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Steven Strauss: Business and product names

May 21, 2012

I just bought the family business from my father. It has been in our family for three generations and I think the business and the brand desperately need some updating. My dad hates the idea of me changing anything, let alone the name of the business, which is something I am contemplating. Just because a name has been around a long time, that doesn’t mean its untouchable, does it?

Let me share a little story:

It being the time of year that it is, there are a few spring cleaning chores that my wife would like me to get done around the house, including cleaning the winter mildew off the deck.  Never being one to procrastinate on such things and always happy to oblige 100%, I eventually trundled off to our local hardware store to find the right product to help me accomplish my important new goal.

I saw many products that promised to make my job easier, and I am sure all of them would have worked well to some extent or another. But which one did I choose? It was something called “30 Second Outdoor Cleaner.” Now, did I really expect that this stuff would clean my deck in a mere 30 seconds? No, of course not. But given the exceptional name of the product, I did expect that it would be quick, easy, and effective.

It was.

Now, why did I pick that product over all of the other ones? Two reasons. First, I had just seen a commercial for it and the clever name was in my brain, and two, when faced with the prospect of cleaning grimy mold off of our cedar deck, any product that promised to do so so easily got my vote.

The name made all the difference. As Renee Zellweger famously said in Jerry Maguire, “You had me at hello.”

That is the value of having a great name for your product or business.

Now, this doesn’t mean that a name that has been around for three generations is not valuable in and of itself, even if it is something as mundane as, say, “Smith & Sons” (or daughter as the case may be.) Indeed, a business that has been around that long has created a lot of goodwill, and that name is probably very valuable. It likely does the same thing that my mildew product did, namely, evoke a desired image in the mind of the consumer.

But if the name does not, if it is just a name, then you cannot overlook just how important getting the right name for your business or product is. Do it right, and people will remember you. Do it wrong and, well, they won’t. It is as simple as that.

When you own a small business, creating an image in the mind of the customer is no easy feat. Given that one can find advertising almost everywhere these days, getting noticed above the din is tough. But one way to do that is to have a memorable name for your business or product because that is the first thing people will learn about your business.

The key is to

•    Know your customers – what they want and need?
•    Know your business – what makes it unique?
•    Know your value proposition – what are you offering that will resonate?

When I was building my new website, my initial idea was to call it “The Self-Employment Center.” But my web team convinced me that that name sounded too stodgy, too much like “unemployment center.” They were right. We ended up calling it TheSelfEmployed, a far more distinctive and appropriate name.

Offering a name with the benefit in it is not the only choice of course. Some businesses use  a strange name as a way to stand apart; Syzygy for example. Personally, I don’t like names like that because they are hard to remember and really mean nothing to anyone but the owner. Other folks like to be cute, like an optometrist with the name, “Eyes on the Prize.” But cute doesn’t pay the bills.

So what I am suggesting is that in this competitive landscape, if you have the opportunity, you should not forgo the chance to name your business or product with your brand promise in mind – Gentle Dental, Jiffy Lube, 30 Second Outdoor Cleaner.

Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer, writer, and speaker, and is one of the country’s leading experts on small business as well as an international business speaker. The best-selling author of 17 books, his latest is the all-new 3rd ed. of The Small Business Bible. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success Powered by Greatland, here, visit his new website for the self-employed, TheSelfEmployed, here, Follow him on Twitter, here, and Like TheSelfEmployed on Facebook, here. You can e-mail Steve at: © Steven D. Strauss

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