The world’s most under-used marketing asset

9th August 2017
Åsa Magnusson

Established companies often talk about marketing in very tactical terms. It’s the things we do, and the communications we have. It’s the branding and the visuals and the campaigns. While startups are becoming more aware of the importance of a strategic marketing vision from the very birth of their company, there is one tool in the marketing toolbox that not only gets forgotten – it often gets completely overlooked when it comes to marketing strategy.

And weirdly, it’s one of the first things we write in stone when we start a business: The company name.

One of the most common issues with company names I hear these days is: “All the good names are already taken”. This is of course complete rubbish – and I will explain why.

The traditional approach

Some of the most successful company names in history were chosen with a very specific purpose. Often these iconic names are rooted in…

Names of individuals involved in starting the business:

  • Toyota (based on a simplified version of the family name “Toyoda”)
  • Adidas (from founder Adi Dassler)
  • Walmart (from founder Sam Walton)

Names of locations where the business was founded:

  • Halifax (founded in Halifax)
  • Cisco (founded in San Francisco)
  • IKEA (based on founder Ingvar Kamprad’s initials and his origin, Elmtaryd, Agunnaryd, Sweden)

The actual service or product offered:

  • General Electric (formed as a merger of Edison General Electric Company and Thomson-Houston Electric Company)
  • Microsoft (a combination of the words microcomputer and software)
  • Staples (selling basic office supplies, a.k.a. “staples” – including actual staples)

The non-traditional approach

There are of course many examples of businesses going beyond these traditional routes, choosing names that are more creative and conjuring up various images and subtexts. It can be done very subtly, as with Nike, taking its name from the Greek goddess of victory; a particular connotation only obvious to people who know a few things about ancient mythology.

Other businesses have chosen to make a brand statement out of wanting to be different from the crowd. Apple Computer, for example, got its name from Steve Jobs being inspired by spending time in an apple orchard. It was designed to stand in stark contrast to its industry competitors at the time, and survived as a powerful brand despite being sued over trademark violations by Apple Records in 1989.

Focus on the connection

Once we start researching potential business names online, it’s easy to feel as if the pool of great company names has been filled a long time ago. It can make us feel despondent, and perhaps even a bit desperate. This is when we start coming up with names that make little or no sense at all.

Sometimes, the “fun factor” works – especially for consumer-focused businesses such as Schpock, Boomf and Hulu. But you may want to consider the fact that you will want to live with this company name for a long time. Avoid a trendy name that may have you fighting an uphill battle to be taken seriously.

Now – let me make one thing clear. It is true that it’s becoming more difficult to choose a company name that stands out and is memorable. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that it’s not necessary.

These are the qualities that the company itself should have. You should ensure that the business stands out from its competition and is memorable for its quality, service levels, price – or whatever the key selling point is. If the company is performing excellently, the name will be associated with that excellence and will be recognised for it. All the name needs to do is to be somehow anchored in the heart of the business. If it does not, you’re looking at a huge, missed opportunity.

The further away a company name is from a genuine, logical connection to the founder/s, the business activity or the vision, the less it can be relied upon as a marketing asset.

So – while you work hard on making the business successful, make sure that you have a company name that works just as hard to enforce your marketing efforts!