Your Brand Launch: Naming


“You Told Me My Company Name Sucks”

…was the subject line of an E-Mail I received a few days ago. Needless to say, I was intrigued to read on:

“I called my company “(Name Withheld)”, but you told me it was horrible. For that reason I wanted to reach out and say THANK YOU!”

He listened and he turned the page and now he is grateful for my frank advice just as much as for him listening and acting upon it. This is how I want to start off the New Brand Post for 2015 as it sums up what is key to branding a new venture, and what I want you to keep upfront and center this year.

FINIEN_Branding

When you start a new venture, or initiate a new product offering, you tend to know best. You know your product best, you know your audience best, you know your marketplace best. You know your road map best. So, naturally, you are closing off quickly. Why? Because you know best.

Truth is, you just can’t be great at everything. I am not. No one is.

The moment you let go of that notion is the moment you open up to greatness. As a person, as a founder and as a brand.

Successful brands are built in collaboration with – and powered by insights from – specialists within their domain. The ones that are great at a certain thing, just like you are at your thing. It takes money and/or time, but for the ones who ‘get it,‘ like the one who wrote me above E-Mail, it will make for a better, if not great, brand.

This year be open, listen, absorb and analyze every step along the way as it relates to tasks like naming, brand identity, online presence, brand positioning, the same way you analyze, and more often than not over-analyze, each feature of your product or service offering. Branding is the first feature your target audience will be exposed to. It better click the right way, right away.

 


The Secret Behind Big Brands And How Entrepreneurs Can Learn From It

This was one of many topics I was asked about by a croatian startup site prior to the speech I gave two nights ago at the University of Zagreb for the Founder Institute. The interview was published in croatian, which you can peruse here if you speak the language (and want to analyze and help me understand why the Backstreet Boys invaded my Brand Atmosphere), but for the rest of you, here it is:

Startups, especially the ones you will be talking to in Zagreb, are mainly in their early stages. Do they even need branding in that stage? If they do – what kind of branding do they need?

You can never start thinking about branding early enough. Branding is the DNA of your new venture. An idea is only an idea until it is generating revenue, so basically an idea without an audience is worthless and in order to connect with, and build an audience you need to brand your venture: Position your venture in a manner that connects with your audience, craft a name that reflects the positioning, then translate it into a powerful overall brand identity that sparks emotion.
Fabian Geyrhalter speaking at the University of Zagreb for the Founder Institute, October 22, 2014

Fabian Geyrhalter speaking at the University of Zagreb for the Founder Institute, October 22, 2014

How can you brand yourself online when you are still a small startup, with a very small team and a limited budget?

You brand yourself by walking the walk: by representing the positioning of your startup, by talking in the right way to the right audience. That can be done without monetary expenses, if the brand positioning has been done the right way. You can learn about the 5 ingredients to a strong brand foundation here.

When is the right time to hire someone (or a company) to help with branding?

Hire a consultant before you make decisions on the positioning and the name. After that you could bootstrap, if you truly need to, and conduct a complete re-branding/branding upon receiving funding or customer traction. Do be aware though that when you decide to go lean on branding it will be harder to find traction and funding, and that customers quickly get attached to your branding, especially as a new company, so once you decide to invest in proper branding you will have to re-educate your audience on the new ‘you,’ hence I advise to work with professionals from the get-go if at all possible.

Can you put together some sort of “emergency branding kit” for startups? What would that “kit” be made of?

Absolutely, and I provide more in-depth tips on each topic through these links:
Last but not least create only a few social media channels, only the ones that A) work for your audience and that B) you will update frequently (daily, or every other day).

It gets really difficult for a startup to choose their company name. It has to be unique, it has to be international, it needs to mean something. How do you achieve all of that and more with just one word?

It’s tough, but it’s do-able. All it takes is time and the right guidance. It’s one of the most important branding tasks, so don’t give up quickly and cheat by settling for the ‘wrong’ domain name (anything not .com as a rule of thumb – some guidance on that topic here), or a misspelled name (think ‘lyft’). You can, but it will weaken your brand’s strength, its searchability, spread by word of mouth and it often makes it more costly to purchase the .com domain later on as a recognized company.

How can a startup’s target audience help with forming a brand? What kind of feedback can that audience provide and how can a startup brand create an emotional connection with their potential customers?

Startups often have an idea, then search for an audience. That audience in turn tells the startup what they actually use that idea (product/app/service) for and the startup adjusts its offering to the new audience, and the new usage of its offering. Happens all the time. I preach to startups to be very clear about their audience from the get go. Only if you truly understand a few target ‘personas’ can you focus on them and connect with them emotionally, and emotion is what branding, and often selling, is all about. Once you connect, you tell the audience what they will love, not vice versa.

What is the secret behind those huge, well known and beloved brands and what can small startups learn from them?

Most huge brands got there because they filled a void (innovated at the right time) or had a better offering, but they all connected with their audience on a deep emotional level. So the ‘secret’ that I believe startups can adapt from the big guys is to invest in what’s most important: your audience. Most startups don’t invest in branding at all, instead they pour all their resources into product development.

Branding For Startups: Learn What Matters The Most In 13 Minutes

When the City of Santa Monica asked me to speak on a small television show helping startups shape their ventures, I immediately agreed. We have been working with the city for 6 consecutive years, and I see them as an extraordinary group of innovative people running a city nothing short of amazing; of course I would show support.

Being on the show was tons of fun, or perhaps thrilling is a better word, mainly because it was a big experiment (a ‘pilot’), and I was part of getting it through Episode #1. Yes, I was a guinea pig, no doubt about it. The dream of television being a place of perfection, endless cuts and edits to make it just perfect were quickly replaced that day by a single take, no rehearsal, no presenter notes, yet a live audience and a few cameras pointing towards me.

Did it make for my best speech ever? Absolutely not.

Is this short video a great way for startups to learn about how not to screw up their branding? Absolutely.


Talk Talk – Talk Talk (Sound Naming Advice)

Do you remember this song? Talk Talk by the highly influential 80’s band Talk Talk?

That’s right, you do. It was rather memorable. Lucky for them, as they named their first song on their first album (their second single release) after their newly formed band.

That takes real guts.

And guts can result in glory…or defeat. Brutal defeat that is. A risk that many new ventures are willing to take when they name their product the same as their company, or vice versa. It is a move that most often is based on a swift launch. Rarely is the decision to name an offering and its company alike a choice of strategic nature.

When Talk Talk decided to choose Talk Talk for their ‘inaugural song’, there was a risk involved in case the song sucked, but the band had a decent amount of control over that. The song did not suck, instead it defined a sound that they built their entire career on. You hear Talk Talk (Company Name) and you automatically hear the song Talk Talk (Product Name) in your ears. Smart move.

In the entrepreneurial world though, betting on your one product to turn into a hit is a gamble that only gets amplified once you decide to diversify your portfolio of offerings down the road. Levi’s had a major hit with their jeans, then they tried selling khakis and failed doing so under their brand name; they had to create Dockers.

Here’s to you, Talk Talk, for tempting entrepreneurs to take this risk. For the ones that aspire to lead through brand strategy though, you may peruse our white paper on brand architecture instead (while listening to any 80’s hit of your choosing).


Brand Naming: Guess Who ‘Blue It’? A Lot Of Them Did.

When I caught up with our long-term collaborator Matt Dandurand of Media Contour the other day he mentioned that he came across a breed of hilariously ‘mis-named’ IT companies. He had to share this phenomenon with me as it was very hilarious, yet so awfully sad at the same time, and he insisted that I dedicate a blog post to it that can turn this whole thing into something educational for my readers.

I was doubtful.

Then Matt shared how, during some research he was conducting on IT companies, he came across a company named ‘Blue IT’. He thought it was funny, especially when typing the url. A quick Google search later he found a slew of them that blew it, all the same way.

Blog_Graphic_BlueIt_Naming

Now I am not in the business of picking on a random company’s name, it seems a bit cheap, but I do feel this serves as a great pointer to the fact that naming is to be taken seriously, regardless of company size and industry. Ample time needs to be spent to ensure, yes, that you don’t blow it. This guide will help you. It focuses on what makes a great brand name, now that we know what makes an unfortunate one.


The True Tech Startup Trend: Cloned Apples From Cloned Trees

Many tech startup founders pitch their project by saying ‘It’s just like Instagram, but with [filling in their differentiator],’ or, ‘Imagine Pinterest, but only [filling in their differentiator]’. Quite peculiar, most of them are located in places like Silicon Alley, Silicon Hill or Silicon Forest.

FINIEN_Blog_Graphic_April-24-2014

With ‘startup’ being the thing to do for many (particularly right out of college) this hot minute, it is the idea of starting something (anything really) that is often greater than the business idea in itself. Innovations turned into variations of the same, leaving the invention behind, while startup meccas themselves turned to cloned names: Silicon Alley (New York), Silicon Beach (Los Angeles’ West Side – Note: we pushed for the name Tech Coast), Silicon Roundabout (London), Silicon Forest (Portland), Silicon Hill (Washington D.C.) not to be mistaken with Silicon Hills (Austin), Silicon Border (Mexicali), Silicon Sloboda (Moscow) and many more.

Silicon Valley was named after the prosperous semiconductor manufacturers that were inhabiting the surrounding San Francisco area in the 1970’s. Today, as too many Silicon Valley clones are churning out too many Snapchat clones, it is time to remind ourselves what Silicon Valley was named after: An element; and there are no two elements that are alike. Silicon as an element only exists once. The periodic table is yours to experiment with.

Time to get creative. I can’t wait to hear about, better yet, be part of that journey.

 


Rapid-Fire Brand Name Advice

On this blog I already talked about what makes a name successful and how to pick a domain name, but many of you ask if I find a fabricated name to be superior to a descriptive name, and how to best navigate the types of names that one can consider, quickly. Short and actionable, I’ll give one sentence of advice on each type of name. 3, 2, 1, go:

Descriptive

Example: Match.com

Advice: Great as it immediately conveys what it is/does – only if you will never expand your product offerings – but limiting and hard to find a sound domain name

Metaphor

Example: Puma

Advice: Not a top choice as existing connotations, domain name difficulties and Search Engine results can quickly come in the way for a new company

 

FINIEN_Founder_Naming

 

Founder

Example: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Advice: Great if you are the brand, you already have a legacy and if you are Bill, and not Lance

Fabricated

Example: FINIEN

Advice: It’s genius, of course! In all seriousness, it is a great path, if easy to pronounce and recall, and backed by a great story

Acronym

Example: AOL (America On-Line, Remember?)

Advice: A solid option to sound like a larger company from the start; only if your customers can recall your letters and if you can get hold of a reasonable domain name (sorry, three- or four-letter combos are all sold out)

Fabricated x Acronym

Example: Wanelo (Want, Need, Love)

Advice: Great option if tied to a tag line – otherwise the same criteria applies as with Fabricated names

Creative Spelling

Example: Lyft

Advice: Don’t do it, it’s pure laziness – unless word of mouth is not important to you (Wait, you spell it just like Supply but with a v instead of the u?) and you cater solely to ages 18-28

Numeric

Example: 7-Eleven

Advice: Don’t do it out of laziness (I picked our street number, easy does it) as no one will recall it – do it only if you can create shared meaning (7-Eleven: open 7 – 11, 7 days a week) or showcase value (Social 123 – easy as 1-2-3). See my post on numeric names for details.

There you go – no more excuses. Just do it, or dig deeper via our white paper, or if all fails (or you have better things to do, like starting a business) call me for help, or call us for hands-on naming magic.


How to Leverage the 3 Core Components of Your Brand Identity to Enhance Messaging

When we think of brand we first think of logo (even though we know a brand is much more than its logo). The logo is the key point of visual interaction with a brand, hence we are likely to recall it every time we think (or talk) of – or write about – a brand.

During the brand identity (‘logo‘) design process entrepreneurs often forget that there are 2 other elements that help tell the company or product’s story. They interact and bring value to the brand identity as a whole. Do not repeat the same message, but instead ensure to leverage these 3 core components to create a stronger, deeper brand message:

FINIEN_IdentityNameTagline

The 3 core brand identity components need to complement each other, each adding something unique to the whole story, and together forming a cohesive and strong initial brand message.

If your name describes your business, do not focus on showing the same message in your logo; instead use your logo to talk about other key elements that describe and differentiate your business. If you are in the cloud storage business and your name includes the two words cloud and storage (A bad company name, yet good example: Cloud Storage Ninjas), have your logo visualize security and stability, if those are key components of your brand’s message. Contrary, if your name is nondescript, either fabricated or an acronym, ensure that the associated brand identity design visualizes what you are in business for (EG: “Cloud Storage“).

Often forgotten during the brand identity design process (and beyond) is…the tagline. There are many factors to blame for the slowly occurring extinction of the tagline (mainly of digital nature, as tag lines are hard to squeeze into apps and templated web sites), but the power of a great tagline is still immense (Just do it, I say!). The tagline should be alive and kicking even though its placement has changed (from the traditional place below the brand identity design). It can now be used as the first header users see on a brand’s web site, the descriptor below the company name in an email signature, in place of yet another step-and-repeat icon pattern on a back of a business card, or in the often underestimated – yet early – brand touch point, the lobby of a business. The tag line is a powerful tool, that, together with the name and brand identity design, tells a stronger, deeper and more actionable initial brand story. It is a leading actor and you can write the script.

Keep the bigger picture in mind when embarking on your identity design project and use your Brand Platform to ensure these 3 core elements touch on more than just one or two of your core values and differentiators (while keeping it visually simple).

Next week I will talk about why our identity design looks the way it does. Are we not following our own rules, are we lazy, or is there a different strategy at play? Hint: It’s the latter.


Building Your Brand From The Ground Up (A Fireside Chat With Yours Truly)

A couple of weeks ago, Bob Garlick, host of Business Book Talk (poking through below), contacted me to schedule an interview about our book ‘How to Launch a Brand.’ With Bob sitting in Vancouver and myself in Los Angeles, I was immediately taken by surprise as there was no script that he shared with me, no canned answers to prep, no warmup chatter and no edits were made to our conversation.

FINIEN_FabianGeyrhalter_BusinessBookTalk

The result is an honest and stimulating conversation between two individuals with a keen interest in design, branding and entrepreneurship, which I’d like to share with you. Below audio not only gives you a peek into our book, but also covers topics such as misconceptions of branding, brand strategy, how brands need to be different than 15 years ago and how to connect with your customers through branding:

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(Can’t see above audio player in your E-Mail? Please listen to the audio via our site)

Now that I crossed the bridge by posting audio (how adventurous), I might as well share a quick video in which I further define ‘brand’ specifically for startups, filmed at a mentoring session (how advantageous) at the Founder Institute in San Diego two weeks ago.