By Nancy Drexler
Deciding on a company name is one of the most important - and lasting - business decisions you will ever make. What do you want people to think upon hearing your company's name? What associations do you want them to draw from it? You need to pack all the meaning you can into a one- to three-word moniker.
Your name should make both a good first impression and a memorable lasting impression. For starters, people should be able to easily figure out how to say and spell the name. Without ever seeing the name in writing, potential customers should get a picture of your company's name in their heads that is easy to recall.
That way, even if they only heard your company name when they called your office and spoke with a receptionist or when they shook your hand during an introduction, potential customers should be able to go right to a computer and find your company from an Internet search.
Take Mr. Goeble. He felt he earned the right to give his company his surname. So he named his business Goeble Payments Inc. Unfortunately, Goeble isn't spelled phonetically and has a slew of possible permutations: Goble, Geoble, Gobal, Gobel and so forth. And would Goeble ever be an industry byword? No, it's a name, once heard, that can easily be forgotten.
If not forgotten, Goebel Payments Inc. can easily be confused with Global Payments Inc. Let's say a clerk at a retailer took a call from a Goebel Payments rep. Upon reading the message, the business owner might think the clerk had a dyslexic moment when taking the message and figure the intended name was really Global.
Your name should also be easy to pronounce. How about Sakovich SwiftPay? Again, it begins with a surname. But which syllable is accented? Those knowing the name only from a business card can only guess. They might roll over the name quickly, mumble a little or simply refer to "your company." For a marketer, that is a problem.
Good company names should be short, easy to say and memorable. They should roll off the tongue without embarrassment. A unique name is a plus, but if potential clients have no idea how to spell it, they won't have any idea how to search for it. So they won't.
All company names have meaning; good names have the right meaning. Words are symbols. They have both literal meanings and emotional connotations. Words evoke images or feelings in those who hear them or see them.
The best names foster positive feelings about who you are and what you do. In an industry like ours, a good name will convey strength, permanence, financial stability and reliability.
All company names should be professional, business-like, inoffensive and positive. Whenever possible, they should convey a sense of what you do and the way in which you do it. Just as important, they should be readily distinguishable from your competitors' names.
Yes, you can use your own name in your company name, and that will make it different from everyone else's. But will it give your audience the clearest, most memorable sense of who you are? What happens when a name is shortened to BPS, MPS, NPS or CPS?
To make your name as strong as possible, it always helps to add a visual element. People will see something in their mind's eye whenever they hear your name, and your visuals can help them to see what you want them to see.
Visuals also help them to remember you, as most people remember graphics and pictures better than words.
Many in our industry use visuals of credit cards, terminals or money to help identify the industry quickly. Colors, too, communicate. That's why you see a lot of green and blue in our marketing. Green makes people think of money and is also associated with growth and renewal. Blue is calming and stable. Blue lettering is also one of the easiest colors to read.
To begin your company name selection, sit down with a pad and pen, a dictionary of synonyms and a computer. Then get creative.
On the left side of a page, write down any and all words that can be associated with your business. Consider associations with each of your products and each of their features; try to capture the benefits and differentiators associated with them.
Think about emotional associations, too. Then imagine each of the associations as animals, colors, heroes, cities and towns. Look at photos of these and write down words that describe them.
And remember your audience. What problems do they have that you can solve? What words or phrases might appeal to them? Write down everything that comes to mind.
Then use your computer or dictionary to find every possible synonym for every word on your list. Then find every synonym for your synonyms, and write those down. At this point, you'll be halfway there.
Now, on the right side of the page, write down prefixes or suffixes that can add meaning to a word. For instance, pay, pro, gen or even ite.
Then look at your word list and start breaking the words apart. If you've written "velocity" on the left side of the page, you may want to add "vel" and "city" to the right side.
When your list is long enough, start adding one item from the left-hand column to one from the right-hand column. And just keep going. Some combinations will click with you. Put those favorites on a new list.
When you've got a few favorites, pick one and practice answering the phone with the name or introducing yourself using that company name. Can you say the name with pride?
Is it easy to understand? Will people be able to search for the name on the Internet or a telephone directory and find you?
Remember, too, that you may want to brand your products and services with your company name. At SignaPay Ltd., for instance, we call our cash advances SignaCash. And when we launched a Spanish division, we named that SeÃ±orPay.
Your name will have to work as an Internet domain name as well, and it's hard to find a domain name that is not already reserved or in use. If you can't get the name with a .com extension, then you don't want it. If you settle for .net when the .com version of the name is taken, you'll end up giving prospects to your competition.
For that reason, you should also try to own as many of the iterations of your name as you can, from the .net and .biz extensions to names that sound like yours but are spelled differently.
Unfortunately, when I joined SignaPay it was too late for me to grab Cigna.com. To avoid finding yourself in my shoes, register your domain name and trademark your name and logo as quickly as you can.
Stuck with a bad name? Make good use of it. Repeat it often in marketing materials. Add visual associations or words with similar pronunciations. Make fun of the way it is spelled. Play with it.
For example, in our SignaPay materials, we talk about our "signaficantly" better products and services. Make sure to take time when choosing the name for your company and its products. It's a lasting decision; branding begins on day one.
Nancy Drexler is the Vice President, Marketing for SignaPay Ltd., an ISO headquartered in Dallas. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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