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Wonder Bread

June 25, 2008

I've been thinking more on names and reading a lot of the commentary that seems to have been sparked by that same GigaOm post. I still think we're overly obsessed with startup names, but I felt like my last post on it was missing something. We all have some deep seated instinctual sense that names are important in some way. What I was trying to argue is that I think our obsession is overblown for startups.

It clicked for me when I read one of the comments on the "rules for startups" post on GigaOm by a fellow named devon :

@ the skeptics… When Logitech introduced the Scanner 2000, sales were tepid. Then they renamed it to the ScanMan, and sales doubled in 18 months without any additional advertising. That’s one example of what a strong brand name can do.

A great brand name will not make a bad business model succeed, nor will a bad brand name cause a good business model to fail. However, when all other things are equal, going to market with a powerful brand name is like sailing with the wind at your back. It makes marketing easier and cheaper, because it takes fewer repetitions for the brand promise to sink in with the target audience.

emphasis mine

How often are all things equal in a startup? By saying startup X has a better name then startup Y you're drawing an equivalence (all startups are equal, but X is such a strong name). A startup, unless it's a "me too" endeavor is all about creating something wholly new. Is the market space the same? Is the product the same? Does it have the same features? Is the technology the same? Is the team the same? Is the user experience the same? Most importantly, does the startup serve exactly the same user need? Unless the startup is brain dead, the answer to at least one, and probably most, of those questions in comparing startups is a resounding no.

So, for all things being equal, an array of equivalent (or mostly equivalent) products, scanners, white bread, etc, a good name can be tremendously important. But arguing the name is a critical component for success in a startup is akin to saying you have a choice between a bathtub "the flugglubernator" and a race car "the Zip2000!". If a user wants to get clean, the fact the race car has a cool name is irrelevant. The point I was trying to make before is that the name in a startup is a second order effect on success. So I guess my new hypothesis for startup names is: The importance of the name as a component for success is inversely proportional to how unique the startup is.

I can't find the source but I always like this quote: "Marketing is the wonder in Wonder Bread®".