Deciding what to call your franchise is the first step to creating a strong brand identity. However, with plentiful legal obstacles to consider, settling on a company name is far from a walk in the park
For businesses looking to expand through franchising, their choice of name is crucial. It is the core part of the brand, trademark and intellectual property that will then be licensed to others. It’s for this reason that business owners looking to establish a new business or launch a new enterprise should not rush into choosing a name for their company.
When choosing a name for a business, many entrepreneurs are influenced by popular culture. Business owners searching for a name might well take inspiration from TV shows, movies or music. However, this might not always be the best option for many.
Jenny Williams founded The Detective Project in 2010 after she created a crime-themed birthday party for her son Isaac. Having previously worked as a police officer, Williams drew on her experience in the force to teach children all about solving crimes using games and fun. She originally called her business CSI Kids before realising there was also an adult market for her detective-themed events. She therefore chose the name Project CSI and applied for it to be registered as a trademark at the IP Office. However, difficulties arose when lawyers representing American TV show CSI threatened her with court action.
After much deliberating, Williams instead chose the name The Detective Project, successfully trademarked it and is now licensing it to others as a franchise opportunity. “We decided not to fight the case,” she says. “I could have remortgaged my house to fight it in court and still lost. And I’m glad we didn’t: children know what a detective is but they don’t know what CSI stands for, so it’s a better name.”
Once assured she had the right name for the business, Williams began investing in her brand, creating a logo and building a web presence around it. She worked with a graphic designer who found the right font and designed the company’s distinctive fingerprint logo. “Fingerprints are one of the best parts of evidence at a crime scene, so it works really well,” she says.
Jonathon Madden is the managing director of Seriously Fun Swimming Schools, which was originally founded by his mother Janet in the 1990s. However, as Madden and his brother Phillip sought to expand the business through franchising, a name change was deemed necessary.
“We were originally called J.M. Swimming Schools and our tagline was ‘Seriously FUN Swimming Lessons’,” says Madden. “When the decision was made to expand through franchising, we felt it would be a good idea to choose a name we could establish as a brand.”
However, like many business owners, they encountered a few legal issues when it came to registering the name as a trademark. “Before we settled on Seriously Fun, we had decided to go with the name Swimstars,” says Madden. “However, when we tried to register the name, it was challenged by another company, so we had to go back to the drawing board. We eventually agreed that Seriously Fun Swimming Schools was both unique and said it all.”
Madden says his choice of name has had a big impact on the business because it contains an implicit promise to customers. “Our name certainly holds us to account,” he says. “We only have to look down at our t-shirts when we’re by the poolside to remember why we’re there and what we’re promising our customers.”
When a franchise expands internationally, a business owner needs to think about where their company’s name may be displayed in the long term. Damien Zannetou, founder of skincare and beauty franchise Aenea, has ambitions to take his brand across Europe. He recently opted to rebrand as he found that a company in Spain was using his business’s original name, Anesis.
“I am of Greek Cypriot origin and ‘nea’ is the Greek for new, which is the inspiration behind our skincare range Aenea Skin,” says Zannetou. “My original brand for services was Anesis, which is the Greek for ‘relax’. The new registered trademark is a combination of Anesis and Nea.”
Zannetou says a strong brand is essential in the beauty industry as consumers are drawn by a company’s image and story. He also says the aspirations and views of customers need to be central when searching for the right name.
In the beauty industry, professional consultants and distributors like a story and want to know who the people are behind the brand. The brand name is normally key to the story, building a picture of innovation and a unique approach that sets it apart from its competitors.
“The key to branding is to combine the story with the unique selling point behind the concept or product,” says Zannetou. “If you do that, you’re onto a winner. But remember your target market and whether the word fits that market appropriately”.
Once he had found his brand name, Zannetou immediately embarked on design and logos, working with a designer to get the right look. “I wanted to put my word into a vision and ensure that vision was in line with my target demographic audience,” he says. “I therefore ensured that the word was designed in a way that would not only target a female market and had a high-fashion focus but also had certain symbols to have the Greek connotation. That is why it made use of letters of the Greek alphabet.”
Finally, Zannetou sought legal protection for his brand, not only in the UK but also overseas. “Once the word and logo were designed I approached a trademark lawyer and ran a search before filing an application for Europe,” he says. “It covered all classes that would be beneficial to the future growth and expansion of my business.”
Suffice to say, he has some timely advice for anybody looking to protect their brand. “I had one previous trademark dispute under Anesis so I would recommend anyone, when registering a mark, to run a search prior to any application then have a trademark attorney handle the application. It will save you time and money in the long run.”
Literal or abstract?
In the online age, all sorts of unusual company names have emerged: Google, Bebo, Zopa to name a few. But are they a good idea? Alex Ririe, managing partner at Coley Porter Bell, the branding and design agency, says businesses need to be realistic about their marketing budgets before choosing abstract names.
“A new name is an empty vessel and even the best names can fall short if the brand and its marketing activity don’t help to fill the name with meaning,” says Ririe. “Generally, if you are planning on lots of marketing support and communications that can explain your products or service and what you’re about, then your name can be more abstract. If, however, you have minimal budget, it may be better to be more literal.”