As I mentioned in a recent post, I am often frustrated by how little effort B2B electronics startups put into choosing a brand name, either for the enterprise or for their products and services. As a result, many names are obscure, hard to pronounce, difficult to spell, and even harder to remember. Some are the result of a desperate effort to find a .com domain that has not yet been allocated. Others have some emotional resonance for company founders.
The worst brand names are three-letter acronyms. These are lazy and meaningless. I know IBM is a success, but the acronym was not adopted until the company was widely known and respected as ‘International Business Machines’.
I have five observations about brand names that I share with clients when we’re trying to find a new one:
- A good brand name is not a prerequisite for business success. If it was, Huawei (which roughly translates as “Chinese success”) wouldn’t be a $100 billion business today. What’s more, most of the world’s largest semiconductor brands have succeeded without the benefit of a compelling, meaningful name. That said, Intel is an abbreviation of ‘integrated electronics’, so has some merit, and TSMC is probably a necessary abbreviation for a long-winded but meaningful name. The story of Nvidia’s naming is bizarre. The NV stands for ‘new version’, the original file-naming protocol used by the founders, and the brand name is an adaptation of ‘invidia’, the Latin for envy. Why any company would want to associate itself with that emotion is a bit of a mystery, although it’s clear that many now envy the corporation’s success. Also, it’s not enough that brand names can be post-rationalized to mean something related to the enterprise or product in question. If they have to be explained to their intended audience, there’s room for improvement.
- An important benefit of a good brand name is that it reduces the cost of marketing communications, forever, because it moves potential customers up the awareness-understanding ladder toward doing business with you.
- The best brand names communicate both what you sell and the benefit you deliver. If the product or service is relevant to you, it’s then easy to remember – which is an important goal of marketing campaigns. Easyjet is one of my favourite consumer brand names. It could be the name of a high-pressure car washer, but once you know it’s an airline, it’s a really sticky name with a built-in promise.
- Good brand names communicate either what you sell or the benefit that it delivers. Analog Devices is better than Texas Instruments but, as I said earlier, the name is not everything. Analog Devices is still playing catch-up with its Texan rival, at least in terms of revenue. A recent favourite of mine is ‘Quantum Dice’. It’s a photonics company spun out of Oxford University (England) that harnesses probabilistic quantum effects to produce random numbers. Random numbers underpin all kinds of electronic encryption. For the company’s intended audience, the brand name is smart, meaningful, and easy to remember.
- You can still succeed with a simple but meaningless brand name and throw money at it until it sticks. Apple is one example. According to Steve Jobs’ biographer, the name was chosen simply because Jobs liked the fruit.
- A Google search. If the name doesn’t come up in a context that could be confused with your proposed usage, that’s a good starting point.
- Search for the .com domain on any of the big domain registrar sites. If it’s taken, you may still be able to buy it at a premium and the registrars’ sites usually lead you through the process for that option. If the .com is available, that’s a good sign.
- Check out the US Trademark Database to see if anyone else owns your proposed name as a trademark. This is quick, easy, and free.
- If you want to be more confident that your brand name won’t be challenged in the future, consult a legal specialist in trademarks.
When you’re satisfied that you have a unique brand name, you can register it directly or use specialists to do it for you if you don’t have the time. The latter option is quicker but more expensive and it pays to agree on the costs upfront because registering a brand globally can run into tens of thousands of dollars.
The brand name is only one element of a brand
Brand names are small but important constituents of corporate or product brands. A brand was defined by advertising guru, David Ogilvy, as the “intangible sum of a product’s attributes” and I think that definition works well for corporate brands too. The important thing to remember is that a brand is about perception. The brand name is just one element of your efforts to create the desired perception in the minds of those people you wish to influence. The visual presentation of your brand is another. But neither your name nor your logo is of value unless your company and products or services live up to the brand promise.
Ultimately, your brand is your only sustainable competitive advantage in most technology markets – everything else is transitory. As the legendary investor, Warren Buffet is quoted as saying: “If you lose money for the firm I will be understanding. If you lose reputation, I will be ruthless.” Your brand is your reputation.