No need to tell it all

A problem that often stumps people when they’re naming their business is finding a word or combo that fully describes it.

This difficulty is added to by the fact that the new company may not be sure of its eventual direction. The result can be a name that sounds broad, vague and not particularly distinctive.

Here’s the thinking: “Yes, we fly passengers, but we also do a bit of cargo, and have a sideline in emergency medical supply flights for the state. Let’s call ourselves Air General. That way we cover everything, and also insure ourselves against business changes in the future.”

Not a great idea.


Business owners fear that if the name doesn’t include or imply the whole range of services, then people won’t choose the company because it sounds too specific. This, in practice, doesn’t happen.

A name is like a badge or emblem. It creates imagery – a picture in people’s heads. It need not cover all your activities. And usually it can’t.

wells fargo

I love the name Wells Fargo, which conjures up pictures of the gold rush, stagecoaches, bank holdups and the pony express – and it doesn’t matter that the company is now a financial services giant.

London Fog is another favorite, for a similar reason. Who cares that Britain has had a clean air act since 1956?

A current trend is to adopt a business name that doesn’t mean anything much at all, like Uber or Slack. That let’s you off the hook, if you can find a word that’s still available. But you’re missing out on the imagery.


Long-established companies often reduce their names to initials, because of the belief that the original handle is too narrow or outdated. This can work okay if you’re IBM or KFC, because these companies have been able to spend enough on promotion to implant their acronyms in buyers’ minds.

It can also be effective where the business initials are actually pronounceable as a word, such as Qantas or Audi.

For the rest of us, opting for initials is like a water hazard or bunker on a golf course. VMLY&R is the result of a merger between marketing companies Young & Rubicam and VML. Any easy name to remember? No. Search for the erroneous VLMY&R and you’ll find that even the company itself gets it wrong at times.

Not much hope, then, for the struggling customer.

Tried and tested devices

Black Lives Matter. Indeed they do, and the snappiness of the slogan is an important factor in burning the saying into people’s minds.

It has a nice rhyme, plus the alliteration provided by the repeated Ls.

How about these?

  • Twenty-First Century Fox
  • Apple Mac
  • Starbucks
  • Boris Johnson
  • YouTube, TikTok, Google, Samsung
  • Gone With The Wind (oldie but a goodie)
  • Tyranny of distance
  • Battle with cancer

If you want your name, slogan or saying to be remembered, don’t be bashful about using these devices. Tried and Tested.

After the perm, it’s still a dog

The corner restaurant near this office has been through five tenants in recent years. Each spends money on a new name and new fitout, but these don’t stop the venture from failing.

We’ve had a Mexican, Turkish, contemporary, Asian, and one I can’t remember.

In each of the formats, there’s been nothing wrong with the food or service. But the floor size of the premises is enormous and would need a lot of diners in order to be profitable. Many of the tables are empty during the week. The two-highway exposure must also push up the rent.


And this is on a high street that’s already overserviced with casual restaurants.

What startles me is the faith that each new operator has in a fresh concept, as if this will be the one to break through into profitability. A revamp is seen as the answer.

You can dress up these premises any way you like and the business fundamentals aren’t going to change much. A dog remains a dog, regardless of the color of its coat.

The invisible mouse mat

Pens, diaries, key rings, coffee mugs, juggling balls.

We’ve all been showered with these promo giveaways that are emblazoned with the name of the supplier. The brand is in your face each and every day, so the advertising must be effective.

Or maybe not.

Back in the era of the mouse-mat, there was one on this desk promoting something or other. No idea what. After just a few days, the unchanging copy became unseen wallpaper.

Some giveaways such as t-shirts, baseball caps and pedestrian backpacks are undoubtedly effective. The brand names walk the streets and get in front of fresh sets of eyes every day.

They’re like newspaper billboards and headlines. Do we glance at them as we walk past? Of course.


A pawnbroker near this office has a whiteboard on which is scrawled some cock-eyed piece of wisdom that he refreshes every morning. Clever.

This leads to the question of how often we should change our marketing messages. Maybe a further question is needed, which is how often do your customers see them.

Daily exposure creates the need for frequent change. Which is something you can’t do with a coffee mug.

Brands with two faces and not a leg to stand on

We’re all encouraged to promote ourselves as brands, and this is facilitated by the self-publishing vehicles of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Products, including personal ones, plug their positive side and show themselves in the best possible light. This can create a disconnect between image and the real thing.

On a personal level, so-called friends will expose and denigrate you online, if they believe your online story is not an honest one.

At worst, this can result in the destruction of morale and even a total mental breakdown.

Businesses face the same danger, when the gulf between image and day-to-day actions stretches the trust of the public. Here in Australia, the banks and other financial institutions are under fire for exactly that reason. Chairpersons, board members and CEOs are resigning, while share values are plunging.


Of course we’re permitted by cultural convention to put our best foot forward, and this applies equally to commerce as to personal life.

Neither are we expected to be perfect. A frank admission of faults or weaknesses in areas that are not crucial to the main offerings can usefully deslick an image and lift credibility.

Problems arise when this honesty is withheld from the sharp end of the operation – for fear of losing customers, hurting profits or shedding fans, as the case may be.

When the public finds out, we’re treated to the ritualised apology, managed by the publicist or PR consultancy who’s in charge of the reputation of the celebrity or company.

These days, the public are so inured to these standardised grovellings that they no longer appease.

By watching for a disconnect between image and reality, we can save ourselves from the pain of rejection and humiliation. And guard against becoming a two-faced brand.