About to head to your boozy adult softball league but can’t find your equipment? Dial up Mytt, and a sports specialist in a Prius will deliver a glove. Need your cat groomed, but feeling pressed for time? The feline aficionados at Furree will be at a location of your choosing within 30 minutes with all the equipment necessary to make your kitty pretty. Do these businesses ring of absurdity? Yes, and as they should, because we just made them up. But, you believed them. For which we have Uber to thank. Along with spawning a litany of derivative businesses, Uber has spawned a litany of derivative brand names – a veritable sea of the same, playing similar games.
We used to marvel when the tap of our smartphone screen summoned a black car to our precise location within minutes. Now, that kind of immediacy has become a baseline expectation, and not just when it comes to getting from point A to point B, but with all of our services.
Uber became the torchbearer for a new type of industry in 2009 – the sharing on-demand economy – and since then, it has become the pillar of the space. Its poster-boy status and unequivocal success have opened the floodgates for players in the category, inspiring scads of businesses built on the premise that goods and services should be delivered or rendered in frictionless fashion and on your terms. The offerings feel limitless, with seemingly every niche filled.
Uber gets its name from a hip modifier – “uber-cool,” “uber-interesting,” – said to be inspired by a punk rock song that in turn borrowed it from Nietzsche. The name’s assets are many. It’s quick and confident, much like the brand, and it gets at premium without being too on the nose or too unapproachable. It also has a bit of imagination, letting the consumer dream up what the experience might be – a feat that a name like LuxCar wouldn’t be able to execute on. If only the new players in the space invested time and thought to deliver on equally strong names.
The newest names
Some of the new brands are simple respellings of the service offered. There’s a shipping company called Shyp and an on-demand car wash service called Wype. Uber’s main competitor, Lyft, falls in this category, unflatteringly, and Shuddle, which carts entire families around, follows suit. There’s even Plowz, which will bring you a snow plow – you know, for those ever-frequent instances.
Some startups go a step further and take a word associated with their service and either respell it – Dufl for suitcase packing, Zeel for massage, and Eaze for medical marijuana. Or some opt for the correct spelling, like Heal for a house call from a doctor, Handy for a home visit from a handyperson, Rover for dog-sitting, Sprig for a dinner-on-demand service, and Luxe for a personal parking valet.
And for those hesitant to risk any modicum of confusion, there’s the flat-footed approach of literal description: PushforPizza and DoctorsonDemand – admittedly there’s a dash of poetry with the alliteration. DoughbiesonDemand pushes it a bit, inventing a doughnut-inspired term of endearment for baked goods.
That’s not to speak ill of the actual businesses – they all might do a great job – it’s just that the names are mostly blah. A few names show more individuality: Sidecar (ride service) and SpoonRocket (meal delivery) are examples, but the images they conjure don’t support the services very well.
An imaginative name would do wonders
Are these new companies so focused on sharing that they are even sharing a lackluster approach to naming? Their chances of standing out and attracting a large, enthusiastic following would rise if their names suggested originality and a distinctive strategy for taking care of customers.
The liquor-delivery service Saucey deserves credit for trying. The name, a pun on a slang word for booze as well as a sound-alike for “saucy,” at least tells us they have a personality that suits their offering.
Whether the market will go for an irreverent delivery service, even a tongue-in-cheek one, is another question.
Less risky but more charming and memorable is TaskRabbit for cleaning, handiwork, and errands. The name suggests eagerness, and even the busy sound helps. It’s not shocking that this service has gained some traction.
The marketplace is getting more and more crowded, with hundreds of concepts fitting the description of “an Uber for X.” Not all startups adopting this concept are likely to succeed, but we’d put our money on those combining a viable concept with an attractive name.
To be attractive, a name need not be descriptive. In fact, descriptive names tend to be the dullest. Uber doesn’t describe anything. Instead, Uber creates its own identity by drawing on the current vernacular, where the modifier “uber” places something – anything – at the top of a scale. What better way to announce a paradigm-shattering service than with a name that uses a familiar word in an unfamiliar way? This strategy brings the extra advantage of brand expansiveness. While Uber is now making waves as an alternate taxi service, the name can easily support future forays by the company into other domains--which might well include some of the home delivery areas now served by startups with lackluster names. If this has a familiar ring to it, look at Amazon, the online bookseller whose ambitious name had nothing specifically to do with books.
Would Blue Nile be the largest online jewelry dealer – or opening its first brick-and-mortar – if it stuck with Internet Diamonds? Would Swiffer be a billion-dollar global brand if it marched forward with its ProMop concept? For the answers, download Brandee, a full-scale brand strategy firm that will come to your business in minutes. Well, it would, if it actually existed.
—Will Leben and Michael Quinn