Growth Insights for CEOs

Nine Billion Company Names – The Economist on Naming Companies

Posted by The Chief Outsider


I love marketing and being a marketer. Working with a CEO to propel a company forward is exciting. Having the CEO see the excitement one creates from great marketing can be wonderful. Knowing that you helped fill a need, solve a problem, or even satisfy some craving can be fulfilling for the marketing team and the business. CEOs expect this.

If you are the CEO, you know that marketing isn't always wonderful. As agents of change, marketers will invariably upset someone when we do something. In some ways, you, the CEO, expect that. It's part of creating the buzz around the product or service that helps implement the CEO’s vision. That disequilibrium is part of what makes someone take action. We marketers like it when someone takes action, especially if that action leads to new customers.

Two cases exist where getting miffed goes to an extreme – pricing and naming. Having to price something and to give a name to something strike terror in the hearts of marketers. Most won't admit this to the CEO, but deep down inside, it's true. The issue is that when you name something or price something, instead of making some people mad, you make everyone mad. I guess it's one of those marketing occupational hazards.

A bit of wisdom entered the conversation a few weeks ago courtesy of The Economist. In the October 24, 2015 issue, the columnist, Schumpeter, enlightened us with an article Nine Billion Company Names. The title comes from a story by Arthur C. Clarke concerning Tibetan monks trying to come up with all the different names for God. The monks set a computer going and when the final name is delivered by the computer, the stars start to go out one by one.

The initial premise of the article impacts marketing and the business – what's going to happen when we reach the point that all possible company names – and URLs – are taken? CEOs and CMOs are resorting to more ways to make up names. Some, like Google and Tesla, are wonderful. (Extra points – what is the name Google based on?) Some, like Alphabet, are questionable. Drug names have long led the path to made-up extreme-ism. We put words together – QuickQuid and Digital Marmalade are two examples from the article. We misspell names – Flickr, Kabbage. We use the latest trendy prefixes and suffixes – iSomething, -ify, and so on. You get the idea. This is hard stuff.

The advice that Schumpeter gives us - “The best defense against absurdity is common sense.” Maybe that should be a mantra that all marketing people and CEOs should adopt. Schumpeter also makes two great points to close the article, “The biggest mistake is to expect too much. Great companies can survive boring names but even the best names cannot save dismal companies” (or products – my addition).

The article is worth a read if you are a CEO. If you are not a CMO, show it to your boss. Double points if you knew who Schumpeter was – the real one, not the columnist. Now if we can only figure out what to do about pricing. 

Topics: CEO Choices

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