You Might Need to Change the Name of Your Firm

Most creative firms are poorly named, especially if they are named after the principal and perhaps multiple partners. Unless you turn out to be a very large agency with a 40+ year track record, your name matters. Naming it in the traditional way after yourself does this:

  • it makes it a tad more difficult to sell
  • it encourages new clients to work with you when you should be doing other things that the firm really requires of you
  • it makes it difficult to add significant partners, because every time you do so the name will likely change
  • it makes your agency look small

Chances are that you didn't put much thought into naming the company when it began with just you as an employee. The attorney was pressuring you to come up with some name that s/he could put on the forms, and so you defaulted to the easy choice. If I had done that, my company would be Baker Inc., or Baker & Associates, etc.

You may in fact agree with me that the name of your creative entity isn't ideal, but the supposed "equity" in your current name has held you back. That's nonsense, really. Do you really think someone who wants to work with you would think: "There was this amazing firm, but I can't remember the name." Especially if you keep your current website alive and just point it to the new one. Besides, the real people who know of you, have talked to you, and are interested in your firm are easy to reach--you already have them on your mailing or emailing list. This is the biggest lie you're telling yourself about naming your own company: "We've built up equity in this name and so we'll leave it as is."

Typically, this issue comes to the forefront when you are adjusting or completely changing your positioning. All your marketing materials and your website will need to change anyway, so why not couple that with a name change (if it's warranted)?

Here are the qualities of a good name:

  • it should be short
  • it should not include "design" (that word is marginalized)
  • It should not be trendy, like RazorFish
  • you should be able to purchase the appropriate domain ending in .com. Using any other TLD is simply a sign that the .com version was taken and you settled for something else
  • it should be intuitively easy to pronounce to avoid a prospect having to ask how to prononce it
  • there should be an interesting story behind it, which you'll tell the curious prospect or client if they ask but otherwise it'll just be something you in the firm know about-
  • it should not feature your location (e.g., 42nd St. Studio)
  • it should not feature any names of real people in the agency-
  • it may declare your specialized focus: e.g., Orthopaedic Marketing--ideally it will be an empty vessel to fill with your tagline

This last point may be the most important. With all the common domain names taken, when I name companies I first write down all the single words that describe what they do, who they do it for, and the process they use. Then, I use a reverse dictionary, starting with a Latin one (but also using Spanish and French and German) to look those words up and see if there's a foreign word that translates one of those key English words, modifying it however I want. To accomplish this last part of the project, I use the tiles from a Scrabble game and keep rearranging them until I find something that meets the criteria outlined above. Often I do that on airplanes, getting very strange looks from my seatmates!

The next step is to see if the domain is available. I have found that Domain Tools and Instant Domain Search are the best resource for this. If it's available, they'll tell you and you can register it (Network Solutions is the most trusted and stable registrar). If it's not available, they'll give you the full history of ownership. Often it's owned by an individual buyer and there's nothing of substance on the site. You can typically buy those names for $1,000-$3,000.

DomainTools also has a feature that provides hundreds of options that might work, adding something to the beginning or end of your preferred name, like "get________.com".

Now you have a name that fits all the criteria above, and most importantly it's an empty vessel. You fill that empty vessel with your tagline, which also should be short (<10 words). It will usually start with "Marketing for…".

Need one more argument to change your name? Over the 18 years that I've been consulting this field, I've noticed that the most effective marketing piece that you can mail to prospects and clients is your moving piece or name change announcement. No, really! It somehow signals that big changes are afoot, and that they are good changes.

To illustrate some good names just to get you started, here are some of my favorites (all are clients except one):

  • 50000 ft.
  • Biro
  • Callahan Creek
  • Cinco
  • CloserLook
  • Dine
  • EnglishMoon
  • EchoDitto
  • Extractable
  • FitzMartin (middle names of principals)
  • High Rock
  • Ibis
  • Immersion Active
  • Interrupt Marketing
  • Carbon & Light
  • Method
  • Monkey Forest
  • The Naming Group
  • Newfangled
  • Ologie
  • Origin
  • Primal Screen
  • Questus
  • ReTake
  • Raincastle
  • Red Canoe
  • Sliced Bread
  • Smith & Jones (fictitious names)
  • SquareCircle
  • Third Degree
  • Toolhouse
  • Triad
  • Unboundary

Is it time to inject a little change at your firm and change your name? At least consider it.

Comments RSS

 

Eric

Once again, David is spot-on. 14 years ago we started Morningstar Communications for every single one of your reasons. It continues to work for us, as we build the company brand on a regular basis. Keep your ego in check and don't us your name in your company name.

 

elizabeth molinaro

After many years in the business, and having worked with companies such as yours on the corporate/hiring side, I would actually disagree with much of which you've said. The first disastrous renaming project I was involved with re-branded NCR as AT&T Global Information Solutions. Meaningless - global (really? Is the Arctic included? Information? what kind? and Solutions? ha, no need, really, to describe how meaningless "solutions" are in the business world, even back in 1993/4) and difficult, for a truly global company to implement and translate, and yes, a name needs to be easy to translate. Yet, given your last criterion, this is an acceptable name.

Additionally, in a global marketplace, names like "Sliced Bread" also do not translate, as they are based on local idiomatic expression. No real sales person (or strategic consultant or account director, wants to explain, in German, why "sliced bread" is a great company to hire, because it means "the best thing since..."

VALUE is the number one criterion for selecting a name, and most of your favorites don't meet this bar; though Closer Look, Primal Screen, and Third Degree might meet this requirement, if properly matched with a company (one assumes 1 & 3 are involved with data, and 2 with video/audio or film services.)

That said, it's also important not only to get your creative mojo by searching in different languages, it's VITALLY important to understand how your new name might be construed colloquially by any other language speaker: this step cannot be forgotten by companies intending to operate in any other arena than the U.S.; and certainly in many regions of the U. S. Notable, and well-understood flubs in this arena include many car brands: Probe, Nova, and Mist (Ford, Chevy, and Rolls-Royce); there are many other examples. Not a great marketing technique, to dis your own "brand.".

A name is primary, a tag-line must continue to add more value, not explain a name. IMHO. Taglines, these days, are also actionable: "Marketing for..." is much weaker than "Strategy + Design + Results." or "Human Centered Design" (IDEO - great firm, great name; though, of course Human Centered is ungrammatical - should be Human-Centered, but design-wise, that would be awkward ; >).

Good luck, however.

 

David C. Baker

Elizabeth, thanks for weighing in on this. Just two points of clarification. 1) I specified at the beginning of the article that this was directed at small professional service, and that's also obvious from my consulting practice. Not companies like AT+T.

2) I thought about the international aspects (largely from the influence of a client: http://www.thenaminggroup.com, where they pay a lot of attention to that), but not that many marketing firms are working outside the US much, and those that are are doing it in English.

Great thoughts for us to ponder, though. Thanks.

 

Ernest Corder

We went through a very long process of changing our name this past spring. We are a small ad agency, previously named Corder Marketing (my last last as I started as a one-man shop) for almost 14 years. We struggled for a long time in changing the name for all the reasons you've stated. We made the change when doing some other big changes at the agency, and couldn't be happier with the response and the results. We changed it for all the reasons you said and I wholeheartedly think it was the right thing to do. New name - Redroc Austin. Tagline "Make It Happen." It says nothing really, but everything, with an homage to the old name. If you're a small company (we're 10 people), getting your name off the door makes your size ambiguous which can be a really good move. And it takes the focus off the principal.

Suggestion - just pick something you really like, as you have to live with it every day, and try to stay away from trendy.

 

Cynthia Murnane

We couldn't agree more with David's post here. We did a lot of industry looking as well as soliciting opinions from those we respect. Many, many people advised us that we should use our name in our company name as it was the people that were being purchased. What we found however was that we were regarded as more of a one man show with our name and not a true agency even though we put together teams of people for our clients. The URL purchase was the most difficult piece as there is everything under the sun already spoken for, and especially in marketing. If you are a small agency wrestling with this decision, take David's advice. It is worth the suffering. The world 20 years ago was a very different place in our industry. The cost of entry was much greater than it is today. And unfortunately, in today's world, it seems to us that the last name either works if you are large and established or very, very small.

 

Veronika Freeman

I'd welcome feedback on my company's name, dotcalm. My mantra is Stress-Free Design - since I couldn't get dotcalm.com (and dotcalm.ws is hard to understand over the phone) I went with my slogan for a site address (but I still use dotcalm.ws for site forward and email).

I work with start-ups who have told me that I make it easier to understand technology and that I don't make them feel stupid or scared. I think the name with the slogan works (my title is "design therapist) but I have had a couple people slam me as they say that they think it reminds them of the dotcom bubble... and that they don't get my title. Since I'm hired through word-of-mouth or as the result of face-to-face interactions I have the opportunity to elaborate on the title and most people seem to like it.

I'm currently the president of a local women entrepreneurs group and will share this article with them; I think people sometimes get stuck clinging to a poor name because they're not bold enough to change - and they can't see the benefits clearly - hoping this article may help them.

 

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