Company Naming

Would You Fly on an Airplane Named Boom?

Supersonic Whiplash

I’m recovering from a serious case of supersonic name whiplash.

A Very Cool Airplane

It started when I saw the photo illustration of an amazing new passenger jet being developed by a Denver start up.  The firm is pursuing a daring mission – to reintroduce supersonic flight to commercial aviation.

For the company’s team of skunk works engineers this must be the absolute dream job – to create an iconic new aircraft and conquer the speed of sound!

The super sleek aircraft has a projected cruising velocity of Mach 2.2.  It will fly at more than two and a half times the speed of any current day airliner and will be 10 percent faster than the old supersonic Concorde, which had its last flight in 2003.

What’s the name of this visionary aerospace company?  Boom.  Boom Technology.

Perfect at First Glance

At first glance, Boom seems to be the perfect name for the world’s fastest ever passenger plane. Boom is bold, evocative and exceedingly cool. Boom is gutsy, memorable and instantly repeatable. Best of all, it says supersonic in a single syllable.

The engineers undoubtedly love Boom. I bet there was giddy excitement when they chose the name. And what could be better than going to work wearing a Boom T-shirt?

Boom is a great piece of naming.  It immediately filled me with wild blue yonder excitement.  It reignited my old grade school dream of one day becoming an aeronautical engineer.

Supersonic U Turn

But as I moved my thoughts beyond the confines of the test lab and took on a wider perspective, some significant Boom shortcomings came into view.  My opinion did a supersonic U turn.  Name whiplash hit me hard.  Suddenly my perfect name conclusion seemed hasty and seriously amiss.  Here’s why.

The engineers building the plane are the first audience for the name, but certainly not the only audience. And they’re not the audience that will bring money in the door.

Different Audience - Different Message

For the much larger outside audience Boom conveys a very different message, and stirs a very different set of emotions.

To the engineers Boom means speed. To the outside audience Boom means danger. For engineers Boom elicits emotional excitement. For the outside audience Boom feeds fear.

The last thing any air traveler wants to hear is a boom. A mid air boom is never the start of anything good.

No brand can afford to fall on the wrong side of fear.

Will Airlines Be Comfortable with Boom?

The first customers for Boom jets are the airlines.  They operate in a safety-focused and highly regulated environment.

Will airline CEOs agree to shell out mega millions and stake their company’s reputation on a jet named Boom? Is the Boom name a fit with the airline culture?

What Will Air Travelers Think of Boom?

For the 10-30 percent of the population already afraid of flying, the Boom name could well strike panic. It’s unlikely that your nervous Aunt Nola from North Dakota would ever take a Boom flight. Or for that matter famous white-knuckled flyers like Wayne Gretzky, John Madden or Mr. T.

The company is probably not targeting aerophobics, so making the already fearful a little more anxious isn’t a big concern.  But is it possible that the name is edgy enough to cause others to hesitate?  Could the name sabotage ticket sales?

Consider the example of my frequent flyer friend Todd. Todd has no fear of the flying part of flying. In fact he’s the type of guy who would be eager to take a supersonic flight.  When he was a boy his dad worked for the airlines and received family travel passes, so Todd pretty much grew up on airplanes.

9/11 Terrorist Concerns

But when I asked Todd if he would fly on a plane named Boom, his response was rather tentative. My question had hit a nerve.  Then he explained. “Prior to 9/11 I would have had no problem getting on a plane named Boom. But since then I’ve been feeling a lot more cautious.”

The Name Would Keep Him off the Plane

He isn’t as wary now as in the fall of 2001, but the Boom name is still intense enough to activate his terrorist alarm system and overrule his desire for a super fast flight. The name would keep him off the plane.

Is any name cool enough to use if it scares away your potential customer base?

Regulators & Anti-Noise Activists

How will the name be received by influential non-passenger audiences?

Imagine you worked at the FAA and were in charge of issuing airworthiness certificates. Would you be more stringent in reviewing a plane from Boom than one from Boeing?

What about the anti-noise activists who live close to big airports? How will the company ever convince them that a plane called Boom is actually quiet?

Inviting Headline Ridicule

Boom leaves the company vulnerable to ridicule. If there ever is a mishap, the name will be inviting fodder for the media. The tabloid headline is already written – KA-BOOM!

If that nickname gets riveted to the plane, it will be impossible to shake.

Boom is great for boldness.  But is it just too risky?

What’s the Boom Lesson?

The mini Boom case study shows that names are powerful and make powerful impressions.  But depending on the audience, the same name can stir markedly different, and potentially undesirable impressions.

When you’re naming your company or product it’s all too easy to focus on what a particular name means to you without giving enough attention to other ways it can be interpreted. You need to consider what thoughts and feelings the name evokes in the marketplace.

To arrive at a name that will be a solid foundation for your brand, you need to balance creative enthusiasm with sober second thought and customer research.

What Should the Company Do?

The Boom name has some great strengths but also enormous weaknesses waiting in the wings.  Should the company stick with it for the long term?

For now the company is isolated from the downside of the Boom name.  The drawbacks are still only theoretical.  The main audience for the name is the engineering group designing the aircraft.

That will all change beginning late next year when the supersonic jet has its first test flight.  Once the plane takes to the skies, the name will attract a lot of attention and much of it will be negative.

If the company’s CEO called to ask my advice, I would suggest replacing Boom with a new name – a name that conveys a sense of supersonic engineering but not at the expense of safety and credibility.

To spare the engineers from feeling cheated out of a name they love, Boom could live on internally as the name for the jet propulsion division.  This would allow the engineers to keep the Boom T-shirts in their work wardrobe.

The Sooner the Better

The sooner Boom is replaced the better.  The flurry of publicity that the test flights will unleash should be harnessed to establish a strong new name rather than publicize a problematic one.

The company’s amazing new aircraft needs a name that will give it a lift, a tailwind, some sort of an advantage.  The Boom name puts too many unnecessary obstacles in the flight path to success.

Would you fly on an airplane named Boom?

What’s Your Most Important Marketing Decision?

There are a myriad of decisions that must be made in bringing a company or product to market.  Out of all the vital issues, one decision stands above all others as the most important.  The decision of what to name your company, product or service.  What makes the name so important?

Crucial First Impressions

The name is the first piece of information customers encounter in the sales cycle.  It plays a crucial role in forming first impressions.

In our communication overloaded age, customers don’t wait until the end of a formal sales presentation to begin forming opinions.  From the point of first contact customers start making judgements:

Is this product interesting?  Is it appealing?  Is it worth buying?  Is it worth a premium price?  Is it worth the time of day?

Names that make a great first impression open the customer’s mind to the products they represent.  They earn a place on the customer’s radar screen and create momentum for your sales efforts.

But if the name fails to communicate a pertinent message, the name and the product are swiftly cast aside as irrelevant.

Names Form Thought Patterns

When christening a product or service, you have the opportunity to plant ideas and images that command attention, pique curiosity, build emotional rapport or claim a strategic advantage over competitors.

Some Good Examples

In six short letters, Acura conveys a message of accuracy and exacting standards – excellent qualities for a luxury automobile.

Ben & Jerry’s uses personality-rich names to promote calorie-rich ice cream.  Imaginative names like Chunky Monkey, Chubby Hubby, Neapolitan Dynamite and Jamaican Me Crazy surround the high end frozen treats with a spirit of pure fun.

Spark Buying Demand

Names can also spark buying demand and accelerate the sales cycle.  Hertz entices customers to buy its GPS upgrade option with the name NeverLost.  In just three syllables, the name offers a solution to the common fear of straying into a rough neighbourhood in a strange city.  NeverLost is far more effective in the up-sell process than the accurate but boring title of GPS Mapping System.

Choose A Name Worth Repeating A Few Million Times

The name is not only the message customers encounter first, it is the message they encounter most.

The name is present every time a customer sees the product, uses the product or talks about the product.  The name is at the core of every sales pitch, webpage, video, blog post, social media page, brochure, email campaign and public relations initiative used to promote the product for years and often decades.  Over the life of the product, the name will be repeated millions of times.

An engaging name presented a million times will yield substantially better sales results than a bland name repeated a million times.

Not Just for Consumer Giants

Huge consumer goods companies have leveraged the power of naming to earn billions.  But you don’t have to be a giant corporation selling to the mass market to reap the rewards of effective naming.  Naming offers tremendous benefits for business-to-business enterprises and even start-ups.

The story of one of my clients is a great example.  A seasoned CFO contracted Identicor to name his new business – a boutique consulting firm that advises corporations on mergers, acquisitions, and other complex financial transactions.  The client needed a name that would portray his start-up company as a credible entity when competing head to head for business against international accounting firms.

A thorough, professional name development process led to the name Corplan Advisors – with Corplan being an abbreviation for corporate planning.

This concise, direct, confident-sounding name positioned the new consulting firm as a solid, trustworthy organization from its first day of operations.  The Corplan name has been very well received with clients in the target market and continues to play an important role in the firm’s growing reputation.

Not Just Any Name Will Do

Naming offers an impressive array of benefits.  But capitalizing on the possibilities is by no means automatic.  The results you’ll realize depend on the quality of the name you choose.  Not just any name will do.

If you select a name with a compelling message and engaging imagery, then every time the name appears, you’ll create a sales opportunity.

But on the other hand, if you select a name that conveys a non-message or the wrong message then every promotional piece you create will have to compensate for a missed opportunity or waste energy correcting the naming deficiency.

Naming is your most important marketing decision.

Company Naming: Advice for 1-800-Flowers

A Naming Critique on Network TV

Did you see the scathing name critique on network television?

The president of the world’s largest flower and gift chain had to silently endure mini lectures from front line staff as they pointed out some serious deficiencies with the company name.

The staff members see some big problems with, the company’s official title since it went public in 1999.

Undercover Boss

The dressing down came on the season finale of Undercover Boss, the new series CBS that premiered on the heels of this year’s Super Bowl broadcast.  In the show, a top executive leaves the corner office to pose as an entry level trainee to learn what’s really going on in the trenches of the business.

The star of the 1-800-Flowers episode was President Chris McCann, who is also the brother of the company’s founder and TV pitchman Jim McCann.

The Name Is “Outdated”

The first name critique came as Chris, in a bearded and bespectacled disguise, was learning how to make a pleasing arrangement of yellow lilies in a mug.  His tutor told him the name was “outdated.”  The remark prompted a pained expression.  I can imagine what went through his mind.

“Outdated?  How can you say the name is outdated?  The name has been crucial to our success.  It has been instrumental in consolidating the flower industry and making people comfortable to buy over the phone and the Internet.”

Although Chris might have been thinking this, he had to remain silent so not to blow his cover.

A More Scathing Assessment

A far more cutting name assessment came a few days later when Chris was assigned to a storefront location in an upscale Boston suburb.  Although the shop had been open for about a year, customer traffic was low.  The inquisitive trainee asked if the store was always so quiet.

Sending the Wrong Message

The store manager lamented it is very difficult to get people to realize that 1-800-Flowers is an actual flower shop and not just a telephone ordering service.  She said that people see the name on the side of the building and think the store is a call center.

She also divulged that the name sounds cheap and repulsive to the well-heeled clientele who live in the area.

“I wish you would change your name”

“I had a woman come in here one day and tell me ‘I wish you would change your name because I can’t buy anything here.  I really love your stuff, but I can’t send something out to my friends that says 1-800-Flowers.’”

Ouch!  That remark must have really hurt.  But it was right on the mark.  The frontline comments illustrate an important naming principle.

Names Set Expectations

Names set customer expectations.  When customers see a name they form opinions about the business’s scope of operations and the level of quality it provides.  Once those expectations are established, customers are reluctant and unlikely to accept ideas that are inconsistent with the name message they see over and over again.

Good for Online Orders, Bad for Retail is a great name for customers looking for a convenient way to order flowers.  But it is an ineffective retail store name.

1-800-Flowers doesn’t beckon mall visitors to come buy bodacious blossoms.  The name tells shoppers to go home and use the phone or go online.  The name also positions the company as a mid-market merchandiser not a high end boutique.

What Should 1-800-Flowers Do?

So should the company just change its name as the ritzy customer wished for?  Absolutely not.

The name is essential to the company’s success.  1-800-Flowers is extremely well known, easy to remember and responsible for a big percentage of the company’s $700+ million in annual revenue.

When someone gets a notion to order flowers over the phone or online, what’s the most likely company to come to mind?  1-800-Flowers.  That’s too valuable an advantage to surrender.

Time To Create a New Brand

It’s time for the company to segment its business.  It should stick with 1-800-Flowers for phone and online orders and create a new upmarket brand for its retail locations.

1-800-Flowers should follow the lead of the Japanese car manufacturers.  Back in the mid 1980s Toyota, Nissan and Honda rightly realized that their aspirations to serve the top end of the automotive food chain could not be achieved under their existing nameplates.  Wisely they developed entirely new brands and gave them their own locations.  The Lexus, Inifiniti and Acura names convey the aura of prestige that luxury car buyers desire.

Down Is Possible, Up Is Not

High end brands can successfully scale down to appeal to the mid market.  But lower end brands can’t scale up.

Mid market clientele are happy to stay in a Courtyard by Marriott or a Hilton Garden Inn.  But even if Walmart brought in ultra high quality merchandise, it would never win the allegiance of Neiman Marcus customers.

1-800-Flowers makes a great product.  The wealthy shopper loved the bouquets.  But nice flowers are not enough.  The company needs to add an extra element to what it sells in the retail environment.  The retail shops, especially those in chic surroundings, need a name with status and cachet.

1-800-Flowers already owns the mid market.  A new luxury brand will help it serve the top end.  The right name will drive traffic and sales in posh locales.  Adding a glamorous new brand to its portfolio will also increase the value of the company.

The TV Epilogue

At the end of the show, the various employees who worked with the undercover boss were summoned to corporate headquarters to learn the trainee actually runs the company.  The most surprised employee was the florist who earlier told the cameras she didn’t think Chris had what it took to make it in the flower business.

In one-on-one sessions in his office Chris told each worker how much he appreciated her efforts and about the steps he was taking to enact her improvement suggestions.

He arranged for an aspiring floral stylist to design a new spring product line.  He introduced an incentive plan for employees who exceed production targets.  He instructed the corporate marketing department to bolster promotional efforts for the suburban Boston store.

Pledge of Personal Support

The most moving conversation was with the diligent 19 year old assistant manager who was working to support his widowed mother and siblings.  He told the young man he had great potential and just might become the company’s youngest ever franchisee.  Chris also pledged $25 thousand of his personal money to help the budding florist with set up costs.

To his credit Chris acted swiftly to fix the problems he could handle right away.  The one issue he didn’t mention was the name problem.  And rightly so.  Naming is too important a matter to make a snap decision under the glare of TV lights.  It’s best to take some time to think and call for outside assistance.

I’m Ready to Help

So Chris, if you’re reading this, I would be pleased to help guide you through the naming issues you’re facing.  I will welcome your call.  My number is 403.685.2100.  I look forward to seeing 1-800-Flowers on my call display.

(If you’re not Chris McCann and you need naming help, I will welcome your call too ;-)