Choosing the right name

A successful businessperson once said that when it came to company names, he felt the name should say what the company does. His company is called “Conservation Partners,” and they’re just that: partners for people who want to conserve their farmland. Another company had a similar name: “Partners in Financial Planning.” A TV commercial now running for Vistaprint features a small business owner whose company is “Gardening by Tess.” Our company features a similarly concise, descriptive name: “Trade Press Services.”

3mThere may be advantages when large companies take on abstract, seemingly meaningless names. It certainly hasn’t hurt Google or Amazon. However, these are companies that exist solely online, and also companies that caught lightning in a bottle with innovative new ideas that left the rest of us scratching our heads and wondering why we didn’t think of them fist. For medium to small-sized businesses, I think the straightforward approach is best. (In fact, the straightforward approach was successful for years with the largest companies in the world: American Telephone and Telegraph (now AT&T), General Electric (now GE), General Motors (GM), International Business Machines (IBM) and Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M), to name just a few.)

A classic case of poor naming is the “Extruded Plastic Dingus” from “The Hudsucker Proxy” starring Tim Robbins. When Robbins introduces his wonder invention to the board of Hudsucker Industries, he’s met with a barrage of questions from confused directors:

Board Member 1: What if you tire before it’s done?

Board Member 2: Does it have rules?

Board Member 3: Can more than one play? 

Board Member 4: What makes you think it’s a game?

Board Member 3: Is it a game? 

Board Member 5: Will it break?

Board Member 6: It better break eventually! 

Board Member 2: Is there an object?

Board Member 1: What if you tire before it’s done? 

Board Member 5: Does it come with batteries?

Board Member 4: We could charge extra for them. 

Board Member 7: Is it safe for toddlers?

Board Member 3: How can you tell when you’re finished? 

Board Member 2: How do you make it stop?

Board Member 6: Is that a boy’s model? 

Board Member 3: Can a parent assemble it?

maxresdefaultBoard Member 5: Is there a larger model for the obese? 

Board Member 1: What if you tire before it’s done?

Board Member 8: What the heck is it?

Flash ahead to the marketing department, where two execs are arguing back and forth over a name: “The Hoopsucker! The Hudswinger! The Hoopsucker! The Hudswinger!” And then one of them has a divine inspiration: the Hula Hoop!

Good names, good slogans and good writing are a combination of descriptiveness, clarity and brevity. This combination can be excruciatingly difficult to achieve. I’d be less than honest if I said our new corporate slogan, “The right message. The right medium. Guaranteed.” emerged in just a few minutes. The takeaway: take the time to craft a name that succinctly says what you’re all about.

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