Thursday, February 1, 2007

Why weird names work

I interviewed Steve Manning, co-founder of naming firm Igor International (check out their blog), for the article mentioned here yesterday, and he offered this rationale for choosing a name like “Egg” or “Monday” for your business:

"It seems that a good 90 percent of names are based on something that is descriptive of the goods and services, named for the founders, or something that’s a synonym found in a thesaurus. When you make a strategic decision to choose a descriptive name, you are then asking the name to do only one thing for you and that one thing is to communicate the business that you are in.

The problem with that is manifold. One, it puts you in with the other 90 percent of people in your business who are attempting the same strategy and it makes it very difficult for people to distinguish or remember you. Also, I would argue that the descriptive naming strategy rarely even succeeds at the one job you are asking it to do. It still bears further explanation, even something like General Motors. A motor is an electrical device, it’s not even an engine. It could be a lot of things. And thirdly, I would argue that the descriptive naming strategy is completely unnecessary because it’s based on an assumption that somehow people will experience your name without explanatory context, without support. And that is a universe that doesn’t exist.

The logic always is ‘we’ll save money because our name will communicate to people what it is we do.’ The problem is then you have to spend more money trying to get people to remember your name because it is, at that point, very difficult because people are inundated with hundreds of names in your sector that sound very similar. From a branding and marketing perspective, you’ve chosen to put yourself in a hole with everybody else.

A corporation’s tendency would be to go with a name like TransAtlantic Air rather than Virgin because in their minds TransAtlantic Air sounds like a serious player in the airline business. They are appealing to what people have already heard before, which is obviously part of the problem because if you’ve heard it 1,000 times, what is the likelihood of remembering it or thinking that it’s different. As soon as you choose a name like TransAtlantic Air you are setting yourself up for the task of explaining to the world how you are really different than the others even though you immediately pigeon-holed yourself as the same as the others.

When you choose a name like Virgin or Igor or Apple, you don’t have to explain that there is something different going on here. You are demonstrating it. Job done."

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