Descriptive brand names are dead-end names

Yesterday another company announced it had changed its name.

I’ve keep a tickler file of such announcements.

And yesterday’s announcement fits the most typical name change scenario.

Simply put, the company had outgrown its name.

Successful companies do that – if they originally opted for a descriptive name.

That’s the problem. In the beginning, the company wanted short-term identification with an industry or product category by adopting a name that described their business. They do this without thought to the company’s future.

The last name change I was involved in would have cost the company – a regional construction supply company – around $50-thousand. They opted to retain their name (_______________ Staple Company) because of the expense. Now their sales force must explain to prospects that they can also supply ______, ___________, and ______________ even thought the company’s name just indicates staples.

The solution is to not adopt a descriptive name. How could a company like Go-Daddy that began life selling domain names exclusively grow as rapidly as it has if their name had been ABC Domain Names, Inc.? The major players in hi-tech today are usually coined word names, suggestive names or arbitrary names.

Those types of names will require some getting used to by the company founders, and they will need to be promoted before they become household names.

The brand platform, or at least a naming brief, should be created before people start suggesting names for a start-up. With all the strategic concepts outlined in a brief, appropriate, non-descriptive name candidates are likely to flow. Opt for one that will grow with your company, no matter where that growth will come from.

Martin Jelsema

One thought on “Descriptive brand names are dead-end names

  1. There are certainly a lot of companies that have to re-brand because they’ve chosen too specialized a name to start with, but other descriptive names seem to last just fine. Look at “Office Depot.” They carry a much wider range of products than when they opened in 1986, but the name still fits, because the tools we use in our offices change with the times. The name won’t be obsolete unless people stop using offices. The Coca-Cola Company named itself after a single product, and at the time they invented it, the name was descriptive, though the drink no longer contains coca. They didn’t feel compelled to change their name when they started selling Sprite or Dasani.

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