but FOR EVER. As expectations of computers change, so must you – and back then it was slap-you-around-the-face obvious that computers were going to change. A lot. Your business needs to future proof the name. Or don’t call yourself something you can’t be certain you’ll always live up to.
Second, really think through whether you want a literal or imaginative name. There’s been a movement to the literal this-is-what-we-do names which is largely driven by Google and SEO but also a lack of belief in the emotional nature of brands. But think about the brands’ people love. More often than not, they are named imaginatively and therefore are more emotional. It’s a tough one and you need to weigh up pros and cons.
Third, the more revealing element to this story is that this is a business that isn’t being honest with itself. That goes way beyond naming. With a name like that, you create an expectation. Are you delivering? If not, change and be seen to change. Be brutally honest with yourselves always and you might avoid having a blog post poking fun at you.