A lesson in branding for startups

I’ve squabbled with people over domains and publication names, of projects and story titles.

There was a moment of inaction in creating the technology news site for Philadelphia that I am now proud to say continues to take on readership and bring on partners. Technically Philly certainly isn’t descriptive on its own and makes for a fairly long domain. But I like to think we’ve developed some degree of brand recognition. That name means technology and innovation coverage to a few thousand people in Philadelphia.

The secret is, I think, that within reason, if you brand it, they will come.

I think Twitter and Facebook and MySpace are all dumb brands, actually. But they found a distinct name and made it their own. Those names now conjure a definable action and look.

Distinction is important.

I went to Temple University and wrote for its college newspaper The Temple News. Because TTN remained editorially independent and the school sought a publication to regularly maintain the record of official activity, the university’s department of communications published The Temple Times.

Though ours was a nicely designed, 87-year-old broadsheet and the latter a generation-old, straightforward newsletter, not a week went by when I didn’t hear someone confuse the two — more normally landing on The Temple Times title.

The Temple News name makes sense, but it doesn’t have the separation and power of the younger and perhaps stranger sounding brands.

What the Hell a NEast is, not many know, but I see real use of the phrase on NEast Philly’s Facebook group page, which has taken on nearly 5,000 fans in three weeks and has become a sounding page for all sort of Northeast Philadelphia discussion.

Yes, people still sometimes stumble on the name and call it Northeast Philly Online — particularly frustrating because, while not strong competition, it exists. But I see the creation of a brand separate from the products in that part of the city that do have Northeast in its name.

As a startup, don’t waste too much time on picking the name, just make sure it’s distinct, back it up with persistence and longevity. They’ll come around.