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For Word of Mouth Marketing, Make Sure Your New Company Name is Sayable

Take it from someone who often has to rescue someone from mispronunciation or suffer silently when someone reads my last name out loud for the first time: There is huge value in having a name that people can look at and have no doubt about how to pronounce.

That's why I shook my head sadly when I saw the following line in a magazine ad:

"Vovici [vo-vee-see] - the future of online surveys"

For English speakers, pronouncing the company name "Vovici" is totally unintuitive. One uncertainty would be bad enough, but it actually has four trouble spots for someone seeing the name and trying to pronounce it. The "o" could be long or short, the first "i" could be long or short, the emphasis could belong on either the first or the second syllable, and the "c" could be pronounced either like an "s" or like "ch," as in Latin.

But if you instruct people how to pronounce it, as in this magazine ad, isn't that OK? No, not unless you have the budget to make that pronunciation famous through radio or television ads. You'll constantly be fighting several handicaps.

1. With a name that's hard to pronounce, fewer people will say it. Most people hate making mistakes, dislike being corrected and therefore would feel embarrassed to be tripping over pronouncing a six-letter company name. So, many will simply avoid saying it. That means fewer people will recommend the company to others in conversation. People might even go so far as to avoid situations in which they need to confront their uncertainty about the name's pronunciation - like avoiding the company's sales reps.

2. A name that's hard to pronounce is also often harder to remember. That means less impact from many of the dollars spent on marketing. It will cost more to get the same results than with a name that's easy to pronounce.

3. You need to spend considerable time and energy on the issue of pronunciation rather than on what the company does. Very often you also need to explain the derivation or meaning of the name, not just how to say it. For instance, Cuil, the name of the search engine, looks like a nonsensical and unpronounceable combination of letters to most Americans. "Cuil is an old Irish word for knowledge," says the company on its About page. Strangely, they do not say there that it should be pronounced "cool," though they do so in their press releases.

4. People won't know how to spell an unpronounceable name. And on the web, that is disastrous. If someone overhears buzz about a new search engine called "cool," they are going to look it up at cool.com or maybe at kool.com. Not one in a billion would look for it at cuil.com unless they were previously clued in.

Saddling your company with a name that you need to instruct people how to pronounce means putting it at a distinct disadvantage. Spend a little more time and selectivity in naming to give your organization the comfortable boost it deserves.

Marcia Yudkin is Head Stork of Named At Last, a company that brainstorms creative business names, product names and tag lines for clients. For a systematic process of coming up with an appealing and effective name or tag line, download a free copy of "19 Steps to the Perfect Company Name, Product Name or Tag Line" at www.namedatlast.com/19steps.htm

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