Re-naming a B2B company 2: the process, shortlist and winner
You don’t (I fervently hope) change your company name every day. And when you do need to do something radical with your brand, there aren’t a lot of places to turn to for help. That’s what this mini-series is all about: a front-line, inside-the-tent, warts-and-all, metaphor-mixing account of one company’s name change and the re-branding it kicked off.
In the first post, we (mostly me) talked about how Velocity and the LookBookHQ team approached re-naming their company and how we prepared the ground for the name search. We discussed:
- What a big deal it is to change a company name, especially when it’s a successful, fast-growing company.
- Why it’s probably a bad idea for most but was a good idea for LookBookHQ now that they’re a
content insight and activation platform for on-demand marketing.
- How we tried to reduce the subjectivity of the process, manage expectations and map out some criteria for a strong, clear name they could live with, grow with and… enjoy.
In this post, we’ll run through the name research process itself, look at the shortlist and discuss why the winner won. But first:
Types of name
A bit more taxonomy work before we actually look at some names:
Single-word names are great but it’s very unlikely that the corresponding .com URL is available.
Coined words – like Accenture or Marketo are unique and ownable but can be a bit awkward at first (see ‘The Gag Factor’ in the last post) and might suffer from pronunciation or spelling obstacles.
Double (combined) words and two (separate) words – are a great way to come up with a new name from familiar words. I also like them because each word can bring a different, complementary set of associations. So ‘ZoomLabs’ is both playful and scientific.
The page from our naming deck looked like this (with the pulse-based names as an example only):
We then did a quick check to see if one type of name dominates the closest thing to our corner of the marketing tech world (taken from a chunk of from the ChiefMarTec supergraphic):
As expected, there are a few single-word names (most without the .com URL) and a big chunk of coined and combined names. (I kinda like ShortStack. But names like Explee and Strutta show the perils of coined words — probably fine but kinda awkward.)
So where do you start looking for a name?
There are some cool tools and resources to help with your naming exercises and a lot of them are gathered in one place: a site called Onym . It’s the side-project of two generous souls called Greg Leppert and Willem Van Lancker and it’s packed with great dictionaries, thesauri, inspiration sources and word generators (my current favorite is Wordoid, a name that, I imagine, was self-generated).
It’s a great sandbox to go play in before, during and after your naming research.
When you’ve got some ideas and you’re ready to build up a long-list of names, go to the domain name registrars. We use sedo.com but any other domain marketplace with a decent search function will do.
Start with names that have .com domain availability because the other way hurts. Generating hundreds of names, then going to check for URL availability is a waste of time. The vast majority of names you like will be unavailable.
But if you start with names that are either un-registered or available for sale, you’re fishing where the fish are.
You just put in your keyword(s), choose the top-level-domains you want (in this case .com) and <#boop!> you get a list of premium names for sale. Here’s the first few that came up for the keyword ‘funnel’ and the .com domain:
(I kind of like Dr. Funnel—either for a demand gen consultancy, a colonic irrigation shop or, why not, a full-service business that does both—and it costs less than four grand.)
As long as you put in good keywords, you’ll get batches of good name candidates. It does take a long time to scroll through all the dogs (funnelk?) but it’s worth it.
A domain is not a trademark
Remember—and tell everyone on the naming team: just securing a URL is not the same as securing a trademark. That’s what lawyers are for. Ask yours to do a trademark search before things go too far.
Keywords and combiners
You can see the keywords we used in the long list below, but here are some of the core ones for this exercise (remember, their software makes it easy to create on-demand, goal-oriented content tracks, then use the resulting data to do it better and better over time):
Insight, Active, Track, Journey, Loop, Spark, Spike, Channel, Demand, Path, Vox, Brave, Bold, Cadence, Sequence…
(We also kept in words like ‘Content’ and ‘Funnel’ even though they were on the ‘avoid’ list. You never know).
A soft transition?
We also played with the words ‘Look’, ‘Book’ and even ‘HQ’ in our keywords because we wanted to explore names that bridged from the old name to the new. So it would look like: “LookBookHQ is now ActiveBook” or “LookBookHQ is now PulseBook”. In the end, the team wanted a clean break, but it would have been malpractice to not even look for a name with a soft transition.
The domain marketplaces do an okay job at turning keywords into double-word names. There is wheat among the chaff. But we find that it helps to come to the process with a set of ‘combiner’ words: words that can combine with a keyword to do these magic things:
- Raise the odds of URL availability
- Add a new set of associations and connotations
- Make the name feel like it represents an entity (instead of, say, an idea or substance or phenomenon)
- Give it a sense of place or purpose
The combiner words we used for this project included:
Labs, Logic, Track, Engine, Technology(ies), Science, Central, Digital, Source, Path, Chain, Works, Code, Square, Pulse, Storm, Surface, Street, Loop, Stream, Sight, Farm, Factory, Machine
I like to think of a pair of naming dice. One die has the keywords on it. The other has the combiners. Give them a throw and see what pops up.
Or you can be more deliberate about it. Love the word Spike but want to grow it up a bit? Spike Technologies. Spike Labs. Spikeware (ooh, love that).
Starting with a more conventional keyword like Data or Content? Use the combiner to inject some attitude: Data Storm. Content Street.
(Somewhere a Brand Semiotics Consultant in a black turtleneck is spitting his martini all over his Cultural Cognitive Linguist friend (beige V-neck). But these are the fuckers who come up with names like Acqüiriá, so I’ll stick to my madness over their method, thanks.)
The long list
After about a week of putting keywords and word pairs into sedo.com, we had ourselves a really good long list: a batch of 364 viable, available names that met our mandatory criteria, signaled the right associations and scored highly on at least some of our critical dimensions (see the first post).
Of course, we didn’t love them all. But they were all at least okay (except for Xteractive. How did that get in there?) (Oh, and Bobolook. Really?!).
But that’s how naming works. On one day for one person, names like Spikeship or Mojolytical or Embrave sound cool and different and full of energy. The next day, for the same person (me) they’re cringeworthy as fuck.
Take a look at the long list and pick out five or six favorites. I’ll wait…
Reducing the long list to a shortlist is probably one of the most subjective steps in the naming process. You just… kinda… like some. They feel right. You can imagine using them in a sentence without blushing.
Your shortlist will change by the hour and by the day but at some point you just have to call a stop to it and say, “These are the names we’ll present to people”.
But before you do that, there’s an important next step: the Google Test:
Google the shortlisted names. See what comes up in the first, say, five pages. We know the domain name is free but the name can still be used as a product or company name. So check that there aren’t any problematic proto-squatters.
Handy hint: when you do the Google Test, use the plural of your singular name or the singular of your plural name. You may find MojoTechnology is free and clear but MojoTechnologies isn’t.
So, you’ve got your 15 or so names you like. They all meet the criteria your team agreed on. They all pass the Google Test. It’s time to present.
One thing I’ll never do again
In the first presentation to the client, when we shared the shortlist of names, we started by summarizing how we got there. We talked about the naming dimensions, the associations, the zone… all the things we covered in the input and alignment work.
Then it was time to show the first name. The PowerPoint equivalent of a drumroll…. and I inserted a joke suggestion, a parody tech name:
Just to be safe, I’d added a third ‘ta’ at the end, in case someone was tempted to like it. (As if Elle & Co would ever go for Aviatata™).
I made a bet with Martha and Jim that I could wait through ten seconds of silence while our LookBook friends tried to decide if they had actually just wasted four weeks of their time with the worst branding company in the world.
I lasted, maybe, three seconds (the longest three seconds of my career) before clicking ahead to the “Just kidding” slide. Lesson learned: if you’ve built your audience up for a big reveal, don’t blow it with slapstick. (I’m not completely sure the doubt-cloud that rushed into the room has ever really cleared. It’s the Clown Tax.)
Presenting the shortlist
You should never present your long list (just share it as an appendix) and you should only present your shortlisted names one at a time.
Newton’s Second Law of Naming states: “The worst way to present a list of names is… as a list of names”.
People can’t help but read a list as a list. That devalues each item on it, making it really easy to throw good names away. It also deadens the best names by numbing the ‘name receptors’ in the brain—the highly specialized neurons that live in… my imagination.
Then, don’t just stick the shortlist on a PowerPoint page. (Have we learned nothing about lists and neurons?). Instead, give each name its own page and get your favorite designer to do two things: properly set each name in type (with a little ™). And put it on top of a strong, relevant image.
Like this one we did for the first name on our shortlist:
See how much more company-name-like that is? I already feel that, if I clicked it, a cool, parallax-scrolly website would be waiting for me.
We then like to follow up each Name Board with a quick evaluation page:
This page can just be a few annotations showing why you like the name, with maybe a look at where it falls on your most important dimension sliders. TrackLabs refers to the ‘content tracks’ that the company helps marketers build and deploy. The name falls somewhere towards the right-hand side of the three main sliders.
We wanted to have at least one name at the opposite end of all three spectrums, so we suggested one with pure energy and attitude and zero meaning: Zazuum™.
Okay, Zazuum™ fails one of our core criteria: you’d have to spell it out for people for the first, say, twelve years. But it’s so much fun to say. And we wanted to show something purely evocative (and a coined word), just to make sure the management team could see what that looked and felt like. It died faster than you can say it.
Another evocative one, Pebblepath™, was closer to home. The whole team liked it, as we did. It’s fun to say, quietly confident and just descriptive enough.
In hindsight, it probably doesn’t pass the re-naming test (as opposed to naming a new company). “LookBookHQ is now Pebblepath.” just feels a tad… ‘brand-y’. But I still like saying it. Especially three times fast (feels like spitting out pumpkin seeds).
Swinging to the other end of our sliders, we put forward Performant Logic™. ‘Performant is a word I’d only ever heard in the LookBookHQ offices, when Mark (the CEO) referred to their ideal prospects as ‘performant marketers’. I really like the word and have used it ever since—even after learning he made it up.
Few companies have their own word, so maybe it should be in the company name:
This one is probably a bit too cold and clinical for such a warm and friendly company. But it was good to explore the edges of the zone.
In fact, the fifteen shortlisted names created a nicely rising diagonal swash across the Velocity Name Matrix™ (Just made that up. The ™ is fake. Go ahead, steal it.):
What was supposed to happen next.
What was supposed to happen next was that the LookBookHQ team would:
- Take the name shortlist away and over-think the living shit out of it.
- Show all 15 names to everyone who walked past.
- Kill any name that any single person even made a sneery face at.
- Come back to us to start the process over.
- Repeat until exhausted.
- End up with Aviatatata™
That’s kind of how company naming works and why we work so hard to reduce its inherent subjectivity.
What actually happened
As a team, they like three of the names instantly. They came back in a day or so and said, “Show us these three in use.”
- We showed them the three names in use.
- They picked one.
- We put it into design.
If you’ve worked anywhere near marketing for more than a few months, you know how rare that is. It just doesn’t happen. For the next month, as we developed the new visual identity, I kept expecting the call saying, “Mark’s sister’s nephew is taking Introduction to the Principles of Marketing at college and he doesn’t like any of the names.” (They missed a trick: making that call would have been sweet revenge for the Aviatatata™ thing.)
[If I could invest in this company, I would. Not just because of the awesome product and people. But because they have an empowered culture that makes fast decisions. And fast-decision companies run circles around slow-decision companies.]
Inevitably, you will show your proposed new name to a bunch of people before going with it. When you do, listen hard to their responses… but don’t put too much stock in their opinions. Everybody has an opinion. Yours is probably better than theirs. But their responses (like, “I don’t get it.” ) are super-important.
This is the new name of the company formerly known as LookBookHQ:
It’s fun but also grown-up.
It’s descriptive (they build paths); but also evocative (a factory is a place where people work, continually sending goodies out into the world).
It sounds good (love that double-a sound and the rhythm and meter).
Despite the graphic above, we went with a single word but a capital F because it works better in sentences. When you break it into two, some sentences would drag one or the other word into the surrounding context, creating confusion and forcing re-reading.
LookBookHQ is now PathFactory™.
What do you think?
Oh and here’s the new logo
Designed by the Velocity design team (especially Jim Harrison) and Meredith McRae at PathFactory (talented, super-professional, funny… I mis-heard her nickname as ‘Merde’ and she was cool with it). Sound effects by Jim and Matt:
Oh and here’s the launch video we made:
Animated by the frighteningly talented Sebastian Baptista.
Lessons for naming (or re-naming) your company
Process really matters. Here are some lessons:
- Make sure you really want to rename your company – it’s kind of a big deal
- Keep the decision team small – three is perfect
- Spend time aligning stakeholders – so they’re, like, aligned
- Manage expectations – so people don’t reject names too quickly
- Minimize subjectivity – by first teasing out what good looks like
- Use sliding scales – to tease out the target zone
- Establish mandatories – like pronounce-ability or .com availability
- Pre-screen for URL availability – using a registrar site like sedo.com
- Make a loooong list – based on words with the right associations
- Think double-word names – to blend connotations
- Make the short list short – maybe 15 names, max
- Present each name as if it’s the winner – one at a time, with some design
- Start with smart, open-minded clients in a confident company with a culture built for speed – okay, so we got lucky
Whew. Thanks for going through this process with us. Hope it helps!
And do check out the PathFactory site. They do very cool things that B2B marketers need to know about. (It took me about six minutes to spin up a new content track about our Let’s Steal From series. People end up staying longer, reading more… and the analytics behind it are awesome.)
Finally: check out this interview with Elle Woulfe, PathFactory’s head of marketing. She’s amazing (and no one is better at managing stakeholders—mainly by earning their respect).
Heidi, Glaux Soft AG | November 28th, 2018
Many thanks for these insights in your awesome work, Doug! Great results also!
…black turtleneck ROFLMAO!
Doug Kessler | November 29th, 2018
Sounds like you’ve met the guy.
Daniel S | November 30th, 2018
Awesome read! Love how you managed to turn a potentially very subjective decision in a well-thought-out objective process
Doug Kessler | December 5th, 2018
Exactly the intention. I’d like to try to apply that to creative more broadly — getting consensus around core principles, then aiming for that target.
[Hope all’s well: stop in and say hi!]