08 November 2006
Naseem Javed
Naseem Javed

A corporate name, at best, is an 'outcry' from the deep bottom of the corporation in search of attention and in pursuit of fame and glory. Whether you read a name in a column, see it in the phone book, hear it on the radio, or come across it on the web, it is always a desperate cry for something.

Go to a search engine and you will see one name after the other screaming and yelling for attention, each one wants to be on top of each other. All want to be as clear and as loud as possible. Some have high pitch and some with flat boring humming noise . . . a humming noise, which only our subconscious mind can hear. When you look at the word Banana you do hear a soft enunciation of the word in your sub-conscious, this is sometimes a voice print left from the past encounter with the name, its sound or maybe the object itself, and if you ever slipped on a peel, then of course, other screaming thoughts may also conjure up. This type of branding experience is often attached to most dictionary words in our daily lingo.

So let's talk about verbal branding or how a corporate name travels mouth-to-mouth, from one corner of the city to the whole nation, and later infest the entire globe . . . really!

Today this is achieved in one afternoon. A press release in the morning, a chat on CNN in the afternoon, e-commerce campaign for the rest of the day and voila! The name is the talk of the town from Rio to Paris and from New York to Shanghai. How long this fame will last depends on how many will remember it in the long run.

With millions of names being registered each day as Domain Names and other things, it is very noisy out there . . . almost a deaf tone . . . While naming of the new economy awaits its thunder, there are still other problems.

When a name is used in business it must be unique, powerful, proprietary, related to the business, exciting and able to arouse curiosity and equally pleasing to the mind. Therefore, it is not wise to have a twisted spelling and hard to pronounce names or some wild ideas that the subconscious mind simply refuses to accept. 'RockCloud', 'PurpleRhino', or 'Kukamanga' (meaning 'Great Corporation' in Ugabooga dialect of the Roman Empire.) Do you really care? Hell no, the mind simply shuts down and lets the name scream for survival.

A name should simply pop up at the time of a purchase decision and otherwise it is absolutely useless if it wanders through and comes out of the fog the day after the purchase. This is how sales are missed. When a name is unique, the brain recognizes it as such, Sony, Panasonic, Telus, Celestica, and files it away nicely, while recognizing it's unique position among the other daily mumbo jumbo. When it is generic, like United or General, then the garbage kicks in verbal branding and it can become a verbal diarrhea. United Systems, United Airlines, United Church or General Mills, General Motors or General Shwarzkoff and so on. A common day usage term, such as a dictionary word, has the least recall and the same applies to numbers, the mind does not remember numbers, slashes, dashes, dingbats and symbols etc. Studies have shown again and again that only unique, one of a kind, clear and powerful names, survive and become legends.

In business a corporate name is normally a single word. Two word names are problematic, three words are more complicated. Four words? - why not kill the business first? Also, if there are dozens of others using the same name in dozens of different things, then your name is only shouting and the voice is being lost in the crowd.

Here is the acid test, enter your name in quotes on Google search engine and if it comes up with one hundred other companies using the same name, then you might as well fold up your advertising dollars, it's only being wasted. Therefore, you better seek a professional solution. If you find that there are more than one thousand other companies having an identical name, then it will explain the doom and gloom at your HQ, the shortages of funds, the lack of traffic to your sites etc. Remember a good name makes a cash register ring.

Maybe that is why a name of a corporation is the single most important issue of corporate communications today. But still, to this day, a domain name, the twin of a corporate name, to most CEOs, is the most misunderstood term of corporate communications. A domain naming issue is often left to webmasters, ISPs and, sometimes, to lawyers. It has yet to earn the respect as the single most important issue of e-Commerce and a real password for global success.

While Domain Naming is seriously under-priced, the current dogfights between registrars and the hopeless name branding of the dotcoms, by corporate identity firms and Ad Agencies, have only confused the corporations and brought embarrassing branding campaigns crashing down.

Over one thousand such projects failed in the last year, from Kozmo to Gazoontite and to MarchFirst. This last name, incidentally, had nothing to do with the month of the Julian calendar and the business did not start on March 1st, rather February 17, and, of course, AprilFirst was taken by some fool. But, somehow, most people just either couldn't hear the steps or see them march . . . marching into the brick wall that is. The big bang expensive branding failed and MarchFirst went into bankruptcy. A name can be very revengeful, when it is meant to play or trick the mind.

In short, naming for e-commerce is very fragmented and every corporation is trying to cope with little or no guidance. When a name fails to deliver a clear and distinct message, then the human mind simply ignores it and a relentless pursuit of bizarre branding ideas will never save it. Now to check on the health of a name here are some key reasons and if not corrected, a sick name will endlessly shout and eventually die.

HIT OR MISS: This is when a name sometimes hits the target or misses it entirely. Potential customers end up going to the competition in error, because the name looks like and sounds like dozens of others. Or it is so restricted in its access by having twisted spelling, making it impossible to find it on the web, directory, search engines, etc. So why create mass confusion, and let mail come with new and different spellings of the same name every day. e.g. dead, by starting the name with an 'e' rather than an 'a', they guaranteed their anonymity and died; dead, is it geotel? The 'e' may have cost them their survival;, too many ways to spell the name; dead, fas-tv? or fast-v?; dead, twisted spellings!

DIFFERENT STROKES: When a name means one thing to one group and an entirely different to others and customers. This can seriously blur the image of a corporation and a great deal of advertising is wasted in harnessing the marketplace. e.g. dead, is this supposed to be confused with McDonald's, or not?; dead, what the hell is this?; headstrong, an e-commerce company or headache pills, but why?; concrete, once again an e-commerce company with cement? Too much confusion; B2E, what the hell is B2E? We are still trying to figure out BtoB and BtoC!

EVOLUTION CRISIS: When a good old name doesn't tell the customer anything at all of its evolution, new ventures, new ideas. e.g., figure it out!; dead, no wonder; CIT and what is this?; dead, it's neither Purolator nor FedEx;, what for?;, no, its not revenue just an expense; dead, are they a religious organization or a bunch of perverts?; eBreviate, twisted spelling; i2, too many ways to spell and no clear message.

EDUCATING THE UNIVERSE: When you start advertising and telling people how to spell your name, remember it, it's cute meaning and some strange origin, say it differently because it has a different pronunciation etc. Rather than promoting business you are educating the population on how they should behave when it comes to using your name. This method never works. Gekko v/s Gyco; Atto v/s Auto; Xerox v/s The Digital Document Company; Clarity v/s Clarica. e.g. dead, extra 'p' puts too much burden;, is it telephone or a metal company?;, by whom and why?; eOnline is this advanced thinking, or what?

GLOBAL CRISIS: When there are serious translation difficulties, or the name is obscene in foreign countries. e.g., what an intelligent way of spelling; dead, don't say this in Thailand; dead, are you sure, only pee?

OWNERSHIP CRISIS: If you don't own a trademark or you don't own a solid domain name and sometimes neither, this is the most ridiculous situation to be in. All your money is being wasted to promote your competition. e.g., dead, dead, dead; dead, ONYX, eLink, Rational.

APOLOGIES: Executives are embarrassed presenting business cards and to have to explain the name confusion, and competition starts making fun of the names. .e.g. dead, how contagious; dead, no thanks, I don't need your business card!; dead, aren't you glad they're gone?

To avoid jumping from the pan into the fire, follow the three golden rules: Do not copy other famous or trendy names. Do not get too wild and too creative and do register for the Global Markets. If you need help, only a professional, with many years of solid experience, with dozens of successful naming projects, can help you and do not try out your name with ad agencies or design firms, they rely on casual freelance naming which can be the most dangerous thing, when a creative person, without a full-time commitment, spins out 1000 names for $1000, which is the going rate in most agencies; then you end up with a name on which your corporate destiny, and a large ad budget, is left hanging by a thread. Shout as loud as you can, a poor name eventually dies and no amount of branding tricks can save it.

Global Identity can only be achieved by following the new naming rules of the new millennium identity. One must now understand and have knowledge and strategic perspective on global naming for e-commerce, understanding of naming issues and rules of corporate nomenclature, alpha-structures, alpha-dynamics, marketing needs, global translation and language issues, name modeling and hierarchy of naming, overall naming ideas, global naming registrations and global maintenance and so many other things to fully tackle a naming project.

Branding comes in all shapes and sizes, vertical to horizontal, internal to external and mental to spiritual, but when it comes to naming it is entirely a very different issue. Naming is something like magic and branding is something like witchcraft. If you have a magical name then with some witchcraft you really capture the attention and mesmerize the audience. If not, then you are left with some odd-shod tricks and no sizzle. Because naming is a black and white process and you should not be confused with design and packaging, or other branding exercises.

For more information, contact:

Naseem Javed

About the Author
Naseem Javed is a world-renowned authority on corporate nomenclature, author of Naming for Power and an outrageously hilarious speaker on the conference circuit.