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Naming your ‘bundle of joy’ isn’t easy


Naming a company isn’t nearly as easy as naming a kid. Modern parents can simply follow the trend with in-vogue appellations like Sophia, Isabella or Mason. Franchises, on the other hand, must suffer through the adult-like task of thinking deeply about a name’s meaning and all possible misinterpretations, implications for the future, as well as trademark and URL availability.

There are also more cooks in the kitchen, as a company’s name needs to give its board of directors, marketing experts, investors, franchisees and customers the warm and fuzzies, not just two glowing parents.

To dive into what’s in a name—from strategy to execution—we spoke with three franchises that recently changed their names, one that entered this world with a flashy moniker, a franchise attorney and a branding expert for insights on giving your bundle of joy a forever-name that works.

Don’t fall in love

Famous Toastery

At left is the old name and logo for Famous Toastery, with the new logo on the right. The company paid for the name switch for its early franchisees.

“What really gets in people’s way is the emotional aspects of brand naming,” said Anne Berg, of Vyway Market & Brand Strategy in suburban Minneapolis.

“One of the things I do best is help people set aside the difference between rational and emotional thinking when it comes to brand naming, because people just fall in love with a name and want it even though, from an intellectual property standpoint, it would be a very bad move for them.”

Berg added clients are inclined to put marketing concerns first, when they should be focusing first and foremost on the legal aspects of a brand name.

Generic names, like Tire Shop or Eyeglasses Clinic, are fundamentally un-ownable, she said. It’s also crucial a brand name is available from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and hasn’t already been claimed online—an increasingly difficult task this far into the information age.

The strongest names, she said, are completely made up, newly coined words. As examples, she listed her own company, Vyway, as well as Netflix and Kodak, which is an ode to Eastman’s favorite letter, K. For another example, she cited her recent work helping to create a name for Welcyon, a fitness franchise for adults 50 and older.

“My fundamental mantra is: Never market a brand name that you cannot own,” she said. “It’s amazing to me the number of people that try to do that, and often end up in trouble.”

Such trouble comes in the form of cease-and-desist letters from other businesses with the exact or similar names, which can be especially problematic from a brand looking to franchise and/or expand into a wider area.

Finding unique names has become more challenging in recent years. A decade ago, when Berg drew up a list of 100 original brand names for a client—a standard first attempt—90 percent were available as dot-coms. Today, only about 1 in 10 is available online, and good names can sell for $50,000 or more.

For companies considering a new name, Berg recommends going with something that’s bizarre and unusual, but still reasonably simple and easy to pronounce. Once a name has been selected, either through the work of a branding expert or in-house, she advises a comprehensive legal search to ensure the name is ownable.

“It’s a big risk to go out there with a brand that you think is strong because it’s a coined word or it’s an arbitrary association word,” like Caribou Coffee, “but you haven’t done the homework to make certain that it is,” she said.

Randy Gier, CEO of Rave Restaurant Group, based in The Colony, Texas, recently undertook an in-house name change for the parent company of Pizza Inn and Pie Five Pizza brands, the former Pizza Inn Holdings.

The naming process cost Rave less than $10,000, and was directed at the investment community and its own employees, signifying the company’s wish to transform itself into a “high-growth, multi-branded, world-class” restaurant operating company.

“It was important for our employees to think of themselves differently, and see the business differently and attract the kind of talent we want to be part of a much bigger organization,” Gier said.

His advice to companies looking to shift gears is to be “crystal clear” about who is the target of the new name and what is the objective of the change.

“Don’t be afraid—there will always be detractors—and don’t do it very often,” he added. “It’s not something to take lightly, like an ad campaign that gets updated every two or three years.”    

At Toast Café, CEO Robert Maynard knew he had a problem when people would call the company and thank them for the inspiration as they were opening their own Toast Cafés in neighboring states. In response, the six-unit breakfast chain, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, began the process to change its generic name to Famous Toastery—recalling the old name, while also aiming to be unique.

“Trademarking and coming up with a name wasn’t easy,” Maynard said. “If you have a brand and you haven’t trademarked it, you better stop what you’re doing right now and do it, because it isn’t as easy as you think.”

With plans to grow, a trademarked tag was critical before expanding the concept. The new name took effect in early 2015, and was the result of a desire to evoke the old name, suggest breakfast and also be unique enough to find online.

“We put in for names like Toast City Kitchen and Toast House Café, but we realized that we would wait six months to find out we were rejected,” he said, of the three-year naming project. “If we knew it wouldn’t have taken this long, I just wouldn’t have done it—you live and learn.”

To ease the switcheroo for its three current franchisees, the company paid for all of the collateral materials and signage, which he called “the right thing” to do. All in, the company spent approximately $70,000 on the change—$50,000 for signage and collateral and $20,000 in attorney costs—which Maynard admits could have been much less.

As New York-based TRUFOODS, transitioned from an acquirer of heritage brands to a developer of new QSR and fast-casual brands of its own, one of its projects was relaunching the Pudgie’s Famous Chicken brand.

To ensure its customers saw the reborn restaurant as an evolution rather than an abandonment of a beloved chicken concept, the company renamed the 34-year-old restaurant as Pudgie’s Naked Chicken. As seen on its new logo, rolling out through early 2015, the Pudgie’s name is secondary to Naked Chicken Company, a new label that came as the result of a two-year rebranding process.

“The ‘Naked Chicken’ piece came about because the core product for Pudgie’s from the beginning has always been skinless fried chicken,” said President and Chief Development Officer Gary Occhiogrosso.

Rather than tackling the project on its own, TRUFOODS brought in Watson & Co., a creative agency, which coined the new name.

“I don’t know that you can innovate or be creative by democracy,” Occhiogrosso said. “We went through the focus groups and online surveys and conversations to validate what we already knew to be the truth—it perfectly described the product and brand, and it was fun.”

While TRUFOODS cast a wide net of feedback in its search for Naked, Occhiogrosso asserts it’s important to take bits and pieces from that network, but ultimately the leaders needed to settle on a vision and run with it. “I don’t think cooks in the kitchen can create the vision,” he said, speaking figuratively.

“They can add to the plan that gets you to the vision—they’re two very separate things and, unfortunately, many entrepreneurs confuse the two.”

Hatched in 2007, Dallas-based MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes came right out of the gate with a name that was an exercise in creative branding. Mooyah is a cross between “moo” and “booyah”—a celebratory exclamation made popular by late ESPN broadcaster Stuart Scott.

CEO, co-founder and sports enthusiast Rich Hicks challenged his creative team to focus on unusual brand names to avoid trouble securing a more generic trademark.

“Most of the names were out there, but none put a smile on their faces quite like MOOYAH did,” he said, describing the final brainstorming session.

A legal view

Charles Internicola is a franchise lawyer and partner at New York-based Internicola Law Firm. He’s also president of Thoughts Are Things Franchising, a franchise developer and franchisor of the Ecomaids Earth-friendly maid cleaning service.

In branding matters, he advises clients to set their emotions aside and resist being overly attached to their trade names. A key time to reexamine a brand’s name, he added, is when considering adding franchised locations. “When you franchise, it’s part of an evolution of your business, and sometimes business owners need to re-evaluate their branding and their message,” he said.

After determining that a name can be protected, a formal legal search is conducted to see if any competing businesses use the name. “Once we clear that hurdle, we evaluate the mark itself for strength, so marks that are arbitrary to the business are stronger traditionally than marks that are descriptive,” Internicola said. “For example, Apple is an arbitrary mark when you consider its use in computers, and that’s a very strong mark that’s afforded legal strength.”

Companies need to view a protected trademark as a timeless asset and investment in its future. Franchisors should “automatically be of the mindset that they need to protect their mark and the best way to do that is to file a trademark registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.”


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