I entered this crazy industry 11 years ago. I am just a bit overzealous in the analytic department; it took me over 6 months of analysis to pick a host agency. It took roughly the same amount of time for me to decide on my DBA or “doing business as” agency name (the corporation name was an easy decision). I am indeed one of those that resist pulling the trigger until everything is absolutely perfect; and I do know that is not necessarily a good practice in business. For the past 11 years I have always questioned if I picked the right agency name, wonder if I should change it and rebrand the agency. For the most part I resisted, because I knew it would be costly, both monetarily and also in the time required to re-launch basically from scratch.
Yesterday I met with a new client. During the conversation I asked her one of my standard questions: “How did you find us?” Usually the answer is short and sweet; so and so referred me, or I found you online. This client was a little bit more talkative. She first explained how she Googled for travel agents. She lives approximately 35 miles outside of Nashville (where my agency is located), but I still showed up in her search results (thank you Mr. Google). Then she said something that caught me off guard: “It really was your agency name that resonated with me, and that’s why I called you.”
She called me instead of any of the other agencies in her search results, because of the name I picked 11 years ago. Now I wonder how many times my agency name has “clicked” with someone, drawing them to me versus another agency. Or, how many times has it repelled a client, causing them to call another agency? These are questions we can never answer. But they are questions we should always consider when we are picking an agency name, or even when we are looking at launching a new marketing campaign. This is where focus groups can come in really handy.
What’s a focus group? It can be a group of existing clients, or other business people you have connected with through networking in your community, or complete strangers. The point of a focus group is to pull together a small group of people that fit your target market. Ask them questions, show them marketing materials, do A/B testing with them (do you like “A” item or “B” item better?), etc. And you can always ask them for feedback on potential agency names.
In the end, what is critical is that people know what you do when they see your agency’s name with no other information available to them. If my agency name was The Susan Agency, no one would immediately know what I do. It could be an insurance agency or a talent agency. In this day and age when people think travel agents are dead, very few people would think that The Susan Agency had anything to do with travel.
I do run into occasional problems with the Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel agency name. I sporadically get the question “Do you book just cruises?” Somehow they don’t catch “trips” in my agency name and equate it with something other than cruising. A local brick and mortar agency is Just Cruisin’ Plus. First time I saw the agency name, I assumed they sold cruises and more (as in, plus). But I do wonder if they have the same issue that I do: “Do you book just cruises?”
Another problem I have encountered: agencies with similar names. I created my agency in California before moving to Tennessee. After I moved, got my business licenses and set up shop in Tennessee, I learned other agencies had similar names. We have Ships ‘N Trips 100 miles east of here, and Trips And Ships about 20 miles east of here. Then there is Ships-N-Trips in Florida, 700 miles south. In a nutshell, if someone Googles “ships and trips” they may come up with competing agencies. Again, there is no way for me to know if I have lost potential business as a result of this, but it is a possibility.
Now that I am 11 years into this, I have decided to stick with it and occasionally explain that I do handle more than just cruises. The cost of changing my agency name would be enormous. Changing the website would cost little or no money, but it would take a lot of my precious time. Printing new business cards would be costly, as would the cost of creating all new marketing materials. All of the promotional items that I’m staring at in my office would become instantly useless, and costly to replace. And then there is the time it would take to market a new agency name from scratch.
However, all of this is a lesson for agents out there that are new in the business and looking for an agency name, or agents that haven’t invested a lot of time and money into their agency yet and are at a place where an agency name change would be possible. Ask yourself these questions:
- Is your agency name unique? Are there similarly named agencies out there? Not just in your city, but in your state, or anywhere in the USA? When someone Googles your agency name, will other agencies pop up, too?
- Does your agency name tell people what you do with no further explanation? Can they tell immediately that you are a TRAVEL agency and not an insurance, real estate, financial planning, or talent scout agency?
- Does your agency name resonate with people? Ask current clients, networking contacts, and total strangers.
- Does your agency name target your ideal market? Cheap Vacations will not attract luxury clients. Luxury Vacations may not attract your mid-income clients that can’t spend more than $3,000 on a week vacation.
- Can you get the URL for your agency name? And don’t settle for the dot net version of the URL. You must be able to get the dot com URL for the agency name you pick.
- Try to avoid making it a long name, hence a long URL. This will affect your email address as well. Telling people your email is email@example.com will be cumbersome at the very least. Also, if they have to type that in to find your website, forget about it.
If you are like me with more than a decade into the industry and you now want to change your agency name, it can be done with some work. You will need to look at the pros and cons of keeping the name you now have versus the value of starting over with a new name.
- Do you have a stellar reputation with clients and glowing client testimonials, all of which will be associated with an old name and not with the new agency name? How much time would you have to invest in marketing the new agency name? How long will it take to rebuild your reputation under a new name?
- Is your current agency name stunting your ability to market other products? If people think you only sell Disney, will they call you to book their Cancun destination wedding? Would a new name open up different opportunities for you?
- What would be the financial cost? Do you have 5,000 business cards right now (as I do)? What would it cost to print new business cards, rack cards or other marketing materials? Do you have 1,000 ball point pens (as I do) that you would have to throw away if you changed the agency name?
- Can you do your website overhaul yourself (how much time will that take?) or will you have to pay someone to do it for you?
Words matter. The name you choose for your agency is not a trivial matter. Have you had unintended consequences related to your agency name, or unforeseen benefits? If so, tell us in the comments below.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations she focuses on travel for 18 to 23 year olds. Susan can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209.