By: Tove Pharo Ronde
Managing Director
NameABrand AS

Unconscious name choices are expensive

CSC, EMC, PEF, ESCN, SAP, UMS, IFS and EDS. Put the newspaper away and try to remember who is who! The IT industry is full of anonymous names. It is a gross neglect of branding.

A good name should represent a value to the business, not a disability. The majority of company names in the car industry start with “Auto” in Norway. Who is who? And what does the car dealer want to signal? Difficult product names are almost impossible to pronounce without the tongue beating. For example, try ZyXEL. We are tempted to guarantee that few will be able to remember what the product was called, if they only heard the name once or twice. There are several studies that show that whole words, constructed or not, are 40 percent easier to remember than twisted letter combinations. So why choose the worst possible solution?

Good names have become scarce. Names can no longer be chosen at random, primarily because products and services have become too similar. In order for names to become brands, the development of the name must follow the basic principles of branding. It applies to both products and companies. In addition, in the development process, the name must be adapted to complicated rules for registration and protection.

Record high demand

Trademark registers around the world are currently enjoying a record-breaking effort from companies that want to protect name and figure trademarks. The domain hackers make life miserable for anyone with names they want to register. New, confusing domain rules require swift action, and astonishingly many do not follow the hour.

A strategically rooted name is worth gold, but hard to find. Too often we get caught up in copies and difficult combinations. The fantasy drought is spreading. Are there any good names that are not hijacked by others in Norway, the Nordic countries or anywhere in the world? They exist, but then one should look well.

Creativity is far from enough. Many of those who try strategic name development themselves have learned that it is not easy. In the US and Europe, name development has therefore become a separate area, in fresh growth. Our approach to the rest of the world is part of this picture. There is a continual struggle for the unique and peculiar, for taking position. The name is often the first step in the process. A good name that signals the right values will become an important competitive advantage in the future, while an unfortunate letter combination will be a significant handicap.

Name development sounds easy, but it’s not. Many players in the business world unfortunately choose too easy solutions. The IT industry is a good example. With company names such as CSC, EMC, ESCN and EDS, it should be well done for the users to separate the suppliers from each other. The products and services are often identical, so why should the user choose your particular product or company? Whether one succeeds does not depend on the name alone. It is the whole that counts when the name is developed. As is well known, overall thinking has been absent in many dotcom and IT companies. The founders’ relentless flair (…) and faith have trumped “old-fashioned” virtues such as analysis, strategy, concept development, goal management and systematic branding put into a realistic budget.

Scary absence

It is becoming increasingly difficult to find good, strategic names that can also be registered in necessary registers, including as future trademarks. Professional business executives have realized this, and are using professional naming agencies to find names that reflect company values and that are apt to become strong brands.

However, design and advertising agencies that develop names on behalf of their clients show the scary absence of trademark law insight, which has gradually become a crucial element in the name development process. It is about getting to the finish without any disputes arising in time that can overturn an entire process in good running, or that lead to expensive compensation cases after the profile is developed and the name launched. Here, the advertising and design agencies lack expertise.

A while back, Tinde (formerly Eiendomsnett) learned that it is not just using a name – even though the name is initially vacant in the Business Register – without making the necessary checks in advance. The English advertising agency involved in the name development had failed to investigate whether Tinde was protected as a surname in Norway. In this case, the family protested, but Tinde won because the word is also a common word in the Norwegian language. It could have gone far worse. According to Norwegian rules, family names are protected if there are fewer than 200 people using the name. The same is true in other Scandinavian countries as well.

There are close shots between the Business Register, the National Register and the Trademark Register. This means that before a name can be put into use, all preliminary investigations must be done and all possible obstacles lie on the table. In the case of a name to be used outside Norway’s borders, the control phase is even more important and even more complicated. It is no wonder that name development has become a subject area that requires special expertise, insight, access to important and necessary databases and expert reviews, before the ready signal can finally be given.

The Spear Itself

Competition is no longer between companies, products and services. It is between names. A good name is characterised by distinctive character and register-ability such as trademark, cultural acceptance, conveying the right values, that the name is easy to remember and that it is easy to find as a URL.

The name is the very spearhead of the company, in everything that happens in the market. It is always possible to change strategy, positioning, profile, packaging and communication platform along the way, but if the name has to be changed – because it is hijacked by others, it is confusingly similar to a registered trademark or because some claim the incorporation of an unregistered mark with identical name in the market – yes, then you are actually quite baked at the outset.

 

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