Name Power

A bird soaked in oil. Smart naming sends “Bob”, not “Robert”, to the scene

Naming things is one of the most important things you’ll do in your small business.  Besides naming your company, each service and product is a unique opportunity to convey information without an explanation. Three current examples show how much a simple name can convey.

BP today ousted beleaguered CEO Tony Hayward and installed a new boss. Meet Bob Dudley. There is no doubt that the oil company executive has the knowledge to run the company.  Multibillion dollar companies don’t just choose people for their names.  But Dudley, who uses the name Robert in business and even on the BP site, has been introduced to the world as Bob. Bob, Bill and Tony sound a lot more accessible than Robert, William and Anthony. The effect is subtle and usually only lasts beyond the first few actions, but BP’s message today is clear.  “Bob, you know, from right down in the Gulf, is coming back home to look after things.  He’s ‘merican, just like you.”

The phenomenon doesn’t just extend to first names. Think about Facebook and how the marketing team didn’t adjust the friendly, social lexicon throughout the site once the growth started outside colleges. On LinkedIn, you have connections. In email, you have contacts. But on Facebook, you have friends who you like. Those were absolutely the proper words at the beginning of the company’s evolution, but when it announced business platforms and suggested connecting to people you knew at work, the word “friend” needed to be dumped. And “like”?

Well, in an early iteration of Facebook Connect, I posted a link about a drug’s side effect that was on CNN.  The item appearing on my Facebook profile was that I “liked” the story. Nope. I was outraged, horrified and a little scared. Words are powerful.  The power of the name we give things can’t be overstated. Your takeaway as a small business leader is simple.  Examine every name in your company.  Look at how you refer to your processes and services–internal and external.  Listen to your team on the phone.  Write down unique words they use.  Then study those words.  What do they really mean? For two years, I have toyed with an essay (not even a blog) called “I Am Not Your Friend”.    Look at your own Facebook profile.  Are the people you’ve called “friend” actually your friends or are they a mishmash of your personal and professional life scattered with people from places you’ve moved from and schoolmates. Names have power.  If they were your friends, you probably would have contacted them well before Facebook appeared.

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