Can a phonetic name be a competitive advantage?

Naming a startup is always a difficult challenge. First off you often want a domain name that’s unique and memorable.  But then, most of those seemed to be snapped up by second rate businesses or domain squatters.  Recent trends have forced entrepreneurs to do creative things like use other domain name  suffixes to make the name memorable (e.g. .ly suffix -fork.ly OR .st – betali.st).  Other common practices include dropping vowels such as SCVNGR, scribd, flickr and tumblr.  But are these creative abominations really beneficial?  In a growing world people often realize we are still often operating in an online to offline (O2O) manner, where much of word of mouth still occurs “BY MOUTH.”  We have short attention spans, and verbal recommendations still carry a lot of weight.  Thus locating a product or service by ear alone can be a powerful competitive advantage.

Let’s look at Instagram vs PicPlz.  Both relatively offer the same set of capabilities and are operating in the photo-sharing space, yet Instagram has over 5 times the users as PicPlz and is only on the iPhone.  Once could say Instagram’s success over PicPlz is due to execution and I’m sure there are a lot of other confounding factors, but I have to say if someone mentioned Instagram in a conversation, I’d find it that much quicker than PicPlz… Is that “Pick Please, Pick Plz, what’s that again Please is spelled how again?”

Then let’s head over to location based services. FourSquare vs. Gowalla vs. Scvngr.  I’ll be honest in this post; I had to think hard about how to spell Scvngr and missed the n the first time.  Which one of these is the most popular of the services?  It’s the one with the longest name, yet the easiest not to screw up when searching purely on how it sounds.  Short names are not always an advantage.   Gowalla at one point had 8 times the amount of funding as FourSquare and was quite prettier, yet FourSquare has blown them away with it’s 6 Million registered users.  Then we have Scvngr, which has been making awesome corporate partnerships, yet fails to get any real user adoption relative to the leader.  I remember reading on  some TechCrunch or Mashable article, that someone commented, “buy the domain name Scavenger.com now with that new round of funding”.  I agree!  It’s clever to have the vowels dropped like you are searching for them, but it’s hell to try to cognitively process that when you are searching for it in the App store, let alone write this article.

One could argue, look at Tumblr vs Posterous – Two Blogging Platforms.  Tumblr is clearly winning on this front with more users and traffic (http://siteanalytics.compete.com/tumblr.com+posterous.com/).  A name does not predict success, and there are many other factors.  However, I’m still not convinced that Posterous is that identifiable phonetically.  It could be Postrous or Posterus depending on how you say it.  And unfortunately, Posterous does not own these misspellings. Now would that mean the difference of the 4M traffic represented by the graph at the time I wrote this?  Probably not.  But think about this, what if they captured 10% more users, and those 10% were able to refer their friends.  The multiplicative effect over time could have been substantial.

At Nexercise, we thought long and hard about our name and luckily we stumbled upon an awesome domain name that was expired.  We tested it thoroughly and if you can spell ‘exercise’ you can spell ‘nexercise‘.  Furthermore we bought all the possible misspellings of exercise with an N appended to the front.  We have a long way to catch the startups mentioned here, but I do believe we potentially have a competitive advantage with the phonetic power of our name.  With eyeballs, downloads, users etc, being a critical component of a success of a technology company, a name can potentially mean the difference in the amount of users discovering your service.  Remember, it’s hard to rebrand yourself, so think long and hard if your name offers a competitive advantage.  Do you “hear” what I’m saying?

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