What do Urban Outfitters, Oracle, The Home Depot, Warby Parker, Hulu, Apple and 1-800-Flowers share in common? Well, not much. Except that they’re all killer brands.
My focus in life is entrepreneurship. And whether you’re launching a B2B startup or a new consumer play, a tech startup or more prosaic old-line business, few things build company value faster and more reliably than an effective brand.
How do you do that? Here are seven keys to creating a killer brand:
1. Focus on a single brand
A startup, no matter how well-funded, will always feel short of resources. So the business should focus all its branding energy and resources on building up a single brand – the name of the company – and not try to create separate brand identities for the company and for each of its products. Multiple brands will diffuse your energy and resources, and confuse customers.
Single-brand focus is highly effective whether you’re a consumer or B2B business.
In the consumer space, think Polo shirts, shoes, home décor, dresses, bed and bath, etc. – it’s all Polo, with little energy wasted on sub-branding. In another realm, folks just say they got an iPad, not that they bought an iPad 2, Wi-Fi + 3G, 16GB.
For examples of good B2B brands, think how IT products are marketed. If a CIO is asked which database her company uses, she’s likely to reply simply “SQL Server” rather than “Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition”…. or simply “Oracle,” rather than “Oracle Database 11g Release 2”… Similarly, the same CIO asked what types of servers her shop uses might respond simply “HP” (rather than “HP ProLiant DL320e Gen8 v2 Servers”), or just “Dell” (rather than “Dell PowerEdge M520 Blade Servers”).
As you’re considering alternative names, make sure you can snag the URL (domain name). So as you’re brainstorming names, bring up a registration engine such as GoDaddy.com or Register.com and, as you think of names, check to see if the URL is available.
3. Keep it simple
Ideally, the name should be short and memorable. So if I’m launching a gaming company, BongoBaby would probably be preferable to Jim’s International Game Enterprises, Inc. Make the name hard to misspell and hard to mispronounce. I know those are double negatives, but the point is that you want people to be able to find you in a search engine, and to easily refer you to their friends.
4. Choose one: descriptive, evocative, or whimsical
Next, you have a fundamental choice with three basic paths. The first path is to select a name that’s descriptive of what you do – think WebMD, The Home Depot, 1-800-flowers, or Urban Outfitters. The second path is to choose a name that says nothing about what you do, but is evocative. Oracle is a great abstract-but-evocative brand name, evoking wisdom and an ability to predict the future. Another is Warby Parker, the online purveyor of eye glasses that intentionally chose a name evocative of old-line, preppy Eastern retailers (rather than a descriptive tag akin to LensCrafters). The third path is to select a memorable, unique nonsense word. Nice examples of such whimsical brand names include Hulu, Zynga and Tapjoy.
5. Avoid branding by committee or focus group
It’s good to be inclusive and seek opinions and ideas. But if you form a committee and put everything to a vote, you’re likely to end up with a least-common-denominator brand that’s bland, uninspired, and may look more like a hybrid camel-elephant than the thoroughbred you’d hoped for.
6. Apply your brand consistently
You can do everything else right, and screw it up here. Consistency of usage and application of the brand is paramount. A company should have a consistent look-and-feel and consistent language and stick to them. For example, do you want to be referred to as Urban Outfitters or as UO? Do you wish to be known as “a pioneer in cleantech,” or “an innovator in green energy”?
7. Protect your brand
Trademark the company name, logo, and tagline. File with the US PTO for registered trademark status. In your online (and any printed) materials, be sure to display clear copyright notices.