The art of naming a company

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Cambridge

The Duke of Cambridge with his son Prince George on his first day of school (Image: @KensingtonRoyal)

We’re a little clucky at the c word with the recent joyous news from Kensington Palace that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting a third child. And with the punters racing to choose a name for the future prince or princess, it has got us thinking about the challenges and opportunities involved in naming a new enterprise … such as a child or a company.

It’s a question that I’m often asked – how did you come up with your company name? the c word? I wish I could say it happened over night, but in fact it took months and months of contemplating ideas … some downright dreadful … until one morning I was walking back from a Friday office coffee run … staring at the C= coffee in my hands and thinking about how it fuels so many communicators … and it struck me… C= communicatin, coffee, champagne … I have to call my company the c word!

Most outside the professional world of communications might consider naming a company a somewhat arbitrary task. But those of us with an appreciation of branding know that the name of your business not only needs to encapsulate the essence of your corporate entity, but convey this information in a clear and catchy way that people will remember. A name should express the entire image you want your business to have. It also has the power to influence the behaviour of your customers and clients. Just think of how the word Nike, as a synonym of victory, has played into that company’s astonishing success.

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

Generally there are three approaches to naming your company. You can choose a name that has nothing to do with the services or products you actually provide (think McDonalds, or Apple).  Or you could choose something that directly conveys this, a la ‘Toys R Us’. The third option is to make up an entirely new word that you’re hoping will come to mean what you want it to mean, such as Skype or Google.

So how can you be confident that you’re picking the right name? The first and primary thing to keep in mind is the people and groups you want to reach out to. For example, something trendy and edgy won’t suit a business wanting to appeal to a conservative corporate crowd. On the other hand, being too bland won’t help you stand out from the crowd.

Cognitive fluency

An essential concept to wrap your head around before you undertake the task of naming a new business is the idea of cognitive fluency.  Essentially this is a term used to indicate the ease with which information is processed by the brain. It is a measure of how easy it is to think about something and the difference between simplicity and complexity.

circle

Image above: Which is easier to understand? A description of a circle, or a picture of a circle?

Without wading too far into the neuroscientific weeds, the main point to take away from this idea is that cognitive fluency affects decision-making. For example, psychologists have found that companies with easier to pronounce names have significantly more investors than those with harder to pronounce names.

The other aspect to remember is that one person’s attribution of cognitive fluency can be totally different from another’s attribution. In a nutshell, past experience and current context play heavily into how people will interpret your business name. So it’s best to stay away from controversial terms, and again to think about your desired client/customer group.

So with all that in mind there are some general tips to follow:

  • DON’T use initials (especially strings of initials).
  • DON’T use words that are foreign to your target audience.
  • DON’T use words that can be pronounced in several different ways, or that are difficult to pronounce.

If you are going with an entirely new word (think of the skype example from above), it’s important to remember a few things. You can use word segments that imply something that you wish to convey. For example, you can combine ‘Rapid’ or ‘Express’ with other words to imply speed. Or combine two words that describe what it is your business does (e.g. Kwikcopy, or Travelodge). You can also attempt to create an image that will influence how customers see your business.

Finally…

Before you make this important decision it is essential to ensure your proposed name goes through some standard user testing. Focus groups, user-surveys and graphical interface testing are all useful exercises. Not only will these allow you to pick a name that clients will react positively to, but it will also help you to avoid embarrassing or unintentional meanings.

Cheers, Jack and the c word crew

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