What’s in a name?

April 27, 2007


In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
without that title.”

Sorry Shakespeare, but you are terribly wrong on this one.

What’s in a name? Everything.

A rose by another name would not smell as sweet and Romeo by some other name not so perfect a love.

While we all want to believe that names don’t matter, that what really matters is the strength of our character and the quality of our product. The reality is that names matter enormously.

Most actors in Hollywood don’t use their birth name. Marion Morrison would never make a good cowboy, but John Wayne certainly did. Or how about artist Andrew Warhola? His 15 minutes of fame was only accomplished with the name Andy Warhol.

A name is the beginning of your journey into the mind of the consumer. And a good name will help that process. A good name will help position your brand. A good name will help consumers to perceive that your product is better.

A bad name usually blocks you from ever entering the mind at all.

Having a better brand is not about actual differences in people, products or services. Having a better brand is about having a better brand perception in the mind. The mind is not like Consumer Reports; the mind is heavily influenced by name, brand, PR and word of mouth.

One of the most tempting and logical but ultimately disastrous naming strategies is using a generic descriptive name. While you think you are giving your brand an advantage by describing exactly who you are and what you do. You aren’t able to build a powerful brand. Generic names are filed in the mind in the lowercase. To have power, brands need to be filed in the uppercase.

Seattle’s Best Coffee, might tell people that you have a high-end coffee shop from the Pacific Northwest. But when I ask people what Seattle’s best coffee is the answer is always the same: Starbucks.

Seattle’s Best Coffee is not a name it is a position. Positioning statements do not make good brand names.

Look at what has happened in the high-definition DVD business. There are two competing formats. Blu-ray and HD DVD.

Blu-ray is a beautiful name. Simple, unique, futuristic.

HD DVD is a terrible name. Generic, boring, descriptive.

So it is not surprising to me that in the first quarter 70% of the high-definition discs bought were Blu-ray compared to only 30% for HD DVD.

Building a brand is like picking up a girl in a bar. To be successful you have to have a little mystery and intrigue. You have to stand apart from the crowd. You have to be authentic. You have to have credentials. And you have to have a good name. Romeo works for me.