It takes 20 years to build a reputation and less than 20 minutes to destroy it. A brand is a promise to your target audience. As the saying goes “A good name is more desirable than great riches.” At the heart of the most successful businesses is a great brand name. Your name should evoke a certain emotion in the heart of your target audience. For example, Apple Inc. is the most valuable company in the world with a market capitalization of $2.64 trillion, and according to Kantar’s Brandz 2021 Most Valuable Global Brands Report 1, the Apple Brand is valued at $611,997 billion. The Apple brand represents simplicity, class and elegance.
The most iconic businesses of our time know the value of building a great brand and they spend a lot of time getting their name, messaging, value proposition, and product-market fit right. It is ok to start with a placeholder name for your business and it should not stop you from executing your business ideas. Most of the remarkable brands did not start out being great but they had to iterate, pivot, and sometimes change business models or even their names.
The most valuable and iconic brands of our time started with the following names:
- Google: BackRub
- eBay: AuctionWeb
- Sony: Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo
- IBM: Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation
- Yahoo: Jerry and David’s guide to the World Wide Web
- BestBuy: Sound of Music
- AOL: Quantum Computer Services
- Instagram: Burbn
- Nike: BlueRibbon Sports
- Reebok - Mercury
- PayPal: Confinity
- Pepsi: Brad’s Drink
- Playboy: Stag Party
- 7-Eleven: Tote’m
- Target: Goodfellow Dry Goods
- Tinder: Matchbox
A brand is an intangible asset (name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature) identifies one seller’s product from another and is often a corporation’s most valued asset. Strong brands enhance business performance primarily through their influence on three key stakeholder groups: (current and prospective) customers, employees, and investors.
They influence customer choice and create loyalty; attract, retain, and motivate talent; and lower the cost of financing. The influence of brands often through social media on current and prospective customers is a significant driver of economic value.
By expressing their proposition consistently across all touchpoints, brands help shape perceptions and, therefore, purchasing behavior, making products and service less substitutable. Brands, therefore, create economic value by generating higher returns and growth, and by mitigating risk. 2
In her book, Hello, My Name Is Awesome: How to Create Brand Names That Stick 3, naming consultant, Alexandra Watkins describes the process of creating a memorable and buzz-worthy brand name. Watkins noted that a great name makes you SMILE while a bad name makes you scratch your head. She writes:
According to the latest research in cognitive psychology, we remember things that can easily be merged into our existing knowledge base. One of the basic mechanisms of memory is association. The stickiest names are associated with words and concepts that are already familiar to us.
- Suggestive—evokes something about your brand
- Memorable—makes an association with the familiar
- Imagery—aids memory through evocative visuals
- Legs—lends itself to a theme for extended mileage
- Emotional—moves people
The most powerful names get noticed, get buzz, and get sales because they connect with consumers on an emotional level, making us feel good.
A bad name, on the other hand, makes you SCRATCH your head because it is
- Spelling challenged—looks like a typo
- Copycat—resembles competitors’ names
- Restrictive—limits future growth
- Annoying—seems forced, frustrates customers
- Tame—feels flat, descriptive, uninspired
- Curse of knowledge—speaks only to insiders
- Hard to pronounce—confuses and distances customers
Anytime you have to make excuses for your name, you’re apologizing for it. And when you apologize for your name, your brand is devalued.
Most of these brands had to change their names at some point for different reasons such as trademark issues, and founder disagreement among others. A good name is worth all the time it takes to get it right. Everyone starts somewhere, even the most valuable brands. The key is to start where you are with what you have. You do not have to be great to start but you have to start to be great.
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