‘The Spark’ is when business leaders stand right on the cusp of opportunity, but need a little extra oomph to move from inspiration to transformation. Keep an eye on the Kinesis blog for this new series.
Death to Bad Business Names
“Our name needs to die.”
That’s what we heard recently in a discussion with a prospect. For the sake of anonymity, let’s call them… oh, I don’t know… Northwest Manufacturing, Ltd.
“Northwest Manufacturing needs to die.”
It’s rare to hear that from a business owner, but they knew their company name was holding them back, and recognized that something needed to change. And while most owners don’t have quite such conviction, the issues they were facing are probably familiar to many. Issues like:
- We don’t have one name, we have several, since everyone refers to us a little differently. (Northwest Manufacturing, NW Mfg., NML, etc.)
- We’ve outgrown the name; it doesn’t reflect who we are anymore. (We do more than manufacturing and we’ve expanded geographically.)
- Our name isn’t memorable or remarkable, and at least one competitor has a name just like it. (Read: Oregon Manufacturing, Northwest Technologies, etc.)
After more than 20 years of renaming businesses at Kinesis, we’ve heard it all. And if any of that sounds like you, it may be time for your company name to take a long dirt nap.
A Brief History of Company Names
It’s no surprise that so many business names are in need of a refresh. Often, the naming process early in a company’s lifecycle is less than strategic — usually just a box that needs checking when you apply for a business license. But as a result, company names tend to follow the trends of the era:
Your name is Bob, and you start a plumbing company. Ipso facto, “Bob’s Plumbing!”
Everyone knows you must be on the first page of the phone book. Ergo, “AAA Plumbing.”
It’s the dotcom boom, better go with something trendy and future-sounding like “iPlumb.”
Enter search engines, and a keyword-riddled name like “Portland Discount Plumbing.”
Competition is fierce, so you show customers you’re the best with “Apex Plumbing.”
Unique URLs are hard to find, so you pick a word and misspell it. “Plumbr.com.”
… And on and on. The trouble with all of these names is that they are as flighty and arbitrary as the marketing trends they’re trying to capitalize on. More importantly, they do nothing to convey who the company is and what sets it apart.
Renaming Your Business
Fortunately, no name is set in stone — and there comes a time in any company’s maturity when a rename may be in order. Some of the most common reasons clients come to us include:
An Ownership Transition
Whether a company is being merged, acquired, or just passed on to the next generation, it’s often cause to reflect on where the organization is headed and whether the current name supports that direction.
This was the case with our client, formerly Gopher Kegs. While the name was playful (“where to go for kegs!”), it didn’t reflect the sophistication of an industry leader. Together, we elected to evolve the name to signal a new chapter while paying homage to its original identity.
A Company Evolution
Or perhaps leadership hasn’t changed hands at all, but nevertheless the business doesn’t look the way it used to. “Bob’s Plumbing” once had a nice ring to it, but Bob retired years ago, and since then you’ve also expanded to offer HVAC services. “Portland Discount Plumbing” may have been useful for SEO, but now you have locations across Oregon.
Take Pacific Custom Products, for instance. In the world of retail display, this name was hardly one that stood out from the crowd. And it certainly didn’t communicate anything about their company’s purpose, which went way beyond products. They came to Kinesis, and the result was Platform — elevated placement and a foundation for shared success.
A Challenging Name
Sometimes, this takes the shape of an actual copyright infringement. More often, it’s just that your name is hard to pronounce. Or spell. Or remember. If you always have to introduce yourself with an immediate disclaimer, “I work for Plumbr, spelled like ‘plumber’ but without the 'e',” we’re looking at you.
For example, Dick Bogumil started his accounting firm in 1972 and called it Bogumil, Holzgang, & Harris after its founding partners. While customers adored their services, no one could remember the name of their own accounting firm. Thus, we helped them rename to Fluence — a root combination of fluent, confluence, and affluence — all uniting to reflect their dynamic company.
A Commoditized Industry
You used to be able to differentiate on being the best — maybe “Apex Plumbing” was once enough to set you apart from your competition. But now, everyone says they’re the best (whether they are or not), and you can’t compete on table stakes.
Automation Resources Group came to us on a mission to completely revolutionize their industry. But how could they do that with a name that felt like a carbon copy of all their competitors? We worked together to introduce Loupe — a name that reflected the simplicity and functionalism they wanted to bring to an outdated world.
How to Choose a Company Name
Since 2000, Kinesis has renamed dozens of companies with a 100% success rate. What do we mean by that? Well, first, we mean that every client who has gone down the path of a rebrand has been delighted by the results. No regrets, buyer's remorse, or do-overs. That's the baseline. Beyond that, however, we've also had folks report higher revenues, greater employee engagement, and fewer obstacles in the sales process.
How have we managed to have such luck when this process is so fraught with peril and misstep? Here are a few important guidelines to keep in mind:
The first rule of renaming is... not everyone should rename.
It’s important to remember that a rename is not always the answer — and in fact, in some cases, we explore the possibility and determine that it wouldn’t be in a client’s best long-term interests. How much brand equity exists with the current name? Do the costs or risks of switching outweigh the potential benefits? All of these questions are part of the process before we even consider renaming as an initiative.
The name should be unique.
Your business name should convey what makes your company remarkable. It isn’t enough to say you’re the best, or fastest, or the cheapest, or the most reliable. Chances are, someone in your market is already making one (or more likely, all) of those claims. What makes your business different?
The name should tell a story.
Telling the story of your company name should be one more opportunity to set your business apart. It’s no secret that storytelling is a powerful branding tool — and your business name is no exception. An ideal name will tap into the power of storytelling through metaphor or other associations, and will inspire further curiosity and intrigue in the right ways.
The name should be driven by your purpose.
And the only way to accomplish that is to do the work. You can’t open a dictionary to a random page and choose your new name — it should be a natural reflection of who you are and what you stand for.
This comes from understanding your company inside and out, as well as its position in the competitive landscape. (At Kinesis, we’ve designed our whole process to start with this type of deep exploration.) That way, when you do land on the perfect name, there’s a collective feeling of, “Of course, that’s us.”
Interested in learning what a rename could do for your business? Let’s chat.