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Create a Name that Puts the Power of Marketing to Work

Today’s financial services organizations face the challenge of differentiating their companies and their offering in a marketplace cluttered with numerous financial products, voluminous communications and fierce competition. In such an environment, naming a new venture, product or service can be one of an organization’s most important marketing decisions.

A name is usually the first connection a prospect has with a company or product. As a result, these few words become the first step in the branding process and bear the burden of making a favorable first impression. Since there are generally only marginal differences between financial product and service categories,

  • an outstanding name can mean a significant difference in gaining marketplace acceptance—and sales.
  • a bad name can turn away prospects before they learn anything about the product or service.

The Name Game

Here are just some of the approaches that companies use in their search for the “right” name.

Contrived Names. There is a current trend toward using contrived names that not only give no clue to the businesses’ purpose or benefits, but are also hard to pronounce and remember. For example, Verizon combines the Latin word veritas (truth) with horizon, while Aricent combines arise and ascent. Lucent means “marked by clarity” and Accenture is derived from “accent on the future.” Honestly, most people don’t know or care about the esoteric origins of names.

The fact is that any name that does not resonate in the marketplace is a luxury that only a genuinely unique new product or service can afford. Some argue that every contrived name starts out as an empty vessel waiting to be filled with positive perceptions—that, barring any negative connotations attached to the chosen name, the sponsor has total control over what the name means in the marketplace. The counter-argument is that it generally requires a substantial (and expensive) branding campaign to generate familiarity and mold marketplace perceptions around a more esoteric name.

Initials. Some firms use initials as their name, hoping to emulate some of the richest and most famous corporations. What these upstarts quickly learn, however, is that the successful use of initials validates brand recognition, not create it. Companies spend years building visibility and shaping perceptions before leveraging their marketplace success and facilitating brand extension by recasting themselves with their monograms. Think of GE or IBM.

Keeping It Personal. A store near our office is called simply Joe’s Wine & Liquor Store. This admittedly pedestrian moniker tells customers exactly what they can buy there and who to speak with if they have a problem. While Joe probably aspires to own a store the size of the much larger AAA Liquors further down the road, the name of his current business offers much more appeal for customers.

Innovation and Creativity. On the other side of town is a brightly-lit, inviting wine and liquor store with ample parking and attractive displays called THIRD BASE—Last Stop Before Home! Now that’s a name and a tag line that get attention from passers-by and the name’s very suggestion undoubtedly contributes to revenues. It also illustrates a naming strategy that has long been a favorite of our firm. A brand name that is appropriately non-traditional for its industry, product or service category will stand out in the marketplace and reduce the cost of building awareness. Distinctive names can be helpful in gaining visibility, recognition and new business because they are more likely to be remembered. Further, a distinctive name creates the perception of a distinctive product or service, while an ordinary name implies that you’re just another competitor. It’s important to be distinctive—and sound it!

Namer Beware

Naming a new product, however, presents a variety of traps. Many firms add the corporate name or an existing “product line” name to gain quicker market acceptance. Our experience suggests that borrowing whole or half names almost always creates unnecessary baggage. New products and services are handicapped from inception if they don’t have the benefit of a name that reinforces their positioning and helps alter prospects’ perceptions of competitive products. A new product or service deserves its own name—one that will immediately go to work for it, and it alone.

Politicians are very canny about leveraging the power of a good name. Legislators routinely give their bills names such as “Fair Trade Act” or the “Clean Air Bill” to minimize opposition. Special interest groups like “Right to Life” or “Mothers Against Drunk Driving” use their names to rally support. An organization that creates a name that doesn’t actively work to differentiate the firm or its offerings might find itself expending substantial resources to gain marketplace recognition. For example, consider the millions AFLAC has invested to gain visibility by turning an educated duck into a media celebrity.

The Bottom Line

The naming process provides an excellent opportunity to put the power of marketing to work for your products and services. It is the important first step in building perceptions that can be continually reinforced by cohesive and consistent messages. The right name serves as the springboard for the implementation of an effective branding strategy. The better the name, the more potential it offers for effective, lower-cost branding that can help achieve marketplace success.