Ahora disponible—but who’s buying?

Bimbo signage

No. Way.

“Poor choice” sometimes seems… so inadequate.

The lesson:

Check what your name means in as many languages as you can, folks.

‘Specially if you’re advertising in the middle of a bilingual (trilingual, gazillion-lingual…) country, because for this company it’s not an abstract bit of research for when they may expand one day. It’s now.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

What does your name mean?

You were clever. You were grinning from ear to ear. You were thoroughly impressed with yourself.

Your spouse, who’d been listening to your dreams for months, was similarly impressed. Your dog even looked at you with an extra air of respect.

You’d chosen the name of your business.

It’s a proud moment, preceded by dreams and schemes and hopefully, by reading Maximum Customer Experience’s Naming Your Small Business 101 series, but when the right name comes to you all that doodling is behind you and that name can do no wrong. You cast it in bronze and place it on a pedestal and your family goes along with you.

This is when your intrepid Experience Designer starts to worry, because critical thinking is now off-limits. Who would dare criticize your baby?

Your buyers will.

To a first-time visitor, the name is charming; it does elicit a smile, sure; but what does your name mean? When a name doesn’t bring a clear message of what you are selling, every sale will be more difficult.

That’s not to say that sales are automatically easy with a name like “Speedy Pizza by Joe,” but a lot of time spent explaining yourself is bypassed if you can come up with a name that’s clear and states the benefits (Speedy) and features (Pizza) right up front. If your business’ name could be anything from a beauty shop to an opera house to a fishing-lures craftsman, you’re going to work harder every day than you need to.

Nobody ever bronzes a name like Speedy Pizza by Joe, but folks, Joe doesn’t care.

He’s too busy making money.

Got any favorites you’d like to share—businesses that get your cash every time because their names are clear, all about you, and full of benefits and features right up front?

Is your own business’ name among your faves?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Escape route

Sometimes I think the life of a truck driver must be pretty nice. Long, long drives with the radio or utter silence for company… I love a long drive. When I’ve just got to think, or not think, nothing works for me like driving until I have arrived at the exact center of nowhere.

Realists among you might point out that truck drivers also work very hard. Well, yes, fine. But in my romantic view, it must be pretty nice to be a long-haul trucker.

So I took a long drive the other day. Lots of thoughts to collect, lots of quiet thinking and loud singing, me and the road, old friends together.

When I was maybe half way to nowhere I stopped in a parking lot across from a baseball field for a spell. Stared at the sky. Stared at nothing. Closed my eyes a while.

When I opened ’em I saw this sign:

Heavens Law billboard, PA

Lawfirm billboard outside ballfield, not-quite-nowhere, Pennsylvania

I’ll leave you to think about what kind of client the sign might attract, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, etc.

Proves one thing: naming can make a huge difference. Smith just wouldn’t give you the same thoughts, would it?

(And yes, that really is the principal’s name. Nice bit of luck, that, but with good naming you can make your own luck just as simply.)

It was perfect timing for me. I could use a little bit of Heavens today.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

He’s Got a Bridge in Brooklyn, Too…

A startup client walked in the door this week with a perfect name for her business.

Did Naming 101 play a part? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t change a thing about it. It’s a great name to grow her business.

Among the first tasks for any new business owner is securing their domain name. She was doing that herself, and it looked like it would be relatively simple.

The private owner of the dot com Internet domain was coy at first, simply rejecting her bids. What looked simple required more effort, so I looked into it.

I did a little research and found an old mention of what he felt the value was.

It turns out the owner wants $60,000 for the name.

Umm, no.

No letters strung together with .com at the end are worth that.

Maybe That’s it.

No small business will see a reasonable return on that kind of investment. This brings up an interesting point. Is the need for .com finally fading?

New name, or go with .net? She’s made her decision—what would you do?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

P.S. On an unrelated note: Dear readers, do any of you have commenting problems here? One reader who emails me her thoughts now and then, wrote me that her computer freezes when she tries to comment—she’s sure it’s here at Maximum Customer Experience only, and every time she tries! Does anyone else ever experience crashes when trying to comment at MCE? Thoughts and solutions for my frustrated reader would be greatly appreciated. Of course, if you also experience crashes every time you try to comment, you’ll want to email me: kellye (at) visionpoints (dot) net

Thanks in advance!

Who Designed This Experience?

Advertising for the recent CNBC show Boomer Angst  featured Elvis and Marilyn.

They’re dead.

Was that the kind of angst you were going for?

Better naming could have made the difference here; of course, they could just think a little more about their creepy advertising.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

The Real-World Test—We’re Naming Names!

This is the last part of our Naming 101 series. In part one we looked at 13 “Do”s: the crucial research and development issues surrounding your choice of a name for your firm, product, service, or division. In part two we examined the “Don’t”s that you must avoid, in order to use your name to grow your business.

Let’s look at examples of companies that do and don’t follow these naming strategies. For links to all the articles in this series, click here.


Ten Names That Create Growth (with levels of understanding, positive associations, and “sticky” memory hooks)


Burger King


Stayfree (Feminine products. Great name)

Apple (Part of the backstory here, legendary by now, is that Apple was mainly aimed at teachers and schools in the beginning. An apple a day, get it? As the backstory is forgotten, this is becoming a break-the-mold name)

Nike (Winged Victory. Genius)


Home Depot

SuperFresh (Grocery chain)

Baby Phat (You may not get it, depending on your age, but it hits the target market perfectly)


Ten Names That Break the Mold (Do you have the time and the $ to do this?)




Kodak (The back story to this name as I understand it, was that George Eastman wanted a word that has no direct or implied meaning in any language. With powerful marketing and a strong early position in a skyrocketing field, they took off in spite of the handicap, but do they have what it takes to keep their name foremost in your mind anymore?)

…for Dummies (You wouldn’t think that would be a draw, but it works like anything on our collective insecurities)

RIM’s Blackberry (You mean, that used to be a fruit?)

FedEx (Some think that, gorgeous Landor-designed logo aside, the changing of their official name from Federal Express—has meaning—to FedEx—nonsense word—was an error. Just let the public nickname you, like Mickey D’s, don’t fall for the lure… However, the revamp has clicked. When it’s gotta get to Grandma or the VP now, what do you say? “I’ve got to go FedEx this.” Not, “I’ve got to go UPS this.” It’s a verb now, like Google or gluestick, and they own it. Nice work)

Virgin anything (Who’d have thought that Richard Branson could take a word we barely mention in public unless it has “Mary” after it and make an empire out of it? Even when a new Virgin concept misses, everyone is listening, because like FREE and SEX, the word draws you in on curiosity alone)

Starbucks (Search their website for a while and you’ll find the genesis for the name is the character of first mate in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Okay, I barely skimmed it in high school or maybe I’d have known that already. Even more than Blackberry and Virgin, they have completely taken over this word)


Names That Waste Dollars and Retard Growth (I Couldn’t Stop at Ten!)

Accenture (Huh?)

Avaya (Ditto)

Ameriprise (Are we still worried about being at the front of the yellow pages here?)

Acme (C’mon, even if you live with this large grocery store chain near you every day, don’t you sometimes think of the RoadRunner? Does the name say anything to you about their value?)

Lowe’s (a. What’s a Lowe’s? b. Why is the old movie-theatre group doing home improvement? [They’re not, that’s Loew’s.] Oh, that’s cleared up)

Boston Market (I don’t associate Boston with chicken anyway—and I’m from there—but at least Boston Chicken gave me something tasty to think about, however limited. “Market”? Can I shop for groceries there?)

Wawa (It’s a chain of convenience stores. There is a backstory, but I don’t care and most customers don’t know. If you’re not from around southeastern PA, you probably think of your one-year old nephew asking for a drink… of wawa.)

Exxon, BP, Sunoco… (I could keep going. You argue: They’re huge! Whaddya mean, retard growth? Let me ask you this: Do these names make you feel loyal? Describe the unique value of the chain? If you’re like most, when you need gas, you stop. Where the cheapest stuff is. No loyalty at all. Bright naming spot in the fuel firmament: Mobil, whose name implies exactly what I want out of fuel: to be mobile again.)

AstraZeneca (Don’t get me started on pharmaceutical companies’ names. Doesn’t anyone in an industry dedicated to helping people heal want a name that reflects this? And while I’m on the subject… Xanax, Zyrtec, Advil…)

Hertz (Sounds like…)


With a memorable business name you’ve got a one-second ad that can help you grow faster, every day. I hope that Naming 101 has given you a head start on choosing a great name for your business.

For the sticklers out there: Nine. Yah, yah, I know. I got stuck. If you’ve read the series, you understand Naming 101 now—Who else can you think of that breaks the mold with their name, ignoring the rules and still burning up the balance sheet?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

How NOT to Create a Great Business Name

This is part two of three in our Naming 101 series. In part one we looked at 13 “Do”s: the crucial research and development issues surrounding your choice of a name for your firm, product, service, or division. In part three, we’ll names names! For links to all the articles in this series, click here.

Time for the top “Don’t”s. These mistakes are costly and painful, but completely avoidable! From start-ups to the big boys, we can all think of firms that have made these mistakes. A great name is the first and possibly most important step in getting the business growth you need, so watch out for these pitfalls:

1. Do not name your business after yourself. Unless you are already famous, and in a good way. (I will not make any jokes about past or present athletes whose names will not be gracing any businesses, products, etc. in the near future.) This takes a lot of time out of your marketing day, as no one has any idea why Joe Smith’s Woodworking Shop is any different from Karl Johnson’s Woodworking Shop. It completely defeats the number-one job of a good name: conveying your Vision, purpose, and benefits to a potential client.

(I know, I know, McDonald’s. #1: Ray Kroc did not name the joint Kroc’s. #2: Do you have twenty years or so and several million dollars to throw at the problem, in order to get established? I thought not. More in part three of this series.)

Some professions have a history of firms named after one or many owners (accountancy firms, law firms, clothing designers, interior design firms…). I still recommend against it. There is so much work your business name can do for you!

2. Don’t choose a name that is already in use! No excuses! This may take time but it is easy for anyone to do at least a minimal job of checking for usage issues.


Did you check the phone book? You have a big problem if businesses even slightly similar to yours are already in your community. Nix that name.

Slightly more advanced: Internet research, using your favorite search engine. Try the name “within quotation marks” to search for the exact name; if you already get too many hits, no need to move on to what happens if you remove the quotation marks.

In the U.S., the Trademark Electronic Search System at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is a necessary search if you expect to register your name (still a useful resource if you are in other English-speaking countries).

In Canada, search for your name’s availability at the Canadian Trade-marks Database

The World Intellectual Property Organization’s Madrid Express Structured Search (whose unfortunate acronym—MESS—violates #6 below) includes international registrations and applications.

Why not skip straight to the trademark databases? Because registering there is not a requirement for going into business, and you will find out a lot more about how fresh (or tired) your name selection is from the web than the trademark databases. However, there you can learn very detailed information about words, names, symbols, and even sounds and colors which make up a trademark.

You can’t say “I didn’t know” anymore.

Please understand. There are TOO MANY A Cut Aboves, Happy Paws, and The Write Stuffs in this world. Do not do this, even if you are oh-so-sure you will never cross state lines and wind up competing with the other Burger Barns (over 198,000 results on Yahoo!).

3. Don’t choose a name that is too similar to something already in use, even if it is in another field. I know how clever you feel you are, but worlds do collide and it will cause confusion. I wonder why American Express Financial Advisors, with the world of words and coinage available to them, chose to rebrand a couple of years ago as Ameriprise, which violates the rule of being easily spelled in Part 1 of this series (“Ameriprize,” anyone?), and is also one letter off from the well-known hospitality supply company AmeriPride (see also #2 above, because while well-known they are hardly alone). Should anyone in hospitality also have an interest in financial services, there will be a tougher learning curve. Because of these associations, the name may already have a downscale feel, as well—not good for a financial services firm.

4. Don’t name your firm ABC anything (or AA, or AAAA,…). This trick to jump to the head of the telephone book is now and always was cheap and fly-by-night sounding. (Not to mention that the telephone book itself is, well, less relevant than it once was—though it’s an easy place to start your research.) If you are inexpensive, you can imply that in your name without sounding cheap. (-Mart works well for this. Not that I recommend it.) Get the difference?

5. Don’t pick a name that is easily misunderstood in another language. Example: The 1970s Chevy Nova. Remember your high-school Spanish? Hard to roll out a car in Mexico with a name that means “It doesn’t go”: No va. No matter that they were going for “new” (Latin, nova) when they named it.

6. Don’t pick a name that is easily misunderstood in this language. No names that can be misinterpreted as meaning something embarrassing, or foul, or offensive to any group, or X-rated. Think about: possible misspellings, acronyms, short-form “nicknames,” and slurs of any kind. See how much like naming a child this is? Did you choose a misspelling (coined word) on purpose? Think hard about that. (I don’t need to say be sure you’re not accidentally misspelling, do I?)

7. Don’t date yourself, or your firm, with a fad-ish name. Trendy soon becomes “so yesterday.” Related: unless you have a lot of venture capital to throw at it, don’t choose a name that’s so “out there” it gets the Huh? reaction from too many people. (Yes, Yahoo!, I do love the name now. In part three we’ll list others that break the mold.)

8. Don’t narrow your potential with your name. If Bowling Green Coffee is any good, they’ll soon wish they’d chosen a descriptor related to how their coffee makes you feel, rather than related to location, so they can add locations in Poughkeepsie; on the other hand, if Bowling Green Coffee also sells teas, or sandwiches, or… bowling balls, they’ll wish they’d chosen a name that allows for their line to expand.

Bonus Tip: Don’t fall in love with a name before testing on innocent bystanders, or at the least, honest relatives. If there’s a guffaw or a Huh? that you missed, this is the time to find out.

We’ll finish the series on Friday with Part 3: The Hall of Fame, the Hall of Shame, and How’d They Manage With That? so make sure you subscribe to get the latest updates for creating your Maximum Customer Experience!

Got a pet peeve (or a resource) to add to this list? What blunders bother you most when you think of the businesses you interact with every day?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

That Which We Call a Rose May Do Okay, but Your Business Will Not Smell as Sweet Without These Tips

This is part one of three in our Naming 101 series. In part two we’ll uncover the avoidable naming mistakes that will cost your firm time and money. In part three we’ll visit the Hall of Fame, the Hall of Shame, and the Hall of How’d They Manage With That? of Naming. For links to all the articles in this series, click here.

Naming your business is very personal, very thrilling, and very sensitive to many business owners. It is often a heartfelt choice but sadly, at least as often, it has little consideration or critical thinking behind it. Common sources of business names:

  • From a dream
  • From a song
  • From a cliché about the industry
  • From a favorite (color, feeling, vacation spot, pet…)
  • From previous owners (without thought as to whether the name is worth keeping)
  • From the owner’s name
  • From the owner’s kid

Can these be good sources? Maybe, if well thought out, with good business sense behind them.

After you’ve got your business concept, naming is the most important decision for any start-up business. This will significantly impact your Customer Experience for the life of your firm. Have I got your attention?

Your name is a one-second ad for your firm that will be played dozens of times, every single day.

In it, you can and should convey price, value, feeling, attitude, and scale.

In it, you can and must tell what you do—either literally, or with a tease or hint at what you do.

Your name should mean everything you aspire to be as a company, and everything you want your customers to aspire to with you. It should be fresh and intriguing. It should suggest benefits to be gotten from working with or purchasing from you.

All this, from a one-second ad! This takes hard work and luck—lots of companies throw big money at the problem and get counterproductive nonsense from their efforts. Here’s what you can do to get a name that makes great business sense:

13 Naming “Do”s

1. Research: Your field, your region, your immediate and future competitors, your business heroes, and unrelated firms/products/services you admire. No hunches! Think about which elements you should adapt to your own circumstances and which you should avoid. Develop a critical eye.

2. Brainstorm: Make a long list and narrow it. Think about your Vision for your firm, and try to embody that with your ideas. There is no substitute for free association, and there are no stupid answers at this stage.

3. Be descriptive. What do you do? You’ll be saying this name all day, every day. Make your name work hard to introduce you to prospective customers.

4. Be evocative. What do you think of when you hear TruGreen Lawn Care, for instance? Create a mental picture with your name.

5. Be emotional; be a little edgy. Avoid evoking a yawn in folks you want to pay you money.

6. Be positive. Gorgeous Smiles ‘R’ Us is better than Pain-Free Dentistry, because you’re leading with a benefit, instead of with the word “Pain.” (Warning: Both names are bad clichés. *Yawn.*)

7. Be short. If you aren’t, people will shorten it for you, and perhaps not flatteringly. Don’t make it a mouthful.

8. Make sure it’s easily spelled, and easily pronounced. My original idea for what became VisionPoints, years ago? Ojo, which means “eye” in Spanish. It looks beautiful on a page, its meaning is close to what I wanted for the firm, and it sounds lyrical when spoken. I was in love with the name for quite a while, until I realized that to someone who speaks little Spanish, it may feel like a quiz, while to someone who speaks no Spanish, it is confusing, not beautiful; on the page it is meaningless; and it sounds like “oh-joe.” Bye-bye.

9. Make it catchy/ memorable. If you followed steps 3–8 this should be a no-brainer but check yourself anyway. If you can’t remember it, who else will?

10. Check that the web address is available: This is crucial in the Internet age! (More in part two of this series.)

11. Step back. Put it away for a week. Now review steps 1–10, and make your short list of 10–20 likely candidates.

12. Let others choose the finalists. This is related to #11, Step back, but not the same. You’ve researched it, lived it, breathed it. At this point you can’t see the forest for the trees! Get help from people not so closely tied to the project to tell you what really works and what really stinks on your short list. Supportive, widely-read, aware colleagues, friends and family can offer good opinions on what the public will think of your name. Don’t just get thumbs up or down, ask Why? Their answers may lead you to a more pinpointed solution.

13. You choose the winner: You have to live with it every day from now on. Once you have done all this work, you need to take your research, development, and the considered opinions of others, and tweak your finalists until the name you will happily live, breathe, and believe in emerges. Make it fresh, make it fun, and make it unforgettable.

Choose a great business name: Work hard, self-edit, and make the good fairy of naming smile upon you.

Let’s break for some Inspiration. Then Thursday, Part 2: Do Not Name Your Business After Yourself & 7 Other Blunders

What other “Do”s would you add to this list? Is one of these points causing you night terrors? Share your thoughts below…


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

or, Why Does Naming Matter?

One of the most overlooked areas for the start-up or expanding business is the issue of naming. Whether it’s the name of your firm, the name of a product or service you offer, or the name of a new division as you expand, give this aspect the attention it deserves and many other planning issues will be halfway to solved.

When I wrote The Simplest Way to Avoid Naming Disasters, I promised you we’d really get into the topic. Let’s go.

Naming your business is a lot like naming your child. Bambi is nice if you’re a deer, but for people it communicates something you may not want your child to convey when she’s 38 and trying to climb the corporate ladder. Does the name confine her to the receptionist’s desk? I don’t want that for your firm, so we need some ground rules for considering your first and most important intellectual asset.

In this three-part series we’ll examine the importance of naming and the crucial research and development issues surrounding your choice, the avoidable naming mistakes that will cost your firm time and money, and take a look at some great examples of the good and the bad in naming the Big Boys. (Hint: For all the money they spend, you can do better than some of them!)

Why does naming matter? Because it’s the most important ad you’ll ever write.

Naming 101: Links to the complete series:

Part 1: What’s in a Name?

Part 2: Do Not Name Your Business After Yourself & 7 Other Blunders

Part 3: The Hall of Fame, the Hall of Shame, and How’d They Manage With That?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson