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Jewish World Review March 2, 2001 / 7 Adar, 5761

Small Business Advisor by Paul Tulenko

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Consumer Reports

Choosing a company name -- HERE'S a question that comes up in one form or another at just about every meeting with a future small business owner: "What should I name my new business?"

It was International Business Machines, not Thomas J. Watson & Company. It was National Cash Register, not John H. Patterson Enterprises. It was the Bell Telephone Systems, not Alexander Bell & Associates. It was Kentucky Fried Chicken, not Harland Sander's Restaurant. It was the Ford Motor Company, not the Henry Ford Company.

Do you get the connection? These famous company names, and many hundreds of others, are descriptive. They clearly and concisely tell the viewer exactly what the company sold. There was no guessing game like names in today's high-tech logo world. Sometimes the inventor or entrepreneur's name was in the title, sometimes not; but what the company could do for the prospective user was always there.

The subject of what to name a business is touchy at best, and it sometimes comes to outright fighting words. We let our egos get in the way of our eyesight when the subject comes up; either that or we go off the deep end in meaningless letters or phrases that are only anagrams to the viewer and mean absolutely nothing to anyone. Often the relationship between what the company does for the prospective customer and the name that is applied to the sign have little if any connection with each other.

To illustrate this lack of relationship, I challenge you to perform an experiment. The next time you drive down the street, pay attention to the signs, banners and other means of identifying businesses or stores you see. Pretend you are new in town and see if you can guess what goes on inside, based only on what you see outside. You'll find some businesses you would never in a million years guess what products or services they provide. You can have the same fun with the business pages of a phone book. For example, what goes on at Jimmie's, or CGS Industries Inc. or The Outlet Store (all made up for this exercise)? Would you in a million years figure Jimmie's is a company renting candy and soda machines to local businesses? Would you figure CGS Industries Inc. makes ice cream for supermarkets under the market's name? Would you guess The Outlet Store is a dealer in comic books and other collectibles? Of course not.

If you want to be successful, not cute and out-of-business, your business needs to create a distinctive, clear and consistent image in the mind of potential customers. Neither your name, nor your initials nor some four-color fancy logo meets the test of a clear and consistent image.

Prove it to yourself. Look at a name from the prospective customer's point of view. Ask yourself, "When they sees my name or logo, what does the prospective customer think I'm selling?" and I'll guarantee you that the answer is not, "Wow! Look at that fancy logo; lets go in and buy what they're selling!"

A business image is created in the customer's mind in two ways: by what function you offer, such as women's clothing, hardware, greeting cards, gift shop and other descriptive qualities, and by what psychological attributes they suggest, such as quality, low-cost, complete, modern and other "feelings."

This is why you see such names on the marquees such as Mary's Fine Fashions or Jack's Complete Home Hardware or Billy's Speedy Plumbing Service. All of these names convey images of function and feeling.

Don't let high tech get in the way. Just because you graduated from the Wonder Company Five-Day Computer Training School (by the way, an excellent descriptive name) doesn't give you the privilege of calling yourself JT's Computer Solutions when it should be Thompson's Computer Repair.

So, decide what kind of image you want to create in your prospect's mind. When you've got that firmly in mind, ask yourself the next question, "How can I transfer this image to my prospect in such a manner that they will instantly know what it is I can do for them?"

Choosing a name is one part of this transfer. By using the senses of sight, touch, smell, hearing and taste, you can structure the physical parts of your business such as vehicles, lobby decorations, indoor signs, displays and other similar items to transfer your new image into profit for you.

Paul Tulenko is the coordinator of the Small Business Development Center in Albuquerque, N.M. Comment by clicking here.


02/20/01:Tax tips for small business owners
02/13/01: Don't get the small-biz blues: You're not alone
02/06/01: How to communicate at the office
01/30/01: Before advertising, do your homework
01/23/01: Before you start selling a service online

© 2001 SHNS