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Best practice for naming a business

Here’s a guest post from Vince Bridgman. Vince is a creative branding specialist with over 20 years experience in the industry. Vince is co- founder of Novanym.com, the brand name store.

Naming your company is a tricky business. And it’s a decision you’ll be living with for years – so you want to get it right.

The fear of making the wrong decision can lead to the seemingly ‘safe’ choice of a business name that misses valuable branding opportunities.

This tendency to safety is widespread in the health and well-being sector, where there are three tried-and-tested naming approaches taken by the overwhelming majority of health and wellbeing practices:

1. The self named business 

(e.g. The Hutchinson Clinic, Mary Watson Physio, Clarke Orthopaedic)

Because it can be an effective way to communicate a ‘personal touch’, eponymous business names are commonplace in the health and therapies field, particular for one-person consultants.

This can be a good decision if you have a distinctive name – but less so if you haven’t. To test this out, try Googling your name, and see how many different results appear. (The results should speak for themselves, either way!)

Even offline in the non-digital world, a familiar sounding name can be hard for people to remember. Conversely, it might not help if your name is TOO unusual. If customers are likely to find spelling or pronunciation difficult, this will also make it hard for them to remember your business name.

Aliteration can work well, for example Finnegan Physio would be easy to remember, and would engage with customers.

Another important consideration is that a self-named business can be limiting for future business growth. Joining forces with partners, or growing the business generally, can be problematic if it’s named after you.

If you have a distinctive name, a self-named business can be effective, but make sure it isn’t storing up problems for you down the line.

2. The keyword name 

(e.g. Body In Balance, The Mind and Health Centre, Effective Therapy Solutions)

There’s a lexicon of words that are familiar in business names in the health and wellbeing sector, including: life, body, well/wellness, first, mind, active, shine, connect, pure …and so on. And then there are the words that describe the practice activity or business type; clinic, physio, centre, therapy, chiropody, etc.

Individually these are all good words and, on the plus side, when you use descriptive keywords, people will understand what you do.

Tempting as it might be, there are important reasons why taking this approach is missing a trick.

By naming your business with words that are industry generic, you will not differentiate yourself in your market. When many competing businesses adopt a similar approach to naming, they start to merge into one. It can also signify a lack of imagination, which is never a good thing.

Clear differentiation is a vital component of effective branding, and one that broadly seems to be ignored by health and wellbeing practices.

3. The location name 

(e.g. Harley Opthalmics, Aspen Alternative Health, Capital Nutrition)

Naming your business after its location is a good way of staking a claim on your geographical area. So, if you’re called ‘Farnborough Chiro-Practice’, this can imply that you are THE chiro practice in your town. And everyone knows what, and where, you are.

However, if you want to move the business, or expand to a second location, you have a branding problem on your hands. Location names make a business very un-portable. And if someone else sets up The Farnborough Physio Practice you won’t have a leg to stand on, as it were.

Logical though it may be, I find location-based business names bland and distinctly un-engaging. That said, maybe for certain businesses being seen as ‘a bit boring’ is no bad thing.

But it can also make a business seem a bit ‘local’ – i.e. small and limited, so not local in a good way – which can mask its character and professionalism. And that’s never a good thing.

A missed opportunity

It’s not only the health and wellbeing sector that sticks doggedly to tried-and-tested naming approaches. But it is one of the least imaginative. In fact it’s hard to find practices that DON’T adopt one of these three types of business names.

This seems to be a sector that believes it’s immune to the rules of branding that apply to most other sectors. Businesses seem quite comfortable with looking very similar to peers and competitors.

In a way, the reasons for this are understandable – you don’t want a practice name that sounds funny, a bit crazy, or odd in an industry where credibility and trust are critical.

But it doesn’t mean business names have to be boring and follow the same old formats and traditions.

By appealing only to rational thinking, your brand will miss out on the less tangible, human ones. And in health and wellbeing this is surely more important than in most other sectors.

The online invisibility cloak 

There’s another compelling reason to consider an alternative approach to naming your health and wellbeing business: online visibility.

For any business, being found online is important. Using words that are generic in your industry (or common on the web generally) will diminish your chances of customers finding you in their search results.

If you have a keyword-based name, when searching for you, effectively your potential clients are also searching for many of your competitors. Putting it bluntly, a business name based on keywords is a great way to make a business invisible online. A distinctive name, and a strong domain name, will greatly improve your chances of getting found online.

Some notable examples

Adopting a name that’s likeable, and projects a bit of personality and character, will make your brand more engaging. This means that people are more likely to notice and remember you.

As previously mentioned, it’s hard to find distinctive brand names in this sector. But here are a few industry examples that stand out among the keyword-branded practices:

Number 42 (refers to the practice address, but also a way reference to Monty Python’s answer to ‘the meaning of life’)

Rhitrition (a neat portmanteau of the practitioner’s name ‘Rhiannon’ and the word nutrition)

Jelley Legs (running holidays and physiotherapy – the very definition of an engaging company name)

SixPhysio (Apparently there’s no reason for the ‘six’, but it makes for a short and memorable name)

It might SEEM like a safe approach, but choosing a purely descriptive name for your business does nothing to help create either of the two pillars of effective branding: Differentiation and Engagement.

Looking at it from the outside, businesses in the health and wellbeing really could benefit from a dose of creativity and left field thinking.

If you’re a startup, or are thinking about re-naming your practice, consider taking advantage of this fantastic branding opportunity – by having the courage to be distinctive.

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