7 Naming Mistakes To Avoid

#1 Being too literal and descriptive in your naming strategy. One of the more common mistakes that a startup can make is thinking that no one will understand your business if it’s not literally spelled out. Wholesale food supplies company might sound like a great idea, but companies often evolve as time goes by to include retail or other products and services. It’s also generic and uninspired. Think if Google was search.com or YouTube was videos.com, sure they make all of their money with search ads, but they have their hands in so much that they re-branded their corporate structure as Alphabet. Would you use a search.com email account? No, they only do search well.

On the flip side of the scale think about several big companies that are struggling or went out of business. Take CompUSA or RadioShack for example, both started selling one product and grew into selling many others. Did CompUSA only sell computers? RadioShack only sell radios? No, they sold TVs, movies, cameras and all types of electronics. In contrast, BestBuy isn’t pigeonholed into just computers or radios, they sell everything that falls under household electronics and accessories.

Another downside of going literal is not being able to trademark it. Take SyFy for example. They started as the SciFi Channel, but because the name was literally what it does, they couldn’t trademark SciFi. They had to slightly change the name to SyFy in order to be able to trademark anything.

Even search engines realized that you can’t differentiate with a generic name. Prior to 2012, they gave ranking preference to exact match domains. WholesaleFoodSupplies,  com? Prior to 2012, great that’s exactly what someone is looking for front page, no problem. After 2012, they realized that brand signals were an important factor and not everyone with an exact match domain actually had a business behind it. As a result, they pushed down exact match domains without brand signals and made it more difficult to rank for exact match domains.

#2 Using alphabet soup as some acronym with insider meaning that no one gets to make a literal or generic name sound better. Wholesale Food Supplies Company? No thanks we’re WFGS. Everyone will remember that and exactly what it means right? Let’s take the YMCA for example. Most people don’t know that it stood for Young Men’s Christian Association. In 1844 that might have been exactly what they did and who they served, but think about that today. Do they serve only the young? Only men? Only Christians? No they serve women, the elderly and those outside of Christians. 3 out of the 4 acronyms are no longer relevant and by sticking with that name it explicitly excluded 90% of the US population that they actually served. Customers showed that they don’t care what YMCA meant and for years people called it “The Y.” In 2010 they finally gave in and re-branded itself as “The Y” to better reflect their offerings.

#3 Choosing the wrong name and sticking with it. Wholesale food supplies company but 35% of your business is now retail? Time to change your name to something more fitting. Take something like FreshVerde, fresh, green food straight from the farmer’s field to you.

Eventually bigger brands will adapt or face pressure too. Did you know that Burlington Coat Factory doesn’t sell just coats? They have 500 stores in the U.S. and it wasn’t until I went in with someone to find a last minute shirt that they needed that I found out they are just like Ross and other discounters that sell home decor, baby clothes, toys, etc. They spend $80 million a year on marketing and I would have walked right by them without knowing anything about them other than it’s summer and I don’t need a coat. Their tagline is even “We’re more than just coats” and at some point they’ll realize they need a name change.

#4 Using a Committee to Name Your Business. Have a few partners and investors? Want some advice from friends, family, employees or clients? You might want to think twice about involving too many people in the decision. You’ll only need one name, but if you ask numerous people for advice at best you run the risk of a consensus decision which is by definition average. At worst you risk alienating those you asked by not picking their selections if you ask too many people. Involve only those you know will be decision makers within the business and keep those to a minimum. That way you only have the minimum needed to bounce a few ideas back and forth and don’t settle on a generic name that won’t stand out.

#5 Putting Your Local Geography In Your Name. Starting in Seattle? Great, What happens if you expand beyond Seattle into Portland, San Fransisco, and then the east coast? That’s what happened to Minnesota Manufacturing and Mining. You might know them by their new brand, 3M which isn’t limited to Mining and Manufacturing in Minnesota. How about Kentucky Fried Chicken? Notice how they are now KFC? They’ve made the strategic move to limit their geographical limitation inherit in their name.

#6 Needing Personal Recognition. Yes, your company is an extension of you. No, your company shouldn’t have your name in it if you want it to grow outside of a small local company. Most last names are either too common to stand out or too rare to know to say or spell. Take Andersen Consulting. Once an accounting firm its consulting arm grew to be larger than the original. It’s now know as Accenture.

#7 Waiting To Get The .com That Matches Your Brand. The U.S. Market has been taught from the start of the internet that a brand’s online identity is .com. Local countries like the UK have their own like .co.uk or .in for India, but the US and international brand use .com. The longer you wait to get the matching .com domain the more of a headache it will be down the road to switch. U

Picking A Short Name and Getting Too Creative With The Domain Extension. The human eye is trained to stop reading with a period. Everyone from the time they started to read was taught that a period is equal to a stop sign. You stop, take a breath and start again. That’s why it’s verytroubleso.me to get creative with a domain name. Very Troubleso dot me is how most people will read it. Even worse is using a sub-domain like del.icio.us. What if you ever needed to run a radio, TV, or a video ad for branding. Most people are going directly to delicious.com Even worse is you’ve completely alienated the over 50 crowd.

Risking Your Brand On Non Native Country Extensions. Sure, some trendy tech startups use different location extensions when they start and switch latter on after they’ve grown. For a few years it was .co (Columbia), recently .io( British Indian Ocean Territories) has been trendy in silicon valley. A while ago .ly(Libya) was trending until the country had a military intervention by NATO and startups realized that maybe they shouldn’t be sending money to the country at the time. Think you can build a national brand on a .co or .me (Montenegro)? Let’s take a look at two famous examples of big brands that couldn’t. Overstock tried to re-brand itself as o dot co at the height of the .co trend. They even renamed a football stadium the o dot co stadium and redirected their .com to their .co domain. After months and millions of dollars spent on marketing for the shortest domain available they were losing 65% of their type in traffic to o.com which is restricted and no one is allowed to own. Visa, after 6 months of heavy ads and millions of dollars spent trying to get v.me off the ground, re-branded to VisaCheckout.

Using An Unknown Extension Recently over 1000 new generic top level domains were released became available for registration. Big brands such as Bank of American and Microsoft warned in 2008 that it would be a security threat and there wasn’t enough demand to justify them. Here we are several years after they have become available and what happened? All the registries behind them are struggling and may go out of business. RightSide lost $33million last year(2016) and 66% of registries with new generic told level domains lost money. There has been little to no marketing or general public awareness of them. Uniregistry after saying they would not raise annual renewal prices for 5 years increased them 3000% after just two years meaning there’s no price caps. Several registries operate under the model of premium renewals, that is to say, if your business is using a premium name as determined by them that they missed in originally pricing it as such, it could find itself needing to completely abandon it’s domain that it is using for email and spent money on marketing or fork over whatever the registry chooses to charge at any point. Further if it’s a photography business for example, there’s photo, photography pics, pictures with no commonality between singular and plural. Even worse if your registry that is operating the domain goes out of business, you may have no option but to abandon it down the road.

*Disclosure, we own .com domains, because we believe they are the best option for our customers