Monster Amazon Crocs: Why Creative Brands Work Better
The most common business naming trap is this: come up with a new business name that is accurate and descriptive, but completely forgettable. And it’s easy to see how it happens. Unlike the real life app, naming is usually done in a vacuum, with no context, no logo, website, or copy of the accompanying brochure. A group of key decision makers sit in a boardroom and throw names into the air. And with no supporting cast, no background, no props, good names often seem disconnected and even ridiculous. It is at this stage that the mind wants to make sense of the names and without context, without supporting elements, by default, it releases associations from the past. This is what kills many great brands.
Imagine a committee looking for a brand for a new computer company. Someone suggests the word “apple”.
“Apple?” the group reacts in shock and bewilderment.
“That makes me think of my mother saying ‘One bad apple spoils the whole group,'” protests a committee member.
“Sounds like something fruity to me,” says another. “We cannot be perceived as a fruitful company!”
“And what about the worms that get into the apples,” agrees a third member. “And the way they rot, and how the juice gets sticky, and how…”
“Everything’s fine!” the suggested apologizes, curling up in an almost fetal position, swearing that she will never venture another idea.
And so, the group comes to an absolute agreement that the name must convey what the company does. So the following set of suggestions seems to hit the mark…
united computer manufacturers
“General Information Systems”
“Quality Computer Corporation”
“Top Computer Builders”
“Global Computer Around the World”
The closer the committee gets to describing the “what” of the company, the more it becomes homogeneous and blends in with the rest of its industry. They sound more like a trade description than a brand, and in doing so they obscure the very identity they are trying to create. They don’t realize that the new company name will exist in an environment that helps define it, so that the name has the freedom to evoke feelings and emotions. An apple is fresh, accessible, healthy and invigorating. And so a company can borrow the inherent attributes of a completely unrelated item to convey the way it approaches its business.
So if creative business names are so much more memorable and effective than descriptive names, why do so many companies make this basic mistake? In large part this is because we were conditioned from childhood to conform, be like others, and follow the leader. As much as we don’t like to admit it, most of us would rather follow an established path than blaze a new one. One of the first questions I ask potential clients is whether they want their new business name to blend in or stand out. Most say flat out that they want to stand out, but when big names are put forward, it raises a red flag.
“I’m not sure,” they might say. “These names are unique, but they are very different from anything in our industry.”
And so it goes on. The names keep getting mixed up until someone names a Virgin airline instead of Southwest. Or a Monster online job site instead of CareerBuilder. Or a huge Amazon online store instead of Books-a-Million.
Descriptive names not only have less impact, but are more difficult to visualize. I can imagine a Monster, but I have trouble imagining a Career Builder. When it comes to beach shoes, I can envision a pair of Crocs, but not a pair of Keens. These vivid mental images provide another way to anchor the brand name in the mind of the customer for easier recall.
Creative names are also less restrictive. If you have a purely descriptive name, what happens if your company’s main products or services change? How much additional advertising does the Burlington Coat Factory need to convince customers that they sell more than just coats?
Are highly memorable names the only way to go? No. Some small businesses don’t have the luxury of a marketing budget and resort to literal names out of short-term necessity. And there are other viable naming strategies that work well. But for those looking to build a brand that sets them apart and reserves more space in the customer’s mind, then an evocative and memorable name is the way to go. Seth Godin makes a compelling case for memorable company names in his New York Times bestseller, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable.
So whether you name the company after a river, a fruit, a dessert, a reptile, or even an oddly colored bovine, chances are you’ll, at the very least, make a name for yourself. And once potential customers notice and remember your business, the rest is up to you. If you do your job right, you will have a company that will not only be memorable, but unforgettable.