Famous Last Words: The Name Riddle
In the back of everyone's mind is the idea of someday kicking the corporate yoke and starting a business of one's own. So what do you name the thing?
What triggered this column was when I picked up a bottle of Newman's Own Caesar Dressing during my daily grocery shopping trip. I always liked Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward—their consummate acting skills and their devotion to one another during their 50-year marriage. When asked by a gossip columnist why he never fooled around, Newman retorted, "Why settle for hamburger when I have sirloin at home?"
I also like the idea of Newman's Own—a long line of high quality grocery products featuring Newman on the label, with all the profits (after taxes) going to charity.
Maybe it was my imagination, but I thought I detected fewer Newman's Own products on the shelves than in the old days. Why not? Newman's gone. As he fades in memory, Newman will suffer a diminution of recognition among younger and younger shoppers, and the brand will gradually disappear.
Would anybody buy Newman's Own? Not likely for two reasons: 1) No profit-making corporation would buy a company where all the profits are earmarked for charity, and 2) it's doubtful the Newman family would permit a buyer to profit off of Paul's name in perpetuity.
Newman had to give his name to the company and it had a great run for its money, with a reported $300 million going to charity over the years.
What's in a Name?
When my wife, Peggy, and I started our junk mail newsletter, we called it WHO'S MAILING WHAT! It was its own corporation—its own person and personality. If I were hit by a bus, somebody could take over without an attached Hatch. I am thrilled the WHO'S MAILING WHAT! Archive of 200,000 junk mail samples is still going after 25 years without my stupid name on it.
Do you name your company after yourself—as in Martha Stewart (who did jail time for perjury), Bloomberg (who went on to other things), Kiplinger (with the next generation Kiplingers very much at the helm) or Oprah (a corporate name not likely to survive after she becomes a star in the sky only)?
Early on, we went shopping for a booth that we could take to trade shows and found a masterpiece—one made of glitzy cardboard that shipped in a single container. It traveled in the car and we could put it up and take it down in minutes, enabling us to be last in and first out at shows. When exhibitors stopped by to ask us about the booth, we highly recommended the manufacturer: Blue Thumb. It was a name easy to remember.
However, Blue Thumb got itself bought and the name was changed to easily forgettable Unitizer. Google "Unitizer" and you do not get a display booth. The company could have done better.
So what do you name the new biz?
- Is the business name easy to remember?
- Is the URL memorable?
- Will it come up early on Google?
- Does the name say what you do? Should it?
- Is your name the business name?
- Ford, J.P. Morgan, Hewlett- Packard and Morgan Stanley are household names. Will yours be someday?
"Every business model has a life cycle," said TechTarget cofounder Don Hawk.
Will your name on the business be a help or a handicap?