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What’s in a name? In business, the answer is “a lot.” Your corporate identity is one of your company’s most valuable assets. But coming up with a name that sets you apart from the competition and sums up what it is you do can be a major challenge.

And it may not be a one-time thing. There may come a time when you need to change it, either by choice—an opportunity that requires a fresh identity—or by necessity. Whether you’re naming your company for the first time or giving it a second try, hoping for a flash of inspiration won’t get you very far.

Recently, we asked experts and entrepreneurs how to go about finding a new handle. Here are some of our favourite responses.

Find outside inspiration

“If they’re doing this internally, they really need outside stimulation. I would tell people you’ve got to take excursions. You’ve got to go to a local museum and the local art gallery, and let other creative things and objects come into your mind. Take a lot of notes. Yes, you could turn to dictionaries. That’s usually what people do. I would do that last. I would look to outside stimulus. The ideas will come up.

“It’s not an easy thing to do, by the way. It takes time and patience. Too often people run out of patience and so they compromise on a very descriptive, very safe, non-distinctive, non-salient name.

“When we worked with ING Direct on its name change, we didn’t just look at the colour and arrive at Tangerine. This was a management team that was really interested in delivering fresh ideas about banking and finance. So the creative team asked: ‘What are things that are fresh? What are things that deliver energy to the marketplace?’ And inevitably, you get to fruit and inevitably you get to citrus—it’s energy, it’s vitamin C. Tangerine can be used in both French and English. And they’ve done fabulously well since the renaming. They’ve added a billion dollars in deposits.”

—David Placek, CEO, Lexicon Branding, Sausalito, Calif.

Make sure it’s not taken

“In terms of searching for names and determining availability, most jurisdictions in Canada use the Newly Upgraded Automated Name Search, which is run by Industry Canada (Quebec’s system is called CIDREQ). That system provides both exact and similar names to a proposed name to avoid legal liabilities, where the other company can sue the business for having the same or a confusingly similar name.”

—Eric P. Cohen, barrister and solicitor, New Business Now, Richmond Hill, Ont.

Don’t be afraid of making a change

“My general philosophy on business names is that if you don’t succeed at first, try, try again. If you realize within the first few years of your business that there’s a more optimal name based on how consumers view you, then there’s nothing wrong with making a change. You can point to Uber (old name: UberCab) and Square (Squirrel). It’s so rare in the world of consumer brands that the business is exactly what you initially envisioned on paper until it’s a real, living breathing thing with customers.”

—Matthew Corrin, founder and CEO, Freshii (originally called “Lettuce Eatery”), Toronto and Chicago

RESEARCH YOUR COMPETITORS’ NAMES

“The first thing is to do a thorough competitive analysis. Look at the brand names of all your competitors. If you don’t do that, then it’s easy to fall into a trap where you might think a particular name makes perfect sense, but 20 competitors have done something very similar. You risk adopting a name that just blends in. The goal should be to stand out from your competition.”
—Jay Jurisich, CEO and co-creative director, Zinzin, Berkeley, Calif.

Be bold

“The less money you have for marketing, the less you can afford to sound like everyone else. You can have a terrible name that everybody agrees on if you’re putting $100 million in advertising behind it. But if you don’t have an advertising or marketing budget, you better make sure the name grabs people’s attention and is viral all on its own.

“Most people’s instinct is to choose names that are completely scrubbed of any negative connotation. Don’t do that. Good names have multiple connotations, good and bad. Hotwire can mean a travel hack or a hack for stealing a car. All you need is that one logical connection between the name and the company. And people will take that one meaning that makes sense and that’s all they think about.

“You can come up with dozens of reasons why all the best names in history shouldn’t work. It’s a waste of time and you’ll just get to this vanilla garbage that people can’t even remember.

—Steve Manning, CEO, Igor Naming Agency, Sausalito, Calif.

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This article is from the February 2016 issue of Canadian BusinessSubscribe now!

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What’s the story behind your company’s name? Have you ever considered renaming it? Let us know by commenting below.

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