CHICAGO (TheStreet) -- A company name is all about doing a lot with a little. In just a few short words, you have to summarize who you are, what you do, and -- crucially -- make yourself appealing to potential customers.
What makes a name work? Sometimes, it needs only to be short and to the point. Midwest Tax Advisors, for example, is informative and sober-minded, which fits expectations for an accounting firm. (Most of us don't want our financial advisers to be overly hip and clever.)
Creative fields have more license, but also higher standards. If you're promoting your business as cool or fun, your name needs to stand out. Another challenge is finding a name that hasn't already been snatched up, especially when finding an address for a website. But when the right name appears, it can work like magic, instantly differentiating your company in the marketplace and drawing in customers.
That's what happened with
, a home accessories design firm based in Northern California.
"The name has been a key factor in increasing visibility," says Vicki Kung, who founded the company with her husband, Richard. "It's an immediate icebreaker. At trade shows we have people come to the booth who say, 'I had to come see you -- I love the name.'"
The Kungs, who came from branding backgrounds, envisioned a company that was imaginative, fun, design-focused, tech-savvy and retro-futuristic. "We thought hard about what we wanted the name to convey," Kung says.
Their interest in science fiction and lifelong love of robots provided the inspiration. "'Museum of Robots' fit all the criteria, plus we loved how these seemingly unconnected words conjured up something memorable and whimsical," Kung says. "It also keeps us on our toes -- with a name that's fun and different, people expect the products and our design point of view to be that way too, and we continually check that whatever products we're designing are true to the spirit we promise in the name."
Another sign of a good name is that it remains applicable even as the business grows and expands. "'Museum of Robots' is broad enough that we can comfortably explore a range of product designs and materials while remaining true to the name," Kung says. "We can focus on technology, or new materials, or robot themes, or the future, or space, so the name doesn't box us in."
While a creative name is a must for design firms, it can also pay off in other industries -- maybe even more so. When your competitors all use simple, just-the-facts names, anything usual or unexpected can have a greater impact.
Take Ross Reed, who runs a chimney-cleaning business in the Chicago suburbs. When he was starting out and deciding what to call his company, he went out for drinks with some friends to brainstorm. "By the end of the night, we had come up with the name Ash Wipe. Several of them said 'No way,' and I said, 'Watch me.' The rest is history!"
Ash Wipe has now been in business for 30 years, and the name has clearly been part of its success. "I've had people take pictures of my van as I traveled down the expressways," Reed says. "My wife has 'Ashwife' license plates and draws a lot of attention as well."
For years, Reed had a sign for the business hanging on a busy suburban street, where thousands of drivers saw it each day. Even though the sign was stolen in 2006 and never replaced, people still mention it to Reed. "To this day, I have people tell me they love that sign," he says. "I ask them when they saw it last, and the answer is always 'Just last week on my way to the mall.' People remember the name, obviously, and it keeps me busy!"
Ash Wipes' success is proof you can come up with a clever, memorable name no matter what your industry. And if it shows you've got a sense of humor, all the better. In the end, a name can be your most effective marketing tool.
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This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.