Thursday, April 10, 2014

What's In A Name? The Do's & Don'ts of Brand Naming.

A relative of mine recently announced the launch of a new clothing company.  While I was happy for her I have to admit I felt a sense of distress when I read the company name.  She had chosen a name that is already affiliated with…not one, not two, not even five, but TEN clothing and accessory companies. 

A few years back a friend decided to take a crack at becoming a professional photographer.  She spent precious time, money and energy on marketing-including building a website.  When I went online to have a look, I noticed there was another professional photographer with an almost identical name (you could easily get the two mixed up) who had an established career in our immediate area.  Her online presence was head and shoulders above my friend’s, and as far as potential customers were concerned, she had already staked her claim on the name.  I contacted my friend to let her know about the conflict and was shocked to learn she KNEW about the situation before she ever started marketing.
When it comes to creating a successful brand-one that signifies consistency in message and mission-your business name is the cornerstone.  Yet, many entrepreneurs and artrepreneurs put little or no thought into what to call their enterprise.  If you understand your company name creates a first impression on all potential customers and collaborators, why be blasé about it? 
The best way to begin your business journey is to put your best foot forward.  This takes proper planning: hours of organization and thinking through your specifics.  So don’t shoot yourself in the foot before taking that first step! Let’s cover some basics about finding the perfect name for your business.
Pick Something You Can Commit to:
Naming your business is like naming a baby.  Ideally you want to choose something you can commit to for the life of your brand. I often have to do damage control for my coaching clients (I work on an individual basis with artrepreneurs) when they’ve gotten too carried away with the Name Game.  I once had a client who registered five different names for his business and was using them interchangeably.  The biggest problem with this is that a brand needs to be constant and consistent in order to make an impact.  Using multiple names undermines any progress you can make on impressing an audience.

Your brand is your baby.  It should be something you’ve poured your heart, soul, mind and hands into creating.  Treat naming your brand with the care and consideration it deserves.
Can You Explain It in One Sentence?
To foster brand loyalty you have to share the purpose and passion behind your brand.  If someone asks, can you explain the why behind your brand name in one sentence or less?  Remember, you only have a moment-whether online or in person-to introduce someone to your brand.  Maintaining a captivated audience depends on the success of those initial few seconds.
I began signing my artwork “a2n2” in the eighties. This was years before I understood the vitality of branding.  But this tag has become the cornerstone of my enterprise.  When people ask why my company is called a2n2 I can tell them it is because my name has two a’s and two n’s: Anna.  But beyond that, a2n2 represents the personality, humor and contemporary design behind my brand.  Even if people choose not to become customers, at the very least my company name gives them a smile, i.e. a positive affiliation with my brand.
I am going to give you another example.  During a workshop I was teaching I had a student tell me he decided he was going to use the word “monkeys” in his brand name.  I asked him why.  He then went into a long explanation about how the word monkeys came from a joke phrase used in his previous work life. The students and I politely suggested he think of another brand name.  After all, his artwork had no affiliation with his prior career, and we told him “monkeys” tends to suggest something edgy (for example, the indie film “12 Monkeys”) whereas his watercolor landscapes had absolutely no edge. The fact he had to spend so much time explaining the concept behind the name didn’t do him any favors either.
Don’t underestimate the cost of a misleading or complicated brand name.  As preparation of this article I did some research and found by and large that companies with poor names did not have the commercial success of those with good ones.  In an effort to protect the businesses I have altered details a bit while providing key information.  For example, there is a spa that uses the word “trap”.  I don’t know about you, but I think only of negative connotations when I hear “trap”: enclosure, prison, danger, peril, etc.  A trap would be something to avoid and could not possibly provide the relaxing, pampering atmosphere of a spa.
Another example.  There used to be a hair salon called “The Private World of…” The end of the name was a person’s first and last name, presumably the owner of the salon.  “Private World”, especially a specific someone’s private world, comes across as just that-a place no one else is invited into, and frankly, it sounds a bit kinky, so why would I want to enter it anyway?   Is it any surprise the salon went out of business?
Here are some other examples:
A business that uses a combination of a color and a natural disaster as their brand name.  What do they sell?  Beauty products.
A business that uses the word “decadence” in their brand name while their inventory is made up of cheap “antiques”.
A business that uses “artistic form” in their brand name but sells low-end vintage clothing.
A business that uses “gallery” and “art” in their name but they sell beaded jewelry.
A business that uses the words “go”, “forward” and “create” in their name.  They sell- I’m not kidding when I tell you this-pet supplies.
People should readily identify the why behind your brand name when they read it.  If they can’t, you should be able to simply explain the why to them when speaking about your brand via marketing or in person. 
Get Specific
Don’t use words that are already overused unless you feel they really do describe your brand.  “Design”, "Gallery" and "Art" have been beaten to death by many whose services and/or product have nothing to do with any of those words.  Don’t be vague either.  I just found a company that makes quilts.  Their brand name included the words “universal” and “idea”.  Frankly, that name is just way too, well, universal and it has nothing to do with quilts.

So what works? Here are a few examples.
Washed Up Creations for a jeweler who uses beach glass in her creations.
Yes Spaces for a design team who reinvigorates home and office spaces.  Let’s linger on this one for a moment.  I really want you to focus on how great this company name is.  It’s clear, clever, and right to the point while giving you a positive, excited and intrigued impression.
I’ve used this one in blog posts before because Dana is a super example of an artrepreneur who really has it together.  When I say the name Patterned Peacock what do you think of?  I think of fun, colorful, design, pattern, fancy…the list could go on and on.  And frankly that is precisely what the Patterned Peacock does!
From my own experience, I know a2n2 works for me because it is one of the top phrases people use in search engines when looking for my artwork and my company online.  Which brings us to…
Use the Google
Before selecting any name, including your own first and last name, google it!  You’d be surprised how many dismayed artists have come to me after finding someone with either the same or an identical first and last name, especially if the artist considered his/her name to be rather unique.  The good news is, if you google the brand names you are considering and find them already taken, you have saved yourself countless hours and dollars building up a brand that would never have made an impact in the first place.
I can’t stress this enough: do your research.  I once knew a salon owner who opened his business  with a name he used all over the space, his marketing materials, advertising, products, press releases…you name it.  He spent a fortune getting the brand up and running.  However he had forgotten to check and see if the brand name he was using was actually available.  As a result, L’Oreal-who had already trademarked the name-issued a cease and desist.  The salon owner had to undo everything he had done to build his brand at his own expense and start from scratch.
You have to find the perfect balance between becoming overwhelmed with the task of naming your brand (naming the baby) and being too casual about it.  Remember your brand name creates your first impression.  It is the cornerstone of your enterprise.  Give naming the consideration it is due.