A Rose by Any Other Name Would Still Make Me Sneeze

July 18, 2011

10:29 am

Two words: Dress Barn.  Seriously, is that a brand that is suppose to make a woman feel sexy and desirable?  I can just imagine a woman saying to herself, “Hmmm, I’d like to find me some clothing amongst domesticated cattle.”

“Great Moo Moo, Shirley!”

“Thanks, I got it at Dress Barn.”

I don’t claim to be an expert in retail brandin,g and I’ve never been in a Dress Barn, yet I can’t help but think that if I came home with a gift from Dress Barn I’d be sleeping in the dog house.  But if I came home with a gift from Saks 5th Avenue or Nordstrom, 2 retailers whose names engender class and cache, I’d be profusely thanked.

Sometimes I look at a company’s name, one of the main components of their brand, and wonder, “What were they thinking?”  Like today, I saw a dental practice called Appalachian Dental.  Now Appalachian Dental, located in the non-Appalachian suburbs of Washington, DC, purports to be a state-of-the art dental care facility, and I have no reason to doubt that claim.  It’s just that, Appalachia is not noted for its state-of-the-art anything, nor are Appalachians known more for their pearly whites than moonshine.

Heck, if you want state-of-the-art, how about Silicon Valley Dental? After all aren’t those Californians known for their sunny smiles?  Or if you want something state-of-the-art with local flavor, how about Pentagon Dental.  Their tagline: For that killer smile.

How about Analtech? You would think company named Analtech would manufacture rectal thermometers.  But no, they make chromatography plates. Come on, what were they thinking?

Your company name is a key component of your brand. In just a few words it tells a prospective customer what they can expect when doing business with you.  Many companies choose interesting names that have nothing to do with their business model, and yet, through great execution, have co-opted the name to the point where the brand now defines the word.  When you hear Amazon, do you think about the river or the web company?

So here are my Simple Rules of Branding.

  1. Something King – Please don’t take what you do and add the word King to it ala, Smoothie King, Pita King, Falafel King, etc.  It might have worked for Burger King, but I don’t think lightning’s striking twice in the kingdom.  This goes for all kinds of variations on the royalty thing – got that, Pizza Castle?  These kind of names show a lack of creativity or effort.  I’m sorry, but Falafel King says schlock!
  2. Initials – International Business Machines and Kentucky Fried Chicken first built their brands and then morphed to IBM and KFC.  It wasn’t the other way around.  In 1980 there was a company called NBI which stood for Nothing But Initials, a not so subtle poke at competitor IBM.  Initials and acronyms are not memorable, and unless you are a boiler-room stock operation trying to sound kind-of familiar and yet not remembered for your swindles, I recommend you avoid the acronym thing.
  3. Easy To Spell – Do you want to force  your employees to be spelling out some 25 character name every time they’re on the phone with a prospect or vendor?  Do you want to be unfindable  on the web?
  4. Intuitive Pronunciation –   OK, this is a rule with an exception.  For instance, if you live in the Bronx and you want to make an ice cream and you want to charge an arm and a leg for it you might want to call it Häagen Dazs. Or if you wanted to imply European couture, you might name your product line Louis Vuitton or Bvlgari.
  5. URL-able – Is the URL available and is it appropriate?  Check out http://www.therapist.com, an unfortunate website for locating a therapist.
  6. Appropriate – Google and Yahoo are great names for internet companies, but would you trust an accounting or law firm with that name?
  7. Flexible – Don’t allow the name to limit the company mission or focus.  Amazon.com started as a book retailer and has expanded seamlessly into a general retailer and cloud computing company.  If they called themselves National Tire Warehouse and started selling car batteries they would have had to change their name to National Tire and Battery (Like NTW did when they changed to NTB) and they probably wouldn’t have sold as many books.

What is in a name?  A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  A great product, culture, and team create a great brand and can overcome the worst of names.  Yet it takes a considerable amount of time, effort and treasure to create a great brand. Don’t handicap your efforts with a brand that speaks to cows and horses.  They don’t have the cash to shop at Dress Barn.


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Glen Hellman (@glehel), is an angel investor, serial entrepreneur, and works for venture capitalists as a turn-around specialist. He is the Chief Entrepreneureator at Driven Forward LLC, frequently muses on his blog, Forward Thinking, and works with entrepreneurs to help them figure out what to do and get them to do it.

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