Marketing Challenges With Overthinking The Name Of Your Business

Branding When you’re starting a business, especially one that caters to the general public, you have to be strategic and forward thinking when it comes to choosing its name. When I look back on my marketing approach to creating a strong brand for the restaurant I owned from 2005 to 2009, Dessert Noir Café & Bar in Beaverton, Oregon, it all started with the name itself.

The brand came to me as I imagined the space and visualized what people would do there. Inspired by the ultra lounges, restaurants, and nightclubs, I originally conceived a classy evening destination for 20-, 30-, and 40-something men and women looking for fabulous desserts, small savory plates, specialty cocktails, and wine. Although I’m not a Francophile in particular, I decided that the French language would give the place an element of sophistication.

I highlighted “dessert” as the primary element, used the word “noir” (which means “black” in French) to connote the after-hours theme, and tied everything together with “café” and “bar” so people would understand that we offered more than just dessert. I envisioned Dessert Noir Café & Bar to be unlike anything that anyone had ever seen in a suburban context.

As is often the case, what made perfect sense to me as an entrepreneur was completely lost on my customers. My name choice meant that I had to spend a lot of my marketing resources simply educating customers about the concept. No matter how hard I tried to communicate that “Dessert Noir Café & Bar” was about more than dessert, for the longest time people figured that was all we did, which meant there were potential customers out there who never considered visiting my restaurant due to this misperception.

“Café & Bar” got lost completely despite numerous examples in the marketplace of businesses, especially restaurants, whose names focus on a single element but everyone in the world knows they do more than that one thing. Cheesecake Factory’s menu extends well beyond cheesecake, California Pizza Kitchen makes more than pizza, and Burger King sells more than hamburgers, to name a few. Even my most sophisticated, well-traveled, erudite customers did not get it – and if they didn’t get it, then the masses didn’t either.

Friends, employees, business advisers, customers, and complete strangers advised me to change the name of the restaurant, as if taking that action would suddenly put more butts in my dining room’s chairs. While people had good intentions, I realized it was easy for them to make suggestions when it was not their money. From a marketing perspective, I invested a lot of money and time building equity in and creating differentiation for the Dessert Noir Café & Bar brand.

Through press coverage, advertising, promotions, web sites, collateral, blogs, social networking, menus, and other vehicles, Dessert Noir Café & Bar did become more recognized each day, which made it too expensive to start over. The neon sign on the front of the building alone was a $5,000 investment. Eventually, I was able to overcome the hurdle as time went on, but the initial ramp to get there was a drain on my scarce marketing resources.

The lessons I learned through this experience were:

1. Consider several options for the name of your business before deciding on a single one. If you don’t have the resources to do formal market research, run it by people for their impressions. These days with the prevalence of social media channels, it’s easy enough to post an entry on a blog, create an online survey, and solicit feedback on your Facebook page to ask people for votes, comments, etc.

2. Evaluate if the business name too narrowly focuses on one element to the exclusion of other things that your business does. While “dessert” was the “hero” of my restaurant, people didn’t get from the name that they could order “real food” and alcoholic beverages, too, unless they took those extra steps to find out what the business was really all about.

3. If you pick a name that’s “made up”, esoteric, or otherwise unusual, be prepared to spend the requisite time and money educating your customers and building the brand.

Do the work upfront to save yourself time, energy, and potential “pain” down the road.

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About The Author:
Monique HaywardMonique Hayward is President & CEO of Nouveau Connoisseurs Corporation and a marketing director at Intel Corporation in Hillsboro, Oregon. She’s also a former partner in Cerise Noire Software, LLC, a mobile software applications company.

Monique has nearly 20 years of experience in marketing, communications, public relations, business development, and entrepreneurship. She’s the author of two books, Divas Doing Business: What the Guidebooks Don’t Tell You About Being a Woman Entrepreneur, which includes a foreword by Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman, and Get Your Hustle On! It’s Not Just About Getting a Job, But Building a Rewarding Career.

Image From Bartosz Borecki