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The name game: Play it right Add to ...

What’s in a company name? Just about everything.

Just ask Brian Shepard, chief executive officer of of Tenzing Managed IT Services.

Mr. Shepard first launched his Kelowna, B.C.–based information company in 1998 with the moniker Canada Web Hosting Inc. But as the company gained traction in the marketplace, and the firm’s service offerings evolved, Mr. Shepard recognized that the name carried some significant limitations.

“First, having Canada in the name was too restrictive and suggested that we were focused on Canada, which wasn’t accurate at all,” Mr. Shepard says.

Even more of a disadvantage was the fact that Web hosting no longer accurately reflected what the company did.

“Our business had evolved, and there was so much more to it. We had shifted our focus from shared hosting services to managed hosting services and we felt that it was time to think about a name change,” he says.

Management spent time brainstorming internally and, while they came close a couple of times, ultimately they couldn’t come up with a name that adequately fit the company’s vision. Plus, the potential names they did come up with did not have the accompanying URLs available.

So in 2009, the company sought the help of a naming consultancy. “They came up with the Tenzing name, and we fell in love with it,” Mr. Shepard says.

The name is a nod to Sardar Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa guide who accompanied Sir Edmund Hillary to the summit of Mount Everest in 1953.

“He worked largely in the background providing guidance and doing all the heavy lifting, which is a reflection of what we do,” Mr. Shepard says.

Not all entrepreneurs think so long and hard about naming their business, but they should.

After all, your firm's name can boost brand equity, create valuable public relations and marketing momentum and ultimately drive sales. The potential return on investment from choosing an appropriate name should compel any entrepreneur to devote time and effort to getting it right, experts say.

“Your name is the first and most visible representation of your brand. While getting it wrong won’t necessarily be the downfall of your business, it will make your marketing efforts that much harder,” says Jay Jurisich, founder and creative director of Igor International, a corporate naming specialist with offices in Toronto and San Francisco.

“Your name is a marketing weapon,” agrees Naseem Javed, chief executive officer of ABC Namebank International, a corporate image and naming consultancy with offices in Toronto and New York that takes credit for coming up with such names such as Telus, Celestica and Vincor.

Indeed, many entrepreneurs fail to recognize that choosing a business name isn’t about themselves, it’s about the end user. If it doesn’t click with your customers, then it’s a wasted opportunity, he says.

All to often entrepreneurs have preconceived notions about what a name should be, based on what’s already used in their industry, Mr. Jurisich says. Or they think the product is so good, it will sell itself. “Well, no. You have to remove those filters and think ways outside of those boundaries,” he says.

Contrary to popular opinion, says Mr. Javed, naming your firm is not a creative exercise. “It’s a serious, tedious, non-emotional process.”

Where to start? First you need to determine your brand positioning. Ask yourself what makes you unique in the marketplace and what message you want to convey, Mr. Jurisich suggests.

“If you tell me you’re cutting-edge and your products are revolutionary and you have a name like Acme XYZ, your visible face is contradicting your message.”

Keep your name short and simple and easy to spell, Mr. Javed advises. You want your clients and customers to not only remember your moniker, but be able to easily look it up, online for example, and refer you to others.

While descriptive terms can be useful, you also don’t want to pigeonhole your business. Mr. Shepard recalls that all too often when client’s referred Canada Web Hosting to other firms, the response would be, “but we’re not looking for Web hosting.”

Another typical faux pas for entrepreneurs is naming the firm after themselves, a practice both Mr. Jurisich and Mr. Javed abhor – unless it supports your brand position; think fashion designers.

Your family name won’t distinguish you from a sea of others or inform customers of what it is you do. In the long run, in fact, it may align you too closely with the business, which could become a limitation should you ever want to sell, Mr. Javed says.

An available domain name should be a key consideration when choosing a business name, Mr. Javed adds.

Mr. Shepard says that adopting the Tenzing moniker was almost thwarted when he learned the domain name was already taken. In a stroke of good luck, Mr. Shepard contacted the owner and learned that the domain name was no longer being used and he was able to buy it.

Keep in mind that the name or names you’re considering may already be taken and protected under the Trade-mark Act, so it’s a good idea to run your choices through the Canadian Trade-marks Database.

And once you’ve settled on a name, consider trademarking it to protect yourself, Mr. Javed suggests. Many entrepreneurs fail to realize that simply registering a business name provincially doesn’t prevent others from using the name (or something very similar), too.

Trademark applications are processed federally by the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. You can trademark a word, or words, a design or a combination of the two, for 15 years.

You can file a trademark application yourself, but Mr. Jurisich recommends enlisting the help of a trademark lawyer, who can help navigate the steps smoothly and efficiently.

Finding the ideal name isn’t easy, and with more companies launching into the marketplace, it’s becoming harder to get that one name that will help you stand out from the crowd, Mr. Jurisich says.

“So, when you find a name don’t dally, lock it in. If you wait a week, the name might already be gone.”

Special to The Globe and Mail

 

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