How To Fix Ad Tech's Branding Problem

With the sheer number of ad tech startups fighting for dollars, it's more important than ever to have a brand that stands out. But between their awkward sounding names, template-driven Web sites and acronym-laden copy, most ad tech companies aren't making things any easier on themselves with their branding and marketing. 

If you're at a company that's struggling with branding, here are a few tips: 

Make a good name. The name of a company will be uttered thousands of times each day by its employees and customers. So it's essential that you have a name that is short, easy to pronounce -- and, in a perfect world, actually means something.

Coming up with a good name for a company isn't easy. It took me months before hitting on "Pictela." The name worked because our product allowed brands to distribute high-definition pictures through ads. "Pic" was short for "picture" and a "tela" was a thin, web-like structure. Bingo! 

There have been other successful ad tech names. Pointroll was great because it described what people actually did with the product. I also loved Tacoda, the behavioral targeting company. Compared to Revenue Science (Now Audience Science) Tacoda was a great name and fun to say. 



Like people's names, company names should be one to three syllables long and have four to ten letters. Try to stay away from arbitrary numbers in names. It's hard enough to remember a company's name, much less a letter/number combination. And don't tack the word "media" or "network" onto your brand if you can help it. Those words are overused and, besides, we all know what industry you're in.

Master your domain. A good name is worthless if you can't get the domain name; unfortunately, today most of the good ones are taken. But just because a domain is not available doesn't mean it can't be had if the price is right. For my current startup, I spent six months negotiating with a guy who had been squatting on the domain. Eventually we came to a price that we could both feel good about. 

There are many different top-level domains (.net, .biz, etc.) but make sure to get the .com version. While you will have to pay more for the .com variety, everything else will look less legitimate in the eyes of your customers. 

Get a right brain. Most ad tech startups are dominated by people with left brains: engineers, salespeople and the money men who pay for it all. While they're great with numbers and linear problem-solving, good branding and marketing requires free thinkers who are familiar with design, typography, copy and photography. Whether you hire a full time resource or a consultant, get a talented marketer to be part of your team. 

Take some chances. I spent the previous decade at a media-buying agency and met with hundreds of media and ad tech companies. Of those, only a handful stood out - and for those that did, the quality of their marketing certainly played a key role. Yahoo produced amazing conferences. Pointroll dressed a fat kid in a propeller hat. While it may have been politically incorrect, it certainly made them stand out. At Pictela, we hired a fashion photographer to produce original imagery for our use in marketing. It was expensive, but it helped our company get noticed long before we had a finished product. 

As in starting a company, producing great marketing involves risk -- but the rewards can be enormous. Getting a company's brand dialed in can make the difference between a company that bobs along for years -- versus one that gains momentum and really takes off.

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