Gone are the days when you can choose your new business name and logo safe in the knowledge that it won’t immediately be picked apart by consumers across the world.

As Sydney-based start-up Wyngle discovered this week, a cool-sounding name may have to be hastily rethought if you have any sort of international ambitions. In Wyngle’s case, the online retailer’s moniker sounds too much like “wangle” to US consumers. With the business looking to gain a foothold in the American market, it has wisely switched to Wynbox.com in order to assuage the concerns of customers.

Wyngle is following in the footsteps of businesses that sensibly thought about how their brands translated into other markets ahead of time. Kodak settled on its name after confirming that it didn’t have any negative connotations around the world, while, 70-odd years ago, Procter and Gamble changed its new soap brand from Dreck to Drift when it realised the former title sounded like German and Yiddish words for waste and garbage.

Carlo Tarquinio, strategy director of Melbourne communications and branding agency Trout Creative Thinking, says there needs to be a solid rationale behind your business name.

“There are a number of approaches that work for different businesses and different markets,” he said. “Many businesses opt for a descriptive name that literally describes what they offer, while others choose an emotional name that describes the benefit of the product or services.

“Others use an interesting, different or fun word for impact, and some make up a unique, proprietary word. “You’ve got to look at who your market is, what your business stands for, who your competitors are, and where your business is headed. The name needs to be relevant, meaningful and preferably differentiated. It’s great if there’s a story behind the name that both staff and customers can get into to connect better with your business and your brand.”

Once you’ve done all this, check out the trademark regime involved with expanding your brand overseas and make sure you avoid these five rather basic errors when moving beyond Australia’s shores …

1. Peugeot

China, as we’re repeatedly reminded, is a market of huge opportunity for Australian businesses, and not just those of the mining variety. With such an enormous, increasingly wealthy group of consumers on our doorstep, it’s important that your branding doesn’t backfire if you attempt to break into the Chinese market.

An entire industry has sprung up to advise foreign businesses on how to brand themselves correctly to Chinese consumers. Many businesses have thought long and hard about this, such as Coca-Cola, which tweaked its name slightly to Kekou Kele, meaning “tasty mouthful”. Reebok has gone for Rui Bu, or “quick steps”, while Colgate’s Gao lu jie means “revealing superior cleanliness”.

Alas, Peugeot hasn’t fared so well. The French car brand is the butt of jokes in southern China, where its translated name, Biao zhi, sounds unhappily like the regional slang for “prostitute”.

2. SciFi Channel

Even if you’re aiming your brand at a domestic audience, you may find that you are talking a completely different language to your target customers. After realising that it couldn’t trademark the term “sci fi”, the SciFi Channel decided to use the next best thing and come up with a groovy new spelling — “Syfy”.

As its president David Howe told TV Week: “[T]he thing that we got back from our 18-to-34 techno-savvy crowd, which is quite a lot of our audience, is actually this is how you’d text it … It made us feel much cooler, much more cutting-edge, much more hip.”

Unfortunately, Howe — nor anyone else at the network — had checked out that, among this young audience, syfy is a fairly common slang term for syphilis.

3. Netflix

It takes time to build an effective brand and much, much longer to establish it as recognisable in the mind of a large body of consumers. Netflix had done the hard work. It had built more than a decade of brand recognition as pretty much the only place you would go to for DVDs in the post.

So, what did it do in 2010? It split its DVD mail-out and streaming services into two separate businesses, renaming the former Qwikster. The result was a huge public outcry, prompting a swift retreat.

4. iSnack 2.0

Setting up a competition can be a good way to reach out to customers and let them engage meaningfully with your business. Kraft thought it was onto a winner in 2009 when it decided to ask the public to choose the name of its new Vegemite variant. Nearly 50,000 suggestions flooded in. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, the decision to pick out iSnack 2.0 is what went wrong. The name provoked widespread derision, to the point that a website called Names That Are Better Than iSnack 2.0 was launched.

Kraft admitted it was “surprised” by the backlash, which, in itself, is fairly surprising, given that the use of the term “2.0” beyond 2004 is almost unforgivable and probably wouldn’t have registered with hard core Vegemite fans even back then.

5. Aol

It’s easy to feel a bit sorry for Aol. In some ways, the business should be seen as an internet pioneer. Instead, it’s viewed as a fusty relic that makes even Yahoo! seem cutting edge. In a recent attempt to modernise, AOL became Aol and overhauled its logo, coming up with several varying backgrounds to add a “dynamic” edge to the brand.

This move was lost in translation in as much as Aol is trying to talk the language of Google. But instead of altering an instantly recognisable brand at special times of the year, Aol went all out in creating a flurry of new looks at once. The end result is a little confusing.

*This article was first published at StartUpSmart

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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