Opening Cross: How the Right Name Can Help Win the Oscar

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How bad does Hugh Jackman want an Oscar? Pretty bad, apparently: he’s willing to dress up as best actor Oscar rival Daniel Day-Lewis—nominated for his role in Lincoln—on The Late Show with David Letterman to get that gold statuette with his name on it. And, like in showbiz, in the market data world, getting your name on an award (a quick plug: voting for our own annual awards is not far off, so stay tuned for details)—or, more importantly, on contracts—is a big deal, and your company or product’s name can play a big role in this process.

Having the right brand is important in many ways—hence the phrase that no one ever got fired for buying IBM—especially when trying to establish yourself as a provider of niche services in a market dominated by large incumbent providers. And if you’re up against that attitude towards the IBMs of the world, your job of marketing a game-changing startup service to people who don’t like to take risk is much harder. For example, it wasn’t long before 1980s startup Innovative Market Systems realized the value of dropping its nondescript name in favor of the big name of its big-personality founder, Michael Bloomberg. Not to say that IMS’ Marketmaster would not have been equally successful, but consolidating behind the Bloomberg name has paid dividends in brand recognition.

The right name has to be instantly memorable: when a chief information officer quizzes his staff on which vendors are worth looking at, an over-complicated, forgettable, or hard-to-spell name could make the difference between your name being raised in conversation or overlooked. Steve Roe, chief executive of West Highland Support Services—which has just unveiled a hosted version of Thomson Reuters’ DACS entitlements system and a latency monitoring platform—named the company after his favorite breed of dog, the West Highland Terrier. This made the name easily memorable (with subconscious cuteness appeal) but also served an important purpose: ensuring that the company name would never be overly tied to any one individual.

Components of West Highland’s new latency monitoring service have even more memorable names, such as Sniff and Inhale. While these may prompt some colorful banter, one thing’s for sure: unlike certain politicians, you’re unlikely to forget whether your firm has “inhaled.”

But one challenge of finding the right name is standing out from rivals trying to achieve the same as you. For example, don’t confuse Encinitas, Calif.-based Trade Ideas with TIM Group (the mergerd YouDevise and First Coverage), developer of the TIM Ideas product, formerly known as Trade Ideas Monitor.

Sometimes this is unavoidable. When Craig Betts joined network latency monitoring technology vendor Endace in 2011, I sensed a scoop—only to learn that this was not Craig Betts, president and chief executive of hardware messaging provider Solace Systems, but someone with the same name. And while I follow New York mayor and Bloomberg founder @MikeBloomberg on Twitter, I pay less attention to his namesake @TheRomanceCEO. In fact, in Selerity’s recent round of funding, the amount of money raised wasn’t as notable as the big names behind it.

Similarly, does a name’s credibility sway you between providers offering the same service? For example, would you pick microwave connectivity between London and Frankfurt from Colt or Fixnetix, when they both use a network engineered by Dutch network specialist Custom Connect—or would you pick Perseus Telecom, which is perhaps less well-known but claims to be faster than both?

Of course, the right name can’t mask deeper problems: When Moneyline Telerate relaunched under the iconic Telerate brand nine years ago (IMD, April 26, 2004), the transformation was short-lived. Reuters snapped up the ailing Telerate by year-end. The right name won’t necessarily guarantee an Oscar, but it will certainly help you get to the nominations. So, to all the players on the market data stage, break a leg.

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