Welcome to the Marketing in the Wild podcast. I’m Julia from Stratos Creative Marketing, where we are obsessed with finding real-life examples of the good, the bad, and sometimes wild, in marketing.
Julia: All right, everybody today we’re talking about naming. We had a listener submit some questions about names. How did you come to a name? How do you figure out your business’s name? And so I brought in an expert on naming from the StoryBrand community. This is Lynn. Lynn, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you are, you’re business, etc?
Lynn: Okay, hi Julia! It’s fun to be here. I appreciate you asking me. So my name is Lynn Tickner and I am in sunny Columbia, South Carolina. And yeah, it’s actually, the sun is shining on one side of my face, right now. And it’s a beautiful day today here. The name of my business is called Ink and Key. If you see the little typewriter there, if you’re looking at the podcast, instead of listening, I’ve got a typewriter on my shelf behind me. That’s kind of where I came up with the name way back when.
Julia: So obviously you help clients with naming, what are some of the other things that you do with clients?
Lynn: Well, we do recommend that they start with a good name and we can get into later what that actually means because opinions vary on that. But, as you know, I’m a StoryBrand certified guide. And so it is very important to me that we help clients create a clear brand message to go along with their awesome name so that they know the words to use to talk about themselves as a brand so they can do things right the first time and not have to go back later and undo mistakes they made.
Julia: Sweet. Well, and for everybody who’s listening, Lynn is the StoryBrand go-to for names. And so that’s how her name popped up for this episode. But Lynn, tell me, how did you even get into naming and helping businesses get names?
Lynn: I was at a point in my life when I was honestly just trying to make ends meet. And so I was doing anything and everything I could to basically pay our bills and put food on the table. I was a stay-at-home mom at the time, I had finished homeschooling, or was mostly finished with homeschooling, both of my kids and a former elementary school teacher. So I’m not somebody who has a marketing background. I learned quickly and am still learning.
I was already doing some marketing copywriting for a few companies on the side and I discovered crowdsourcing sites where you could win money if you entered a contest and came up with some name ideas, and if the contest folder picked your name, you could win like 500 bucks. And I was like, “What the heck, I’m doing this!” And so got into it. I started learning about naming, started reading about naming, and found that I could actually do a pretty good job and won quite a few contests and was excited. But as a problem solver, I saw, and of course, there are a lot of different ways that you can go out and get a name, not just crowdsourcing, and a lot of people don’t even recommend crowdsourcing and I won’t get into that controversy.
But I saw some issues crop up with some of these sites that I participated with from my perspective, as a namer and as a creative who was working really, really hard to try to come up with the best names for these people that were running these contests. Not only because I wanted to win the contest, but also because I really, I’m an enneagram 2, if you’re familiar with enneagrams, so I want to help people. So I wanted to help them.
And then from the client-side, there were also some issues that really came down to a lot of communication issues between the client and the namer. Sometimes they were non-existent and I just saw these things happening and started thinking of some solutions. And finally, I was like, you know, not necessarily in a prideful way, I can come up with a better way for all of us to do this. And I think it would work better for everyone. And that’s I think what most entrepreneurs do, is you are a problem solver and you think of a different way to approach a problem and help people find the best solution. So that’s kind of how I got into it.
I talked to a couple of friends who were also doing some naming and told them about my idea and they were very supportive. They were like, go for it! And so that’s sort of how it started.
Julia: That’s so cool! Well, you are the only person in the business who I know who does this, so I think that’s awesome.
So let’s get into it a little bit. What are some elements or like you mentioned, some things that like names should accomplish or like some aspects that they should carry? What are some of those important things that a business name should have?
Lynn: Well, if you had to name the most important thing, it has to be strategic.
Most people think that they’re just going to, if they’re trying to think of name ideas, they might sit around at a restaurant with their friends and have a few beers and let’s brainstorm some names together and we’re going to know it when we see it, you know? So the huge misconception is love at first sight when it comes to naming because a good name really needs to be able to fit into your marketing strategy. So a lot of people approach naming backward.
What they need to do, first of all, is understand what their business is going to be about. They need to really understand their audience because the name is not for them, it’s for the audience that they’re speaking to. Just like anything as a business owner, it’s really not for you, it’s for your clients and for your customers. So they need to think about strategies, what do they want the name to accomplish?
A lot of people expect their name to, the way I put it, they expect their name to wear too many hats. They want their name to do everything that the brand is eventually going to do because the name is not the brand. The name is just the door that opens to the brand. And so you have to sort of just pick one hat you want your name to wear and then go with that instead of expecting it to do too much.
Julia: Can you tell me a little bit more about that? What sort of hats might people want a name to carry?
Lynn: Yeah, that’s a really good question. You might want your name to get attention. For instance, if you are in financial services, this is one client that I can bring up the name of their business.
If you were to try to name a financial service business, a financial planner, you start searching and I promise you almost every single name you think of, you’re going to find that there’s already a financial planner out there that’s using that name. So that industry is flooded, along with so many other industries, so it’s really, really hard to find a name that’s unique in the financial services industry. You’ll also see, if you start looking at one industry, and I’m just going to use financial services as an example, that a lot of the names just, they sound the same. They all just kind of flow together and merge together into one big boring chunk, you know?
And so we had a client, a really awesome guy, and he had a team of people working together. They ended up choosing a name that stood out from the other names that they were seeing in their industry. The name they chose is Candor Path Financial, like candor, because it was very important to them to be open and honest with their clients, and collaborative. And “path,” you know, as representing the path they were going to go down with their clients and helping them on this journey.
And so that name, Candor Path, you don’t hear a name like that a lot of times when it comes to the financial industry. So that’s an example of one that will stand out. So that might be, you might say, “I don’t want my name to be like everybody else in my industry. I want to stand out.” So that could be one thing that you might want to do.
Julia: Oh, that’s fascinating. And especially in that industry, I feel like it’s everybody’s last name.
Lynn: Sure, I mean, you might want a name to make people laugh. Or do a double-take, just to get attention. And then again, depending on your industry, you might want to just blend in. You don’t want to stand out, you know? So there are a lot of different things like that to think about.
Julia: That’s awesome. We talked about this a little bit before, but like, how do you know when you’re done? So say like, I’m in the process of naming a child and I’m like, how do we know when we’re done? Like what in the world? Like this kid has to have this name for the rest of their life. Like, how do you know that you’ve settled? And I even had that with naming my own business, how do I know when I’m done imagining or being creative around that? What are some of the principles that you work with your clients on? Yeah.
Lynn: Well, I will recommend a book right now to you and anyone else who’s listening. I didn’t write it, but I really respect this person and I’ve read a lot of books on naming and they’re all good. There’s a lot of good ones out there, but it’s my favorite so far. And it’s called, I actually have it right here, called Brand Naming and it’s by a guy named Rob Meyerson, but he has, he seems like he’s just very gifted at pulling together all the stuff that’s out there. And putting it together in a way that it makes sense.
And so one of the, in answer to your question, I’m going to steal something from him that, and I actually wrote it down to make sure that I would say it correctly to you. But it’s basically three categories: strategic, creative, and technical. Those are three things that you might want to look at when it comes to breaking down brand names, what he says in his book, because he started looking at what people say, and you’ll find that the same things over and over; people will say it needs to be short. It needs to be memorable. You need to be able to pronounce it. You know, it needs to be easy to spell.
So all those things are that’s pretty basic. Most people will know that. But really naming and what makes the name a good name is more dependent on the context of the actual brand you’re naming because it can just really vary so much. And so the strategic qualities would be, is it meaningful, adaptable, and distinctive? And so you have to think about what kind of feelings do you want the name to evoke, as far as meaning? And I mean, that gets into types of brand names.
You might want a super descriptive name that just says exactly what it is. And there are pros and cons to that. Creative, as far as you know, is it memorable? Does it look good? Does it sound good? As far as, you know, what kind of visual potential do we have here for this? There’s all, you know, all the designers can chime into that a lot better than I can.
And then the technical part, is it easy to spell? Is it easy to pronounce? Is it legally viable, which is a huge one. Can you own this name legally, as far as the trademark? Is it linguistically viable? Does it mean something super funky in another language? And you don’t want to find that out later. So those are some good things to think about and then it just comes down to what’s most important to you and within your context,
Julia: For sure. Well, those are really important points. And I feel like if you can take a name and then analyze, like run it almost through like a rubric of all those questions, I feel like at some point you also just have to be like, okay, this is it. I don’t know if that’s like, as somebody who’s very indecisive, I feel that I’m like, okay, I like this name. I’ll sit with it for a little while. And if I still like it, then that’s what we’ll go with.
Lynn: Yeah. It’s not even that coming up with all the creative names is that difficult. The most difficult part of a naming project is making that final decision and it gets more difficult the more decision-makers you have. So if you have a whole board of directors, you know, and then none of those people on the board and none of the decision-makers are involved in creating the naming brief in the first place and they’re not involved in the project, they’re not working with my team…we have one lone person who gets assigned to do this—poor person. She comes to us, she worked so hard and she comes up with ideas. She takes it back and they’re all like “Eh,” you know, and they’ll just say, “It’s not standing out to me, or that’s not resonating, or I’m not in love with it.” Or they just, you know, say I’m not feeling it, you know?
Julia: There’s nothing concrete, not concrete feedback.
Lynn: And so we always highly strongly recommend that any decision-makers really need to be involved in, first of all, creating the naming brief. Everyone needs to agree on objective criteria. And then that way you can, the goal at the end of any kind of naming presentation would be that the group, first of all, if there’s a group of people making that decision that no one says anything negative about any name first, is they only say positive things, and that will encourage more people to think about…I mean, this would be like, if you have got eight people in a boardroom and you’re presenting names to them, then you might want to say, “Hey, if there’s something negative about a name, right now, we’re not going to talk about that. We’re only going to, as you see a name that there’s something positive associated with it, then these are the things to talk about. Why do you think this name might be a good fit for us,” you know?
And then that way that encourages more people to think of more positive things about each name. And then it really comes down to, hopefully, you’re going to walk away with a handful of names that are good candidates, and nobody’s going to be like in love with just one name, because then once you have those good candidates that fit your criteria, then you still have to go and do all the legal stuff. So if there’s only one name that you’re in love with, and that one comes back, like, sorry, you can’t trademark this, then everyone’s disappointed and, you know.
Julia: You’ll have to start over. So then that way, if they have five and then can look into the legal and stuff like that, then at least if one doesn’t work out, maybe the others will.
Lynn: Yeah. So it’s hard and it is an emotional decision, but it’s so much better if people can try hard to keep their emotions out of it and focus more on objective criteria and strategy and that sort of thing.
Julia: How cool and what a process! I feel like I was the person who sat around the table, drinking wine, in my case, throwing out names to like my family members, and then finally they were like, well, we all think that one’s cool. But this makes it just much more practical and much more significant, in a way, where it’s like really thought through.
So you shared a little bit about your client, Candor Path. Are there any other examples of clients who went through this process with you? I know you can’t share a lot, but we would love to hear more if you’re willing.
Lynn: Yeah, I mean, I can say that Hershey’s has come to us. But I can’t talk about exactly what they came to us for and some other big companies who, which are so fun, and I can go to the grocery store and see some things that we’ve named.
Julia: That’s awesome!
Lynn: But we can’t talk about it.
Julia: And that’s totally fine. Either way, for everybody who’s listening, Lynn is a big deal.
Lynn: I will tell you one, this was one of our, I think, probably the first year that we started, we had a really fun guy come in from the UK and he was starting a charter helicopter service. And so it was just so interesting, like a luxury charter helicopter service, like we’ll come and pick you up and take you to your fantastic destination all dressed up. So one of the questions people ask me is, they ask almost every time, how long does the naming project take? And as you can imagine, it varies!
But this guy, he was in and out in two days, it was the fastest project we’ve ever had because he was so specific in exactly what he wanted. He’d already done a lot of work beforehand, which is key, honestly, but it’s cool if people haven’t done the work because that’s what we’re here for, you know, to help people kind of work through all this stuff.
But he ended up with the name Flyt. And they’re still around and they’re doing great. He’s got a super cool logo and he was just interactive and engaging, and my team just loved working with him. And then he was like, in and out, we were like, wow, that was amazing. So that was kind of the fun one that we all remember just because it was so unique.
Julia: I could see that name being both, it like speaks to the luxury, and also has a cool factor, maybe? And so I could see how like then a designer could take that name and really like build out a brand around it. So that’s awesome. That’s awesome. So obviously, actually this is not obvious, do most people come to you when they need a new name after they’ve already existed? Or because they’re a new business?
Lynn: Both. We get brand new companies with a new idea and they’re just getting started. And really, it’s almost one of the first things they need because they can’t do anything else until they have their business name. And so we get that. We get people that have existing businesses and they need product names. We get people who have run into some legal trouble because they didn’t get their name trademarked and then they may have received the cease and desist letter about their brand name and they are forced to change it, which is so sad and such a huge pain. And I just hate to see people go through that, but we do have people that come to us for that. And that I work in tandem with the trademark attorney and we don’t pay each other, but we just send each other clients, you know, cause, cause she has people like that, that come to her all the time and she’ll send them over to me. And then, you know, when people are ready for, to get that, do the legal step, I send them over to her. But yeah, that’s an issue.
We have people that have, you know, kind of, they need tiered branding. They might have a very complicated stack of products or services and they need a way to create some sort of a naming hierarchy so that all the products can have something that can relate them to each other, to help people understand what they’re offering. So lots of things need names, honestly. I hadn’t even thought of it before I got into this.
Julia: For sure. Wow. I just think about you going from like, oh, trying to win contests for names and now working with Hershey’s and even helping people with product names and trademark names. Then that’s a pretty obvious one, especially the trademark, if somebody has that problem, they would know it’s time for a new name. I am curious, have you worked with people who have done massive rebrands and renamed themselves? How would they know that it’s time for a new name?
Lynn: Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, I will often have calls with people where I talk them out of doing business with us because they don’t need a new name. They might be bored and just have like FOMO or they might think, well, maybe there’s a better name out there. But if they’ve already invested a lot of time and money into all the branding and everything, you know, that goes along with that, it’s not worth the time or the trouble or the money if the name they have is good.
A lot of times people think that changing their name might be a quick fix to other things that are really the problem. Like they may have some deep marketing issues that really need to be fixed and their name is totally fine.
Julia: We have people who come to us for the same reason for branding. Cause they’re like, well maybe if I change my colors, I’ll sell more. I’m like, Nope, that is not the problem here.
Lynn: Yeah, totally. We do have a rather large nonprofit that we may be working with quite soon, and one of the reasons we had the whole conversation about is, is this the time to rebrand? Because this is one that’s been around for years. It’s a very well-established nonprofit. And so a name change is a big deal for them, but it is time for them. They agree and I agree because their name causes confusion, because they have expanded their offerings from when they first started. And so the name does not really reflect who they are anymore and what they do, and it has caused confusion consistently over time. So that’s a really good example of when it is time to rebrand.
Julia: So my other question that I have for you is, obviously we have the extreme of like, okay, I’m sitting around the dinner table with my family trying to pick out a name. When would somebody know that they need to get help with it? I mean, are there instances, there’s instances where you’re telling people, Hey, don’t work with us because your name is fine. But if they are like coming up with names on their own, at what point would you say, like, Hey, maybe you should check in with a team like yours?
Lynn: Well, I think as you know, and anybody who has started a business, it’s so much harder if you try to work on your own stuff, you know, like if you try to rewrite your own website content, just because the reason is you’re so close to your own stuff, it’s hard to think outside the box because there are things that make sense to you that really may not make sense to somebody else, but it’s not obvious to you.
One of the reasons is, the key to a really good naming project is getting a lot of ideas that are diverse and that are creative and that are coming from people who may not even be familiar with your industry because they’re going to look at things with a different perspective than you look at them.
And so it, you know, like naming in an echo chamber versus getting a group of diverse people with diverse person personalities and different approaches to naming. You’re going to get some ideas that you would have never come up with on your own. So that’s a good reason to get help. And we found that one little interesting, this is kind of a statistic that I’m making up, but I’ve been using it for so long, it feels like it’s a real statistic, we’re just going to say it’s real, but it kind of is because I do have a super long, crazy spreadsheet of all the naming projects we’ve done over the last almost six years.
And so we’ve done a little math with it, but it’s not my strong suit, but all that to say, here’s my statistic: 65% of the people that come to us, walk away with the kind of name they said they didn’t want in the first place.
Julia: Oh, that is super interesting.
Lynn: But it really does happen so much. And the reason is because just the act of kind of going through the process with our team opens people’s minds to ideas that they hadn’t considered before. So they might come and say, I only want a descriptive name. I don’t want one of these. Don’t smash two words together. Don’t give me a made-up name. I only want this kind of name, but then they’ll end up walking away with a made-up name because they just, it fit what they really wanted to do and who they really are.
Julia: And that’s fascinating because they probably ended up happier than they would have been if they hadn’t done it. I think we don’t know what we don’t know. And so in the end, if you’re getting help from people who do know things that you don’t know, then you’re going to end up with a result that you’re more pleased with. So that’s pretty cool. I like the statistic.
Lynn: One other thing, too, I just want to throw out there is that my naming team jokes with me that I’m a naming therapist because really so much about naming is psychological. It’s just like making that final decision, it’s tough and it’s stressful. And that’s another reason why people should get help because most people that come to us, not all, but a lot of people come to us after they’ve been doing this for trying on their own for like six months and they’re just pulling their hair out and they’ve just reached a point of frustration and they say, “I’m stuck, I’m stuck! We can’t do it.” And that’s why they end up coming for help. And so that’s where kind of some naming therapy comes in.
Julia: I think even the assurance of having a team that has worked with you…we’ve had clients before who are new startups and they’re like, “But what do you think about our name?” And I’m like, “Uh, it’s good?” I don’t have any substantial feedback for them except to say like, it’s good. I’m not going to tell you to change your name because I’m not a naming therapist. And so I could see it even being helpful to have a second, third, fourth, fifth pair of eyes on it to say, “Hey, yes, this name will accomplish what you want it to accomplish.” And that confidence that then they can have in their own name, too. Especially for something that’s so foundational to the rest of their marketing and the rest of their business.
Well, Lynn, thank you. Thanks for talking us through this. I just find it fascinating. I hope that someday I get to go on this process with you with a client or something, fingers crossed. But in the meantime, if people want to learn more about you and your process, where could they connect with you?
Lynn: A couple of different places! First and foremost would be my website, inkandkey.com, and just click on the contact button and fill out a little quick form or just schedule a call with me. I’m very accessible, it’s my favorite thing to do, is to talk to people in zoom. So that way, or you can find me on LinkedIn at Lynn Tickner.
Julia: Awesome. Awesome. Well, and if any of you guys are struggling with your name or want a second opinion on it, I’m sure Lynn will be happy to help you. Thank you, Lynn. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And everybody we’ll see you here. I guess we won’t see you here. We will be back next week with more content for you!