How to Brand Your Boring Name
It’s okay being Steve Larsen. Everyone can pronounce my name, and roughly 50% of people can spell it correctly on the first try. You can fly under the radar with a name like Steve, and sometimes that is priceless.
Being Steve Larsen is excellent if you’re an accountant. John Smith, Jennifer Thomas, and Wendy Roberts and I can linger around the water cooler and talk about our weekends. Everyone likes Steve from accounting; he’s a nice guy who asks about your kids.
But what if accounting isn’t my future, and blazing a trail into the world of entrepreneurship is the path for me? I will need to market myself, and that includes having a name, a brand, and a way to stand out from the crowd. At times like this, being Steve doesn’t help me at all. I wish my name was Quarry Peacock. I could do some damage with that name.
Although we technically can change the name our parents bestowed at birth, that sounds exhausting. For most of us, we have to work with what we’re given. In a world of 7 billion people, your name likely isn’t unique. Yet the branding experts tell us it’s more important to “brand” our personal name rather than the name of our company. So, it’s time to get to work and figure out how to keep your potential customers from falling asleep halfway through reading your name.
One strategy you may consider is saying what you do alongside your name. For example, if my water cooler friend Jennifer Thomas wants to get into real estate, she needs to transition from her current brand: Jennifer from corporate accounts payable. To clearly state her new profession, she may want to incorporate a personal brand along the lines of “Homes by Jennifer.” Or better yet, “Dream Homes by Jennifer.” Or better still, “Affordable Condos by Jennifer.”
You probably know seven different Jennifers who sell real estate, but how many do you know who sell affordable condos? The benefit to Jennifer is she can take her personal brand with her if she decides to switch real estate firms. She will always be Jennifer, and she will always own the brand she builds, no matter what firm she hangs her license at.
Larry, the plumber, has options too. I would shy away from “Pipes by Larry,” but there is no reason he can’t be “Larry the Pipe Doctor.” I’m not sure what it means, but it sounds cool. I’m more likely to call Larry the Pipe Doctor than Larry Johnson, local plumber.
Alternatively, you can go visual with your brand. My other buddy from the water cooler, John Smith, has an uphill battle. I know from our brief morning visits that he would make a spectacular life coach, but there are likely thousands of John Smiths in the universe who do some form of coaching.
Although he is swimming in a sea of John Smiths, how many of them have a bright pink logo with black stripes? It’s unlikely that any of them do. He may be just another John Smith attempting to help you transform your life, but now his potential clients have a colorful logo to identify him with.
With a strong visual brand, John can now focus his media efforts where they will have the most impact. For example, he may skip podcasting because his casual listeners won’t know which John Smith he is (John has a soothing but unremarkable voice). His time is better spent on blogging and paid advertising, where his brand visuals are being reinforced with every touch.
Eventually, his colors will evoke a (hopefully) positive reaction from the prospects he is advertising to. And should John decide that life coaching isn’t for him, and he wants to join Jennifer in the world of real estate, he can bring his pink and black colors with him to his new endeavor. Anyone who viewed him as a trusted brand in his previous business will instantly connect the pink — and him — with a trusted brand in real estate as well.
Should Jennifer’s and John’s branding options not be a fit for your business, you can always go with humor. There is a lot of opportunity in the business world for people who don’t take themselves too seriously.
For example, William the electrician can stand out in a crowded blue-collar service market by calling himself “Electricity Bill.” Is it cheesy? Yes. Will someone like me call him 100% of the time because I enjoy dad jokes? Absolutely.
Due to the aforementioned dad humor, I elected to go the pun route with my name. I don’t use it in my logo or marketing, but my web handles are all @stevelarseny. I also use it in my email address.
Larseny is a play on larceny, which is basically theft. Most professionals wouldn’t want the name of a crime in their brand, but my target audience is people who don’t get offended by things that don’t matter. It isn’t laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it is mildly creative, which is more than you would expect out of a guy named Steve Larsen.
It’s unique, it’s mine, and the username was available on every major platform. Most importantly, however, is that I made a decision and got back to work on more critical issues. Branding exercises can be a black hole of wasted time from which there is no return.
Is using a pun a terrible idea? Probably, but so is naming your kid Steve, and that already happened (apparently to more people than just me). So, if you’re a John, Tom, Nicole, or Jennifer, don’t let it hold you back from striking out on your own. Remember, your boring name instantly lowers the expectations of those around you, giving you an advantage in the business world that Quarry Peacock will never have.