A grape by any other name is still a grape…

When launching a new company or adding a new product or service, a name must be determined to brand the company, product or service. In the legal field, we refer to brand names and logos identifying a good as a trademark; and brand names and logos referring to services as service marks. However, the term “trademark” is often used generically to refer to either trademarks or service marks.

Hopefully, your chosen trademarks help your company capitalize on the marketing, advertising and goodwill generated by providing a desirable product or service in the marketplace. Trademarks identify your company, its products and services. Those customers who have positive impressions will seek you out and fuel your company’s economic well being — and the trademark helps sell all of that economic vibrancy.

Picking an ideal name or mark is usually hard, but it needn’t and shouldn’t be. There is no perfect name or brand. Rather, the value of the brand is developed over time by providing a quality service or product that cements a favorable association in the mind of the consumer with the trademark. 

Would Amazon.com be less successful and prominent today if its name was Gigantous.com? How would a branding expert have critiqued Jeff Bezos’ Amazon moniker?  The expert might have cautioned Bezos that the name was too gender specific and would run the risk of alienating some men: Amazon refers to a mythological nation of warrior women. Perhaps the expert would have been concerned that the term would cause a negative association with the Amazon river and the famous man-eating fish that inhabit it: To most of us the thought of falling into the Amazon river and being devoured by a ravenous school of piranha is not a good one. 

Yet Amazon.com is the name of the company and despite the potential negative associations the company has become for many the go-to internet locale for books and all matter of goods. Be honest: When you think about the term, “Amazon,” the association that first pops into your head isn’t warrior women or the South American river. The reality is that if Amazon.com was Gigantous.com instead, it would have made little difference. We would just associate Gigantous.com as the “go-to internet locale for books and all matter of goods.”

The most important consideration in choosing a name is simple: make it unique and different from all others in your company’s field or space. The more unique and different your mark is the better. In most cases, you want to stand out from the competition so that the goodwill derived from your marketing and advertising efforts, your customer service, your unique and superior products and/ or services accrue to you alone and not to the competitor down the street. Some of the best brand names provide no suggestion as to the associated goods and services offered under the brand. 

An alien flying in from Mars that has a perfect grasp of the English language but no knowledge of our commerce wouldn’t correctly associate particular goods or services with trademarks like Google, Apple, Xerox, McDonalds and Amazon yet I am certain you would. The values in these trademarks aren’t the names themselves but the goodwill developed over the years. For example, Apple in a few short years through savvy marketing and promotion has convinced all of use to associate the brand with cell phones. 

On the other hand ubiquitous trademarks can be extremely problematic especially if the adopter of a largely descriptive mark is a newcomer or smaller market player. Years ago, Homebase was a home improvement store that had a significant presence in Colorado and some other states, but it was no match for the much larger Home Depot. In my part of town, the two stores were located a mere couple of miles apart.  Even though I knew the two apart and favored one over the other, I still had to stop and think when talking to neighbors and friends about where I purchased a new piece of lawn care equipment. And I am certain that more than once I got it wrong. How much of Homebase’s advertising and marketing actually drove confused consumers to Home Depot and how did this confusion ultimately contribute to Homebase’s demise?

Finally and perhaps most important: Your company’s marks should be Google friendly.  Today, a consumer is more likely to consult a search engine to find a company or a particular product instead of the phonebook or even an online directory. If your trademarks are comprised of common descriptive words, chances are your product name may not even pop up on the first page of search results. Ideally, any trademark name you choose should be unique and different enough that when the mark is typed into a search engine relevant information appears prominently on the first page of results.             

It’s ultimately not really the perfect name or trademark that scores the big recognition; it’s excellent products and services, coupled with strategic advertising, superior experience — all delivered over time.

Categories: Management & Leadership