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10 Ways to a Bad Business Name

Authored By Elizabeth Goodspeed

Poor strategic thinking leads to faulty naming. Here are my favorite missteps:
 
Achieving Anonymity with Alphabet Soup Names—AT&T and IBM have the bucks to sink into advertising to cement the image their ABC names represent. Do you? Look at companies like AXA-UAP, GPU, AMR, and even ABC Group. This approach to naming is a fail-safe way to throw your company into oblivion; studies show that people are 30% less likely to remember initials than names.
   
The Name Chain Game—Afraid of losing brand name recognition in the wake of a merger? Just combine all of the names together. You’ll join the tongue-twisting ranks of Dean Witter Morgan Stanley, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton and SmithKline Beecham. Name merging is the compromise solution chosen when neither party will agree to a new company moniker.
    
 The “If It Works For Them” Approach—Use ubiquitous words like today’s technology inspired “micro,” “cyber” or “net.” Try creating a distinctive identity in the midst of Advanced Micro Systems, Advanced Micro Devices, Micron Technology, or Microsoft. Or bump up against Netscape, NetStar, e.bay, or e.Digital.
         
Connect the “dots”—If it works for Amazon.com, the globe.com, and broadcast.com, why not: JetFax to efax.com and Software.net Corporation to Beyond.com. Connecting the “dots” might seem very of the moment, but it denies you the opportunity to leverage your company’s key points of difference and to plan for longevity.
      
Create a Tongue Twister—Using an unfamiliar name or one that is too “foreign” ensures that your word of mouth advertising will come to a screeching halt. After all, people would rather utter no brand preference than mispronounce a brand and run the risk of looking foolish. Lieframulich, Clos du Bois, and Tiganello all have had to go to amazing and expensive lengths to educate their consumers about their brand.
     
Forget Name Associations—Not all publicity is good publicity and when your name conjures up unpleasant parallels, it’s time to move on. Jack the Stripper, The Failure Group and ValuJet were all due for a change.
      
Sounds Like—As unpleasant-sounding names conjure up unpleasant attributes, your brand will take a beating. Compare the sound of UNUM to that of Caress. Or consider why Hog Island became Paradise Island or why Ralph Lipshitz evolved into Ralph Lauren.
      
Choose a “Now” Name—Ignore future growth opportunity, and saddle your company with limiting names that eventually need to be changed. Twentieth Century Insurance and Boston Chicken are prime examples.
     
Ignore Foreign Translations—In this age of international marketing, checking foreign translations is a must to avoid disasters. Look at Estee Lauder’s Country Mist introduction into Germany where “mist” translates roughly into manure or the classic mistake of Nova meaning “no go” in Spanish.
  
Create a New Compound Word—This approach is like adding a pinch of this and a pinch of that without ever seeing the entire recipe: the end result often falls flat. Premark is a combination of premier and trademark, Unisys is “united information systems,” and the worst example is probably Aspercreme. It is so poorly named that every commercial has a disclaimer at the end stating “Aspercreme contains no aspirin.“

 
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