What’s in a Name? According to Marketing Experts, Everything.

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In William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, Juliet suggests a name does not determine the nature of the thing to which it is applied: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But would her logic hold up in today’s business environment? I think not.

I have been fortunate enough to be involved with name changing or origination for some of the biggest companies in the United States. I worked on the team that developed names for a new park the Walt Disney Company developed, which became California Adventure. We did everything from naming the restaurants to the streets that ran within the park (“Donald Duck Drive” was mine. Catchy, don’t you think?)

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I’ve worked on developing new names for banks, retailers, manufacturers, and leading aviation companies. Within the cannabis space, I have been advising my clients to avoid names that are too generic, reflect a “stoner” culture, or can cause confusion in the marketplace.

The name of a business or product is vital to its success. Names can attract customers or push them away. They can create a positive or negative image. They influence whether a person will become a customer.

Research indicates these snap judgements are made in as little as three seconds. Accordingly, many companies have changed their names in order to create bigger, better brands.

If you’re among those who think a company’s name doesn’t matter, consider this:

Would you perform an online search on a portal called Backrub? It sounds like an adult-escort service! But back in 1996, the world’s number-one search engine was known by the strange moniker. Today, you probably know it as Google.

Or how about slaking your thirst with a sip of Brad’s Drink? Sales were slow until Brad’s Drink was renamed Pepsi-Cola. The beverage and the company went on to become one of the world’s most recognized brands.

Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation is a mouthful. Fortunately, people were more inclined to do business with the renamed company, International Business Machines—or its even shorter version, IBM.

Who wants to read a magazine called Stag Party? In what became a blessing in disguise, publisher Hugh Hefner received a cease-and-desist letter from a competitor, Stag Magazine, so he changed the name of his publication to Playboy just days before its launch.

In yet another high-profile search engine name change, Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web became Yahoo and transformed into one of the world’s largest online portals.

There are many others:

Marafuku Company became Nintendo.

Auction Web became eBay.

Unadulterated Food Products became Snapple, because one of its most popular products had a “snappy apple taste.”

The Electro-Alkaline Company sounded too industrial, so it became Clorox, which was named after the two main ingredients in its signature bleach: chlorine and sodium hydroxide.

You may not have shopped at Goodfellow’s Dry Goods Company, but you’ve probably been to a Target store.

While you might look askance at any technology developed by Lucky and GoldStar Company, you probably trust the brand LG.

And try this: Type Relentless.com into your browser and see where you go. You’ll find the original name of this giant corporation is still forwarded to the company’s newer name.

In summary, the name of a company or product matters. The name is the cornerstone of the brand. It conveys a feeling, inspires confidence, creates likeability, deepens loyalty, and stimulates sales. Perhaps nothing else in the genesis of a company or a brand is as important.

So, choose yours wisely.


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Randall Huft is president and creative director at the Innovation Agency. He discovered what works, what doesn’t, and what steps must be taken to achieve sales goals and gain market share while working with blue-chip companies including AT&T, United Airlines, IBM, Walgreen’s, American Express, Toyota, and Disney.

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