My wife and I saw a fun sci-fi summer blockbuster about an alien invasion starring Tom Cruise (who really seems to love starring in this genre of movie.) Almost everything about it was great – the CGI was believable, the Groundhog Day premise was made fresh, the story went in unexpected directions. Everything was good, except the name of the movie:

 

Edge of Tomorrow.

 

One would be hard-pressed to come up with a less interesting, more generic name than that. The flick could just as well be a Nicholas Sparks tearjerker, or a documentary about Google.

 

I mention this because it is a reminder of just how important names are in business. Whether we’re talking about the name of the business, a product, or even a service, while a mediocre name may not be lethal, a great name can be a homerun.

 

Before your name your business, ask yourself the following questions:Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

 

Does it explain what the business is and does? Jiffy Lube is a perfect example. Pretend you have never heard of Jiffy Lube and you are driving down the street, your car needs servicing, and you see two places next to each other that offer automobile oil and lube services. One is called “Al’s Auto Repair” and one is called “Jiffy Lube.” Which one are you likely to choose?

 

Jiffy Lube, for a few reasons. First, you can assume from the name that the process will be fast (“Jiffy”), and it will probably  be affordable and done right since that is what the place seems to specialize in. Al might do good work, but we don’t really know anything extra from the name.

 

Other examples of businesses that use their name to offer both benefits and branding:

 

  • Baja Fresh
  • Toys-R-Us
  • YouTube
  • Internet Explorer

 

Is it memorable? According to Business Insider, when Jeff Bezos was launching Amazon.com, he “originally wanted to give the company the magical sounding name ‘Cadabra.’ Amazon’s first lawyer, Todd Tarbert, convinced Bezos that the name sounded too similar to ‘Cadaver.’ Bezos also favored the name ‘Relentless.’ If you visit Relentless.com today, guess where it navigates to? He finally chose ‘Amazon’ because he liked that the company would be named after the largest river in the world.”


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Not only is a business named “Amazon” memorable, but it also works because it follows the first rule: it implicitly implies something big, or, as Bezos says, “an everything store.”

 

Some entrepreneurs think that they can be memorable by creating a unique, different name: Xerox, for example. (Created, by the way, by a linguistics professor who combined the Greek words for “dry” and “writing.”) The problem with a name like this though is that if you don’t have the budget to get people to remember it, it is just an odd name that no one remembers.

 

I interviewed a guy not long ago whose company made commercial and residential fans. The name of his business? Big Ass Fans. That’s memorable, and it explains exactly what the products are.

 

Is it Web friendly? When I was launching my recent business venture, the website TheSelfEmployed, the original name I chose was Self-EmploymentCenter.com. An associate pointed out that it sounded a lot like “Unemployment Center” and it was especially cumbersome as a URL to boot. Point well taken.

 

In this day and age, you cannot ignore just how important the Web translation of your business name is. Short and snappy usually does the trick best.

 

Is it too “punny”? Small businesses seem to love a good pun. If done right, it can be memorable (“Pane in the Glass”), but if done wrong, it’s a wasted opportunity:

 

  • A Salt and Battery
  • Florist Gump
  • Nin Com Soup

 

The bottom line is that the naming of your business or product is a huge opportunity to brand and promote yourself. Don’t waste it.

 


About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

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