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Is Your Brand Name Limiting Your Business Prospects?

Too many companies end up regretting their name -- learn from their mistakes.

Choosing a brand name is one of the first steps in creating your business and certainly among the most crucial -- strong, memorable names are a key ingredient to the success of your product, service or company.

While the name should capture the essence of the company, committing to a title that will define your brand for years to come is a daunting challenge. There are no hard-and-fast rules. However, according to San Diego-based Brandroot, it is prudent to think about types of business names when considering your brand name. A poor choice could end up negatively shaping and limiting your enterprise in years to come. Here are some ways picking a restrictive brand name now can fail your company in the future.

Location-based branding
This can be tempting. Say you sell windows, and you sell them in Wisconsin. The choice may be obvious: You could call your business "Wisconsin Windows!" You have your geotarget covered, your product in the name and even some catchy alliteration to grab the customer’s attention. But, what if your windows are so good that people in neighbouring Minnesota want them too?

If you plan on keeping your business small, then choosing a name based on where you are located may not have any huge effect in the long term. However, if your market expands to beyond the limits of your locale, then having a name that pertains only to that town or region may hold your business back, with potential customers associating it with that particular area alone.

Family business branding
There is something quaint about having an eponymous brand name. Something familiar, proud and tender. Douglas & Sons, for example, evokes a paternal bond, tradition and nostalgia. However, family branding can have its drawbacks. Maybe your children won’t want to continue the family business when it comes to handing over the reins. In that event, will the empire crumble, taking your name and legacy with it? Or, what if the company runs into legal trouble? Having negative connotations linked to your brand name is not just bad for business, but could also have generational repercussions on your family too.

"Your business name should be future-proof, with the ability to serve you even in the most unforeseen business circumstances. Your business is likely to change or shift direction multiple times during its existence, so the name should consider every possible change or expansion. But, it should also consider changes in technology, economy and demand/need for your product. Yes, a great business name can cover all of these bases and more.,” explains Michael Rader, CEO of Brandroot.

Demographic-specific branding
Most companies have a certain demographic they are trying to target but it is important not to limit your client base by being overly prescriptive with your brand name. For instance, long-term bike rental company My Bike Argentina was going to be called "The Student Bike Company," as it was first geared towards study-abroad students who would be residing in Buenos Aires, Argentina for six months or more. But, the founder recognized that the city also attracted longer-term tourists who came to learn tango and study Spanish and so changed the name to increase the amount of potential bike renters.

According to InfluenceTree managing partner Leonard Kim, "When you are naming a company, you should never limit your name to what your target market is. Instead, you should think of what your target market is attracted to.”

Something that would make them interested in what you have to offer? “Let's use The Viceroy Hotel, my favorite hotel in New York, as an example,” adds Kim.

“The Viceroy attracts people like me, who are new leaders in our field, high income earners, young and have that entrepreneurial and creative drive," says Kim. “If they named themselves the creative center or the creative hotel, we'd probably have no interest in going there, even if the architecture, atmosphere and rooms were set up the same way. But, by taking a word that means what we feel about ourselves and placing it onto the name of their hotel, they are able to not only attract their target audience but others who are curious as to what the Viceroy is and what it has to offer as well."

Product-specific branding
Many entrepreneurs start off by offering one particular product, but what about when the success of the business means expansion to incorporate a whole range of products or services? Maybe Wisconsin Windows from the first example branches out into selling doors. Do they change their name down the line, or plan for potential growth from the outset?

Digital nomad work-away program Remote Year encountered this problem and is locked into, by its name at least, offering year-long work and travel programs. Their competitor, We Roam, learned from Remote Year’s mistake, and, by choosing a name more open to interpretation, eschewed the pitfalls of overly specifying the time scale to allow them to offer custom packages with flexible start dates and durations. This has enabled them to diversify their service and appeal to a broader array of applicants.

The importance of choosing a brand name that will allow your brand to grow within it cannot be stressed enough. A future re-brand is not only costly, but can undo years of hard-earned customer support, so it is worth thinking long and hard about what your business is going to be called from the get-go.

Genericide, or making your brand name way too common
Apple. Virgin. Jet. Isn’t there something inherently memorable and credible about brands with simple names? Those names offer a sense of power and credibility without trying too hard. We feel like they’ve always been a part of our vernacular (probably because they have been!)

But according to Ryan Erskine of BrandYourself, companies with simple, popular names face an entirely new problem today: getting found online. It’s hard enough to earn brand recognition these days with a unique name, so imagine the difficulty for companies that choose names that already get searched millions of times per month.

Do a quick Google search for Jet, and you’ll see what I mean. They have to compete with the New York Jets, JetBlue, Jet’s Pizza and dozens of other brands. Jet.com turned itself into a multibillion dollar brand, but it still has trouble owning its online real estate (Now imagine how all the other “Jets" on page 3 and 4 feel).

“In today's search-happy world,” says Erskine, “your company is getting Googled by customers, investors and potential employees. Business is already an uphill climb -- don’t make it any harder by setting up digital hurdles for yourself along the way.”

Instead, pick a unique name and give yourself the best chance of bursting through the noise.

Jordan French
April 14, 2017

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