When Coca-Cola first began distributing its soda product in China, the company’s marketing staff poured over hundreds of Chinese characters that, although pronounced similarly to the English version of Coca-Cola, made entirely no sense. The company finally settled on ‘kokou kole,’ which means “happiness in the mouth.”
“Naming is a private as well as a practical issue,” says Terri Lonier, president of Working Solo Inc., a business advisory to new entrepreneurs. “It’s a private issue because people starting companies feel so emotionally attached to their business, and yet it is a practical issue because it has to serve the company and the company image very well.”
“Small businesses may not have dollars to execute what larger companies do,” says Lonier. “But they certainly can learn a lot by paying close attention to what larger companies have done successfully and not so successfully.” The East Coast telephone company Verizon evolved from Nynex and Bell Atlantic. In the beginning no one knew how to pronounce Verizon. To keep customers up to date on the new name, a lot of money was spent on stationery, trucks, uniforms, and advertising. “It’s mind-boggling to think about how that money could have been better spent,” says Lonier. Small businesses can avoid unnecessary expenses when they focus on finding a name that doesn’t need extensive advertising to communicate the company’s function.
The name should tell it all. Invented names, like Google and Yahoo, are in vogue. But while such names are intriguing, small businesses should avoid them because they do not immediately communicate what the business does. Also, without the big marketing dollars to buy name recognition, consumers can end up confused. “I go to a lot of expos and see names on the banner like ‘zoonk’ and ‘floogaloo.’ You have to stop and ask questions to find out what they are,” says Ramon Ray, owner of smallbiztechnology.com, a Website that offers information on how small businesses can use technology to grow (www.smallbiztechnology.com). “I can go up to the top of Times Square and yell out smallbiztechnology.com and anybody with common sense will have some inkling of what I am doing.”
Keep it simple. Avoid anything that’s confusing or hard to translate into words. “If your family name is complicated, don’t use it [as a company name],” advises Lonier, who also recommends a name that customers can easily recall when searching on the Web or in yellow pages. Lonier suggests creating several names to try out on friends and colleagues. “You may think one name is absolutely the best whereas someone else will come at it from an entirely different viewpoint.”
Choose a name that you can live and grow with. Keep in mind the larger branding and communications issues because naming styles come and go. Robert Beard, CEO of YourDictionary Inc., which provides brand-naming and translation services, explains that invented names are useful because hundreds of companies have gone through the entire dictionary registering domains. Beard suggests visiting the Department of Commerce to look up all of the names that