When I was a young kid, the first thing my father would do when we sat down at a restaurant was find out our waiter’s or waitress’s name. Sometimes the server would give this information independently. But if they didn’t, my dad would ask. And once he knew it, two things could be counted on to happen. First, he would introduce himself, and always in the same way: “Nice to meet you Barbara, my mother named me Frank and she named me well.” And second, he would use Barbara’s name every time she came back to the table — as if the two had known each other for years.
Now as a kid, this embarrassed the hell out of me. Because depending on the server, this didn’t always go gangbusters from the jump and could be a little off-putting at first. I’d see this fog of recognition slide down the waiter’s face and I imagined this internal monologue of, “Oh man, what kind of nut-job is this table going to be like?” But 100% of the time, or at least that’s my memory, every meal always ended with the server calling my dad by his name and him a friendly “see you next time” and “get home safe.”
Here’s the point of that story. Names are important. A name is your first introduction, quite literally, to meeting someone. It carries weight and significance that can lead to some immediate extrapolations, whether intended or not.
The same is true when you’re naming your business, which is where I’m going with all this. It’s not entirely different than when you name anything else, like a baby or a dog or your car. Except for one key differential, which is that your business name is also your marketing tool. It should speak to the characteristics that you want to imbue in your brand.
When it came time to name my company, a branding and content shop, I asked myself three key questions:
- Why am I starting a company in the first place?
- What is my product, my vision?
- How does that vision stand apart from what my competitors are doing?
The answers to those questions would ultimately lead me to my company’s name.
- Why I Started: I wanted to start my own company because I wanted to be the one making the decisions. I didn’t want to be told what to do or how to do it by someone above me. Not very altruistic, but true. I’d worked for some great bosses and some not-so-great ones. I’d had some great opportunities that I didn’t recognize were great at the time, and I’d been put in situations that I thought should have been managed differently and I wanted to do it better. In addition to that. I wanted to build a team that felt the same way about work that I do — that you should approach it with passion, fairness and creativity, and you do what you say you’re going to do. So getting to combine those things sounded pretty great.
- My Vision: When I started my company in 2010, there was a lot of bloat in the commercial industry process, in creative concepting and in production. Additionally there was also a population of clients that that fell between a one-man-band freelancer and a big agency. So I thought, what if I created an all-in-one model (creative and production) that serviced this middle?
- My Competitive Sweetspot: I created this all-in-one model coupled with a team enthusiastic to create engaging content for brands that communicated authentically, passionately with a little bit of wit. In short, I wanted less whiz-bang marketing cleverness and more inventive, creative conversation.
What the answers to those key questions boiled down to was our company name. I say our, because I had good friends that became close collaborators and partners. And I also say “our” because we have an amazing staff, a collective of people that have made our company successful.
I named our company “Frank Collective.” Contrary to some assumptions, I actually didn’t name it after my dad. But I did name it for the same reasons that he associated with it. Frankness. Being frank. Being straight-forward. Pull no punches, and don’t bullshit. I toyed with the names of “Honest” and “Earnest” (both of which were taken by the way). I had people tell me I should name the company after myself, since my name is a bit unusual (I’ll save that story for another post). But in truth, I wasn’t the story of our company — my goal was. And I wasn’t the only one working toward that goal — it was me and my community of other “frank” people. Straight-talkers, no jargon, do-what-you-say-you’re-going-to-do, work horses not show ponies, team-oriented creators.
Every name has a story. That’s ours. When you’re naming your business, have a story, too. It’s a great introduction to who you are and what you do and why you do it. Your name may not answer every single one of the three questions, but it will start a conversation. And doing business is a conversation. Just like the conversation between my dad and the waitress. Learning names is just the beginning of a relationship.
To this day, my younger sister always learns the name of the waiter/waitress and uses it exhaustively, to comic effect, throughout the meal. This started as a somewhat ironic homage to my dad’s practice, but is now legitimately part of her personality, and is intended to be an authentic way to create a nicer, friendlier experience.
And even though she doesn’t have the catchphrase that he had in introducing himself, it still creates the same dynamic it did when my dad would use it. And at the end of the meal, smiles, appreciation and a weird bit of true human connection that comes from a name.