Want to be heard? Break from the herd.

(This is a rewrite from an article published in Silicon Valley Business Ink and The SDForum Journal back in 2000).

Differentiate or DieSo you have this hot idea based on the convergence point of technology and telecommunications. Therefore you would like to name your company Phone.com. But that domain is taken. So you check Fone.com. No luck either.

Then you remember someone wrote in your business plan that the business market was your first target, so you check BPhone.com, BFone.com, BizPhone.com, BePhone.com and soon you are checking BeePhone.com. All are unavailable.

So you dig further and discover BeeFone.com is available and you start getting excited until someone points out it also spells  BeefOne.com.

Perhaps it is time for a new direction. Your company will provide users with a new view of their whole phone system, so how about View.com. Taken. No surprise there. So you check Views.com, Vu.com,Vue.com, Vuvu.com (getting desperate here), Vyou.com (kinda clever) and VyVu.com.
All are taken.

Back to that phone idea. How else can we abbreviate or spell or organize the words business and phone? BusinessPhone.com? Taken. Bizphone.com? Taken.
How about B-Fone.com? Voila! It is available. As are Bee-Fone.com and Phoan.com (even if it does look like it was invented in Vietnam).
These names may be available, but do you really want to propose them to your company president?

As a consumer, can you relate to any of these companies?

Do you think a brand can be built around such names?

Generic names are no better. Ever noticed how many generic goods are stocked in your local supermarket? Not many, even though it has been tried extensively. So why would you want a generic phone-like name for your million dollar startup?

Yes, we know Drugstore.com is the exception that proves the rule and they had a hot IPO. But many consumers now go back to CVS.com or RiteAid.com or Safeway.com… brands they know and trust. But what happened to Pets.com, Books.com, Music.com, etc.? All gone and forgotten.

Maybe it is time to drop back to something more symbolic. Many a new networking company has asked for a good descriptive or symbolic name. I ask them if they mean something like Cisco or Juniper or Sycamore or Cypress. “Yes, yes,” they pant. Hang on though. Those last three names make it sound like I am from Silicon Forest as they are all tree species!
As for Cisco, it is half a town’s name. That why their logo is half a Golden Gate Bridge, cut lengthways, even though their offices have almost always been 40 miles from the bridge.

So now at this stage you have figured out that perhaps with only 26 letters in the English alphabet there may not be enough combinations. So why not add some numbers too? But have you ever thought of your poor receptionist having to answer the phone phones4biz.com?

“Hello., thanks for calling phones4biz.com. Of course we have a website sir. It is phones, the number 4 , B-I-Z dot com.”

Now try that in Spanish or French or Japanese. Somehow “phones cuatro B-I-Z punto com” doesn’t have the same ring to it (pun intended).

Naming your business is a difficult task, but as Ries and Trout said years ago in their seminal work, Positioning, The Battle for the Mind, your name is your most important weapon in this battle. It will get used a million times more than any brochure, website, tweet chain or fan page you come up with. Surely it deserves a little more attention.

Some have said that if you think your name is taken then you don’t understand branding. But young companies that don’t have time to spend building brands can still be successful. Look how big Google or Akamai or Inktomi or StarBucks grew before they ever spent a dollar on advertising.

There are plenty of new names worldwide. For marketing and legal reasons your name needs to be clearly different from all competitors, suppliers and associated partners in your market segment. It is a name, not a description. It is not a short slogan or tagline, so don’t waste time looking at common English words unless you are looking at strong combinations of them. Rather think of new words that are made from good, appropriate syllables tha you would like added to our vocabulary. Their uniqueness will make people work at remembering them, attract attention, and help you build recall and a brand quicker than a common name that gets lost in the noise.

If you want to be heard, you need to be different from the herd.


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