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(Below: The pioneering Flickr and just some of its sycophantic hellspawn)

Those of you creating a Web 2.0 startup: avoid the urge to name your firm after the successful players in the space. A trendy copycat company name and market presence may directly work against your own success.

For the last 18 months, there has been a huge increase in me-too branding efforts in the tech space. The success of well-known sites such as Google, Yahoo!, Flickr, Digg and Del.icio.us has inspired many startups to copy the branding elements of the big boys, particularly their names. This lemming effect sometimes drives them to copy even the design elements and exact colors of the more successful sites.

Before I begin my marketer’s diatribe, let me first acknowledge that almost all the good brand names have been thought of and are taken. Finding a unique company name, let alone an available URL, is extremely challenging these days. So creating a name that mimics Flickr, for example, “Stiflr”, can help you solve both these problems.

I also suspect that many of you are also hoping to capture a little Web 2.0 VC love…can’t say I blame you for that. But here’s the thing: by creating a copycat name of a popular Web 2.0 site, not only does your company name become “trendy” (and therefore, easily dated), you end up giving away all your market differentiation. You actually reduce customer interest and appeal by sounding like everyone else: in this case, Slickr, Zooomr, Frappr, Mappr, Blogr, Grazr, ad nauseum.

The right way

My job as a marketer is to help companies identify their unique value proposition (“UVP”): the special sauce that will compel people to sign up, subscribe or enter a credit card number. The thing that makes them stand apart from the competition. When I lead naming engagements, our team starts these assignments by identifying our clients’ value proposition, unique traits, their market’s interests and preferences, and the messages that will lead to market success. Once you know these things, then you begin work on a name and identity: one that’s memorable, easy to pronounce, rolls off the tongue, and is meaningful to customers.

The thing is, your name is only one part of your brand. And the most effective brands use the entire branding ecosystem of company name, logo, tagline, and marketing messages at every customer touchpoint to talk about your uniqueness, your value proposition and your customer benefits. When a component as valuable as your name is a copycat, it kills the impact of the rest of your efforts…and dilutes the impact and effectiveness of your marketing spending. Far better to establish a name and identity that works with your marketing instead of against it.

From my perspective, the tech startups that are copying their more successful brethren show a lack of imagination, which is surprising given the tremendous amount of imagination it takes to craft a brand new kind of functionality or mashup using C++ and AJAX. And when some even steal signature graphic design elements from others – at times, even exact colors – they simply should be caned. At that point, they deserve to be just one more me-too play on the way to market fade-out.

You know it’s gotten bad when the depth of misspelt or silly 2.0 names has spawned a site called CERTIFYR. It humorously certifies your site as trendy-compliant as it checks it for big fonts, me-too names, a “beta” designation, overly bright colors with or without pink, rounded corners, use of Google maps, and whether or not the “founder has a blog”.

A strong, relevant connection with your customers, along with an identity that supports a unique market position, will generate revenue and awareness far more effectively than a me-too name emulating the first-movers in the social networking and media spaces.

Here are some examples of copycat naming. I list them here not to say they’re “bad companies” but to point out the overwhelming similarity and lack of differentiation when you choose a copycat name.

Paying homage to Flickr…or just a lack of imagination?

Flickr.com was apparently registered by Ludicorp in November 2003. Here are a sample of sites employing lipogrammatos, Greek for missing a letter, and how long after Flickr they registered their domains:
Blogr – (Jun 2003 – predates Flickr’s domain registration by 6 months)
Talkr – text-to-audio tool for blogs (March 2004)
Lookr – Japanese site (March 2004)
Colr.org – a site for playing with colors (Jan 2005)
Wrickr – Polish open-source startup (March 2005)
Coastr – “the social guide to beer” (May 2005)
Gtalkr – IM client purchased by Google (Aug 2005)
Suprglu – ties together results from Flickr and others (Sep 2005)
Frappr – Google maps mashup (Oct 2005)
Flagr – geo-bookmark sharing (Oct 2005)
Gabbr – social new sharing site (Oct 2005)
Zooomr – Flickr competitor that adds localisation (Oct 2005) – the 17-year-old kid who launched it gets some slack for being 17, but has said slack removed due to being the worst copier
Enablr – software firms with products called Transcribr, Stenographr (owner says he “runs a marketing firm” – run, customers, run!) (Nov 2005)
Nabbr – broadcast/share your lists (Nov 2005)
FeedBlendr – combines RSS feeds into one (Dec 2005)
Squishr – unknown app in alpha (Dec 2005)
Grazr – RSS feed browser (Feb 2006)
Calcr – online calculator (March 2006)
Ticklr – legal bookmark sharing (March 2006)
Rel8r – tag, read, search blogs
Phixr – photo editor
Empressr – Flash-based PPT competitr
Skinnyr – Widget for MySpace (“Beta!”)…they just get lamr and lamr

AT LEAST THESE HAVE AN EXCUSE

These apps/plugins/sites have an excuse for the dropped vowels: they’re directly related to Flickr.
Bloggr – WordPress plug-in to display Flickr shots
Bubblr – add speech bubbles to Flickr shots
Delivr – create digital postcards, “made possible by the fabulous Flickr”
Grabbr – Flickr uploading app
Groupr – Flickr mashup
Mappr – Flickr map mashup
Phrasr – Flickr mashup
Retrievr – sketch-based image search of Flickr
Slickr – Flickr screensaver app
Stalkr – email search tool, now renamed
Tickr – Flickr mashup (slideshow)

Worst Branding Award goes to…

Zooomr, a competitor to Flickr that not only copied the name, but colors the R differently too, just like Flickr.

Ob.noxio.us copying?

Digglicious – live comparator between Digg/Delicious
Expialidocio.us – Delicious mashup
Fort.uito.us – blog
Grat.uito.us – tagged, social wishlists
Icio.de – German clone of Delicious
Lib.rario.us – catalog your media collection
Mobilicio.us – Del.icio.us bookmarks via mobile phone
Podolicious – personalized podcast news
Script.aculo.us – Javascript library
Singlestat.us – MySpace relationship monitor, now shut down?
Staralicious – Delicious about celebrities

They dig Digg

BlogDigger (predated Digg)
TalkDigger (predated Digg)
Diigo – social annotation
Digforit
DiggDot
Diggnews
Diggol – personalized news site
DigLog – Chinese Digg
HotDigg – blog
Hugg – environmental Digg clone
Polidiggs
SlashDigg
StockDigg
VCDiggz

The Yahoo!/Google double-O thingy

Accoona“Hakuna Matata, what a wonderful phrase…”
Asoboo
Baeboo – mix Billy Blanks and Taebo and you get…
Congoo
Cluckoo
Dodloo
eefoof – very descriptive for a video site!
Emongoo – tools & marketplace to sell your property
Favoor
Favoritoo
Foonance – manage your finances
Getboo
Gootodo
Gumshoo
Newroo
Noodly
Nooz – news for MySpace members
Orangoo
Ouioo – Captain, consonants have failed!
Picaboo
Polloo
Publicloos
Qooxdoo – WTFHell?
Queoo
Reevoo
Sabifoo – which was one of few names available on all IM clients: nice IM-to-RSS-feed app
Schoopy – classroom organizer
Squidoo
Springdoo
Woomp
Wufoo
Yoosi – create your personal startup page

At this point, I stopped searching. It was just too painful.

Hat tip to fellow marketer Alison Moore for getting me thinking about this one, and Simon Looker for “lipogrammatos”.

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