Can you really “own” a word in your industry?

A few days ago, I was having a conversation with some friends in the non-profit industry when the word “friendraising” came up. While I have a fair amount of non-profit experience as a volunteer and a board member, I don’t play in the circles where these folks go. Most of them are nationally-known experts whom I met on a board and I’m lucky to call them friends.

The conversation started in discussion after I found a reference to the term “friendraising” in a blog.

I mentioned it to someone on this list because it’s the title of a fundraising book she’d written, partly because of the word / reference and partly because in my mind, my friend “owns” that word by virtue of her reputation in the fundraising world – and of course, the book title.

I kept that part to myself, partly to see what reaction I would get. Later, several folks piped up and said the term has been used forever in the NGO world, which doesn’t surprise me.

Regardless of the historical facts, the term “friendraising” first came to me from Hildy. In fact, the blog post that I sent to her is the only other place I’ve seen it used.

In my mind, she “owns” that word. I don’t mean literally. It simply means that when someone says “friendraising”, I think of Hildy.

Of course, Hildy doesn’t really own the use of that word. The ownership isn’t real, it’s in my mind. Think about that for a moment. Consider all the businesses that “own” (figuratively speaking) a word that is important or indicative of a business niche.

Let’s try a few:

“hamburgers”     -    like it or not, you probably think McDonald’s.

“pizza”                 -    you probably think Domino’s or Pizza Hut.

“great comebacks in football” -    maybe you think of Staubach, Griese, Montana or Elway.

“oil changes”       -   you probably think of Jiffy Lube.

“video stores”    -    you probably think of Blockbuster.

When I say an important word or phrase that applies to the business that you’re in, who do people think of first?

If it isn’t you, start putting some thought into why that is, what you can do about it, and who the first person is in your mind (for ideas).

“Own” your industry by being the one they think of first.

One way smart businesses do that is via regular non-sales-related contact, such as customer newsletters. How will you do it?