In a recent article, Eight Critical Brand Health Questions You Should Be Asking, I shared the questions that you should be asking to determine if your B2B brand is helping or hurting your company. Branding incorporates a number of elements (e.g. name, message, promise, graphic elements, etc.) but I will focus this message specifically on company names with a later post to discuss product and services naming.
Here are some clues that your current name is not serving you well:
- It is stale – not relevant to the current marketplace. This is why Apple Computer changed its name to Apple, Inc. in 2007 and why IBM no longer refers to itself as International Business Machines (only a tiny fraction of its revenues currently come from hardware).
- It is confusing. Prospects can’t figure out what you do and customers quickly forget your name.
- Prospects are not finding you. You are either invisible online or lost in a sea of competitors, especially online.
- It is bland. Strong company names help create an emotional connection with customers and weak names are either neutral or negative.
What if circumstances have changed and your name no longer serves your company –should you stay with it or change? Here are what some companies that faced this dilemma have done.
The Association for Information and Image Management or AIIM (pronounced aim) is a non-profit membership organization that faced this question. AIIM provides education, market research, and certification for information professionals. AIIM started in 1943 as the National Microfilm Association and it became “AIIM” in 1982 because it was no longer focused on just microfilm – and today, who deals with microfilm anyway?
One of the least known but highly successful company name changes occurred in 1997 when the founders of a search engine company called BackRub, changed their name to Google. According to search marketing consultant David Mihm, “Google’s ability to turn its title into a verb — as in, “Google it” — helped the company succeed tremendously.”
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The Google example, and many others, illustrate that a strong company name has financial value, both in terms of facilitating sales and increased stock price. It’s impossible to know exactly, but Google’s market cap would be much smaller if the company was still called Backrub. As David Reibstein, professor of Marketing at the Wharton School of Business, stated, “A valuable brand delivers return for the company on two dimensions. Either it allows the company to charge a premium price, or it adds more volume or market share.”
To bring in my personal experience, I was a partner in a software company that changed its name twice, at the insistence of the venture capital investors. We were a startup with a very low market cap, and yet, lots of our precious cash was used on two expensive B2B branding initiatives. I am not saying the original name was great but the two subsequent names were no better. Lesson learned: If you are going to go through the time, expense and aggravation of renaming your company, do it correctly, and once, or not at all.
Six Rules for Company Naming/Renaming
If you are either naming a new company or creating a new B2B brand for an existing company, here are some guidelines to help you get it right.
- Don’t take the naming job lightly. As with the Backrub-to-Google example and my own multiple naming example – assume you are branding for the long-term and do this only once.
- Unless you have lots of venture capital to spend, name your company something that prospects can pronounce and understand. Save the cutesy names (e.g. Greek gods, pets, combining names, etc.) for the other guys.
- Use a name that is easy to find via search engines. You don’t want to get lost in a sea of search results that lists companies or products with similar names.
- Make sure the exact domain name is available. If you are the ABC company, you want to register ABC.com, not some derivative like ABC-Co.com or ABC.net.
- Verify that you will have no trademark issues. Please do this early in the process.
- Try to leave your ego at the door. Sure, you want to name the company after your children, your cat, or your favorite vacation spot. However, your prospects don’t care one bit about these things. Name the company to help them understand what you are selling or at least give them the right kind of emotional “charge” and reap the financial benefits.
A cautionary tale to illustrate rule 6: We had a smart group of people working on re-branding a major online B2B platform. The group settled on three names that met all five criteria mentioned above, when a relative of the CEO came up with an off-the-wall idea that violated three of the five principles. In order to not offend the CEO or the relative (who also worked for the company), the rest of the participants went along with the idea. Just like that, the company went from having an okay (but workable) name, to a truly mediocre name. Don’t let this happen to your company.
As for our name, Fusion Marketing Partners, we liked it when we started the company almost nine years ago and we like it today. We chose the name because we were a group (partners) that performed B2B services (Marketing) in a way that combines different elements to create lots of energy (Fusion)! Our B2B brand was created for the long-term. Hope the same is true for your company.