Phillip Davis is the founder of Tungsten and has vast experience in marketing and branding. Tungsten’s goal is “to create a brand identity that fits your company’s unique needs, while reflecting your key strengths,” and as an industry leader, this goal is continually achieved. Phillip is a frequent keynote speaker about brilliant branding, and his insight and knowledge is beyond valuable. He took the time to talk with us about the importance of a great name and brand, and what it takes to get it.
Why should an entrepreneur turn to a professional for naming the company?
Like any other aspect of starting a new business, an entrepreneur must allocate time and resources in the most efficient and effective manner to ensure success. If he or she has a background in marketing, it might prove worthwhile to attempt the naming, branding and identity portions of the business. But even so, naming a company today involves more than creative expertise and insight. There are also the more pragmatic issues of domain, social media and trademark availability. So it really boils down to time, energy and expertise. To avoid the painful prospect of a botched launch or a trademark lawsuit, it best to hire naming professionals who live in that world every day. They can help you not only name, but also position the company so that the identity is built on a strong and lasting foundation.
What is the difference between naming and branding?
Naming is the more specific skill of creating the verbal portion of the brand identity. Branding has more to do with the overall feel, texture, tone, appearance and actions of a company, product or service. For instance, there’s a hotel chain named Quality Inn, but is that the actual customer experience, “quality,” when compared to other high-end brands in that space? So it’s one thing to name a company, but it’s another to shape the entire experience. And that requires actions on multiple levels, from corporate identity to corporate culture, from aesthetics to architecture. So while naming is the “handle” on the suitcase, branding is the entire suitcase itself. It’s the whole piece.
Naming companies sounds like such a fun profession! What is your favorite part of what you do?
What I enjoy most is creating environments where people and companies thrive. So many times I come across entrepreneurs with great drive, passion and solutions, who simply need to align their brand identities with their vision. And I do that by getting them to drill down and find their “pivot point” or the singular, defining thing they do best. After that, the job really does become fun. It’s just a matter of finding the right naming strategy to convey that key attribute behind the brand. And chances are that attribute will continue to drive the company for years to come. These type of brand names don’t become obsolete or dated.
Beyond the excitement of seeing the name, tag line and identity come together, there’s the added bonus of seeing the excitement in the team. Many of the companies I’ve worked with have gone from startups to international firms with hundreds of employees. I tend to think of them as my “brandchildren.” I have photos if you would like to see them!
How can the right branding strategy be the key to success?
Branding is like setting the cornerstone on a house. If it’s not set correctly, nothing lines up as additions and new levels are added. The right and best strategy is to truly know what drives your business. In other words, “What business are you REALLY in?” Most entrepreneurs, in a rush to go to market, define themselves by their current products and services, and that’s a big mistake. Think of CompUSA or Books-A-Million, etc. By tying into a current product or service offering, you might get some immediate traction and customers will certainly know what you sell, but the result is that you hitch your company fortunes to a product life cycle. Most product life cycles are only a few years, so why forge your identity around something so fleeting? Instead, it’s best to build a brand based on timeless attributes. Consumers may not always want a desktop computer, but they will always desire a “Best Buy.” So knowing your strengths, and then aligning your brand to match that position, is the key to lasting success.
What if a company brand is vague and nondescript – how can you help?
On the opposite end of literal and descriptive names are companies with names so vague and esoteric that they simply create a “huh?” (confusion) vs. a “what?!” (tell me more!). A good example of that are consulting companies that reach for obscure references in the Latin language or Greek/Roman mythology. A strong brand name should work at face value as well as having a compelling story or connection behind it.
One test I have clients do is to imagine saying the name to someone on an elevator at a trade show. If the name makes the potential customer furrow his or her brow and wish they hadn’t asked, or worse, tap the foot waiting for the door to open, then it’s better to find another name. A good brand name should help segue a potential customer into a deeper conversation about the company. It needs to be natural and intuitive and not require a long explanation or a spelling lesson.
Do names and branding ever become outdated? If so, then what?
Can you say Radio Shack? How about Burlington Coat Factory? This type of company naming issue happens all the time. Again, this is a result of tying (or welding!) the company identity to a current product/service offering. The best way to avoid this is to start with a timeless brand name in the first place. But if an entrepreneur finds him or herself in the unenviable position of an outdated, obsolete or (worst of all) misleading company name, it’s best to rebrand and rebuild the company image to pave the way for future growth.
Do you specialize in any particular business sectors or cover them all?
Our focus is primarily company naming and branding, and more specifically IT, financial and medical firms. Although our most recognized brand names are in the retail space. Some of the companies I’ve named are PODS, America Strong, EarlyMoments.com, Trickle Star, TeamLogic IT and TradingBlock. As a naming agency, we’ve created more company name brand identities than any other firm.
What’s the biggest mistake you see companies making regarding naming and branding?
The biggest mistake is creating a company name based on personal whims or criteria that doesn’t really matter. I’ve had clients that wanted the name to start high in the alphabet, or have their children’s initials in the name, or a certain number of characters in the domain name, etc. What’s truly important is a name that resonates with your customer base and that lends itself to not only a company identity, but also a marketing platform. A good name will provide you with a matching lexicon or language set to help further build and reinforce the brand message. GM’s OnStar speaks to navigation, guidance, direction and brilliance. It’s these types of names that can provide a broader pool of words to draw up when writing web copy and collateral materials. So avoid the trap of “winging it” and shooting from the hip. Just because that worked for a few famous entrepreneurs doesn’t mean it’s a best practice. So be creative, but just be sure that the creativity aligns with and underscores your brand position.
What are some of the major components in branding a company?
The major elements of a solid brand strategy are…
1. An intuitive brand name – Who you are
2. A literal descriptor phrase – What you do
3. A positioning statement or tagline – How you do what you do
4. A distinctive logo
5. A matching domain name
6. A cohesive brand strategy, message and platform for tying these pieces together
So what you have are the individual working parts and then a strategy for how they will work together to support and reinforce each other. Once you have this in place, you’ll be able to confidently move forward knowing you have an identity that can last for years, one that will gain recognition and value over time. That’s the real meaning of brand equity.
You can find Phillip and Tungsten on Facebook and
Twitter. Tungsten has a great resource for branding articles here.