The world’s most under-used marketing asset

Established companies often talk about marketing in very tactical terms. It’s the things we do, and the communications we have. It’s the branding and the visuals and the campaigns. While startups are becoming more aware of the importance of a strategic marketing vision from the very birth of their company, there is one tool in the marketing toolbox that not only gets forgotten – it often gets completely overlooked when it comes to marketing strategy.

And weirdly, it’s one of the first things we write in stone when we start a business: The company name.

One of the most common issues with company names I hear these days is: “All the good names are already taken”. This is of course complete rubbish – and I will explain why.

The traditional approach

Some of the most successful company names in history were chosen with a very specific purpose. Often these iconic names are rooted in…

Names of individuals involved in starting the business:

  • Toyota (based on a simplified version of the family name “Toyoda”)
  • Adidas (from founder Adi Dassler)
  • Walmart (from founder Sam Walton)

Names of locations where the business was founded:

  • Halifax (founded in Halifax)
  • Cisco (founded in San Francisco)
  • IKEA (based on founder Ingvar Kamprad’s initials and his origin, Elmtaryd, Agunnaryd, Sweden)

The actual service or product offered:

  • General Electric (formed as a merger of Edison General Electric Company and Thomson-Houston Electric Company)
  • Microsoft (a combination of the words microcomputer and software)
  • Staples (selling basic office supplies, a.k.a. “staples” – including actual staples)

The non-traditional approach

There are of course many examples of businesses going beyond these traditional routes, choosing names that are more creative and conjuring up various images and subtexts. It can be done very subtly, as with Nike, taking its name from the Greek goddess of victory; a particular connotation only obvious to people who know a few things about ancient mythology.

Other businesses have chosen to make a brand statement out of wanting to be different from the crowd. Apple Computer, for example, got its name from Steve Jobs being inspired by spending time in an apple orchard. It was designed to stand in stark contrast to its industry competitors at the time, and survived as a powerful brand despite being sued over trademark violations by Apple Records in 1989.

Focus on the connection

Once we start researching potential business names online, it’s easy to feel as if the pool of great company names has been filled a long time ago. It can make us feel despondent, and perhaps even a bit desperate. This is when we start coming up with names that make little or no sense at all.

Sometimes, the “fun factor” works – especially for consumer-focused businesses such as Schpock, Boomf and Hulu. But you may want to consider the fact that you will want to live with this company name for a long time. Avoid a trendy name that may have you fighting an uphill battle to be taken seriously.

Now – let me make one thing clear. It is true that it’s becoming more difficult to choose a company name that stands out and is memorable. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that it’s not necessary.

These are the qualities that the company itself should have. You should ensure that the business stands out from its competition and is memorable for its quality, service levels, price – or whatever the key selling point is. If the company is performing excellently, the name will be associated with that excellence and will be recognised for it. All the name needs to do is to be somehow anchored in the heart of the business. If it does not, you’re looking at a huge, missed opportunity.

The further away a company name is from a genuine, logical connection to the founder/s, the business activity or the vision, the less it can be relied upon as a marketing asset.

So – while you work hard on making the business successful, make sure that you have a company name that works just as hard to enforce your marketing efforts!

The Big Innovation Lie

Do you ever feel like you’ll never be able to invent anything new?
Whatever you can think of, you can be sure someone else out there has already thought about it. (In fact, someone out there has probably already written a very similar article to this one!)

It’s extremely difficult to be FIRST.

You have to be pretty damn lucky to be the first one to have a brainwave that sparks a genuine breakthrough or a new solution to a known problem. Whatever your cool idea is, you can bet your bottom euro that someone has already thought about it and made an effort to do it.

This can stop many innovators in their tracks. It can cause a sense of inertia and an attitude of “what’s the point?”. It can feel like everything has already been done.

Global innovation and you

But let’s think about this for a moment. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Throughout history, people strewn across the globe have solved their parallel problems through innovation – completely independently of each other. Different cultures have nurtured similar methods for harvesting, baking bread, sewing clothes, creating art, building houses. The difference in modern times is that we now know more than ever before about what other people are doing.

Even back in 1899, Charles Holland Duell – the Commissioner of US Patent office – was quoted to have said “Everything that can be invented has been invented”. True attribution or not, this appeared to be many people’s genuine belief, because society was becoming more aware of the inventions made elsewhere in the world. We now of course know that there is no end to innovation. We’ve seen millions of more inventions since. But because we hear about them faster than ever, we may sometimes feel the same way; “It’s all been done”.

Take brand names, for example.

These days, it’s so quick and easy to secure a domain name and to trademark a word. We may feel that “all the good ones are taken”. Businesses are more frequently making up nonsensical names like Zalando, Schpock and Wii.

The world of innovation is a busy place; that much is true.

And here’s why you shouldn’t care:

The biggest lie of innovation is that it’s critical to be first.

The truth is, you don’t have to be first to be successful. You don’t even have to be first to be considered an innovator. Innovation is about using a creative approach to solving a problem – and this can be done regardless of whether someone else has already found one solution that works.

The fact that someone has already invented a particular product or service means that…

  • There’s an identified market for the solution.
    If others are working on it, it means you are on the right track. There is demand, there is interest and there are opportunities out there. The same way seagulls flock to a fishing boat, innovative businesses can see where there is a potential gap in the market.
  • You can watch and learn.
    If someone else is addressing the same challenges, take a look at how they do it and learn from them. What’s working? What’s not working? What are the customers saying? How can you do it better? A great example is VHS vs Betamax. Both were great innovations. One was first. The other went on to be the standard video format for decades. Which one would you rather have invested in?
  • Someone else can pave the way for you.
    The history books are full of trailblazers who were the first to land on foreign shores. However, these were also the ones who paid the highest price. They took all the risk and often got little reward. Being first can be a huge sacrifice. Being second or third or tenth, on the other hand, means that there is already an established customer base ready for the next generation of solutions. When Sharp produced the first camera phone in 2000, they probably weren’t too upset about not having launched the very first mobile phone. Instead, their invention was built on the success of every previous mobile phone made.

Innovation is, and will continue to be, an important part of any thriving business. We need to constantly look at ways in which we can improve our customers’ experience – without worrying about whether or not someone somewhere has already beat us to it.

If you’re not first, you can still be the best – and that’s what innovation serves to do.


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