Strategic branding

The Personal Side of Naming, Part 1

Sam Frentzel-Beyme Follow Managing Partner & Strategy Director

The Short of It

  • Entrepreneurs is that new businesses should resist the temptation to make the name too personal.
  • A name for a product or service should first of all should be to help potential customers understand what you do.
  • Ideally names should help convey the benefits of the product.

Working with names and taglines is something we do relatively often with our clients. But a recent lecture by Ken Bloemer at the Independent Inventor’s Conference at the United States Patent Office got me thinking.

His perspective from working with entrepreneurs is that new businesses should resist the temptation to make the name too personal. He specifically mentioned things like naming companies or products after children, which he had seen quite a bit of. I suppose a lot of people are inspired by their kids and want to make them a part of the experience. I get it.

One day you watch your child trip over his shoelaces. The next day you think, “Wow, if I just put a Velcro strap on the front of shoe I could tuck all the laces in. And it would be so safe!” The following day you have sketches for your first new product – “The Bobby Lacer”.

His point here was not to go into the specifics of why some kids names may or may not be suitable, but that a name for a product or service should first of all should be to help potential customers understand what you do. And that means ideally conveying the benefits of the product. He had a good point and gave a few examples.

  • BestBuy

  • Weathershield Windows & Doors

  • Simply Orange

  • Naked Juice

  • RedBull

  • PlumSmart (“…that works jut like prune juice.”)

  • V8Fusion

In hearing these examples, however, I wondered if there was not something else at work here as well. I mean there are number of companies that are based on names that have done okay: Ford, HP, Dell, Dyson and many others. So with just some quick research from either Wikipedia or the related corporate site, here's what I found.

BestBuy

Starts off as Sound of Music in 1966 before changing the name to Best Buy in 1983.

Weathershield Windows & Doors

Started with $300 in 1953 by Edward Schield and brother David. Simply Orange Started in 2001. Oh, yeah. It’s owned by the Minute Maid Division of Coca-Cola. Minute Maid was started in 1945.

Naked Juice

Started in 1983 by Jimmy Rosenberg and David Bleeden. Acquired by PepsiCo in late 2006 and managed as part of Tropicana. Tropicana was born out of Fruit Industries started by Anthony T. Rossi in 1947.

Red Bull

Started in 1987 by Dietrich Mateschitz and Chaleo Yoovidhya with $1 million based on a Thai drink called Krating Daeng. Previous to co-founding Red Bull Mateschitz did stints at Unilever and Blendax, a German cosmetics company since bought by Procter & Gamble.

PlumSmart

Part of Sunsweet which was originally founded in 1917 as the California Prune and Apricot Growers Association.

V8 V-Fusion

Part of the V8 brand introduced in 1933. Originally named “Vege-min 8”, but changed upon recommendation by a local grocer, the V8 brand was acquired by the Campbell Soup Company in 1948.

So, what does this all mean? For me the main take away was that while it is important to have the right name (Would Red Bull having been as successful if it were marketed as Krating Daeng or as Mateschitz?), it’s just as important to move past the name and focus on providing real value consistently. A key goal is to literally make history. If your company is able to make it based on what you do, you will always have an opportunity to come back to what you are called.

Paul Rand even addressed the issue, though he was talking specifically about logos when he said, “The company represents the logo. If you’re a lousy company, your logo is useless, no matter how well designed. If your logo is good, and you’re a good company, you have an ideal situation. If the company is bad, it’s a bad logo.” I think the same logic applies to naming. Do well and you’ll be called accordingly.

Lastly, going through this exercise made me think of my own process in coming up with our firm’s name – Diligent Rocket. For me, while I wanted a unique name and something that I could own in terms of intellectual property, I also wanted the name to be a daily call to arms. Something personal. Something that I could personally come back to and use as a fundamental cornerstone of how we approach our business. I’ll cover how making names personal can sometimes be advantageous in another post.

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