So what’s in a name? A lot actually, when it comes to the success of your brand and small business. The right name can make your company the brand people choose over your competition. The wrong one can doom you to obscurity and failure.
Having created hundreds of brands over the years, we are often asked, how do you choose a great brand name? As the title alludes, your brand name must come from your brand strategy. More often than not, sadly it does not, and it creates numerous unnecessary hurdles which the right name can not only overcome and avoid but instead strengthen and empower your brand.
During the crazy period of launching a business, nothing is more complicated and frustrating than selecting a name. While many founders have a general sense of their brand, trying to distil that message into a memorable, easy to say and easy to spell name is no easy feat. Tying that into a cohesive brand strategy, even more so.
To add to that, many brands face two major challenges in finding the perfect name. The first and most annoying fact is that many simple names that describe what you do are taken, trademarked, or being used. Second, the name selection process often starts and ends with what the founder(s) like. While we get it, it is not an “effective” strategy unless you are the target audience.
So how do you select an effective name?
You can either do it yourself, or you can bring in a team of experts to help you. Both have costs. You will pay the price either in the near future or over time. And with almost every common name squatted on or trademarked, it has only gotten that much more complex to find an effective name
The process is especially challenging because there are more than 24 million businesses in the United States. U.S. trademark law protects business names, so when you find one you like, make sure you can use it. If you infringe on a copyright, you could be forced to abandon your new business name after investing a lot of time and money in it.
Also, think about your internet marketing goals, since you’ll need a URL (the websites domain/ address). There are over 860 million domain names registered worldwide, and some experts believe that over 99.9% of the dictionary is registered as a domain name.
To begin this process, don’t get too bogged down with what your product or company does. Instead, by focusing on your brand strategy, focus on the promise of quality, and the experience you will deliver to your customer. Ask yourself how you want your customers to feel. It’s those feelings that represent your brand promise and create a deep emotional connection with customers.
Some experts believe that the best names are abstract, a blank slate upon which to create an image. Others think that names should be informative so customers know immediately what your business is. Some believe that coined names (that come from made-up words) are more memorable than names that use real words. Others think they’re forgettable.
In reality, any name can be effective if it’s backed by the appropriate marketing strategy. We tend to avoid made up names as the costs required for marketing initially are substantially more.
Coming up with a good business name can be a complicated process. You might consider consulting an expert, especially considering the current marketplace. The downside is cost. A professional naming firm may charge as much as $100,000 to develop a name. That generally includes other identity work and graphic design as part of the package. Naming services that charge as little as $50 do exist, but spending a reasonable amount of money early for quality expert advice can save you money in the long term.
Key points to a good name:
Start by deciding what your brand strategy is, and what you want your name to communicate. The more your name communicates to the consumers about your business, the less effort you must exert to explain it. Remember, you only have one chance to make a first impression, and a great name can make a great first impression, and open doors. Meanwhile, a poorly chosen name will close them.
According to naming experts, entrepreneurs should give priority to real words or combinations of words over fabricated words. People prefer words they can relate to and understand. That’s why professional namers universally condemn strings of numbers or initials as a bad choice.
Obviously, on the other side, if your name is too geographically narrow or specific, such as “Los Angeles Business Lawyer” you may pigeon hole yourself only to that geographic and service set. Clearly, if that is your focus, this can be a very powerful tool. But sometimes, it needs to go hand in hand with a more complex, and integrated brand strategy as we did for this client.
So how can a name be both meaningful and broad? Descriptive names tell something concrete about a business — what it does, where it’s located and so on. Suggestive names are more abstract. They focus on what the business is about. Some good examples we have created to date
messageNOW – a PR/ Marketing firm that helps clients get their message out now.
Gator Guards – a firm that sells water/ boat industry protective items
BridgeThis – an app for building bridges to connect people and events, now.
We Place People – an HR and recruiting firm.
The following are some guidelines to keep in mind:
- Select a name that is memorable, but easy to spell and pronounce.
- It needs to be able to have a visual element, so that someone can see it briefly, easily read it, and remember it.
- It needs to have a generally positive connotation.
- Ideally, it easily conveys your brand promise, or what you do.
- It should be relatively short.
- It should be timeless.
- Avoid unusual spellings, numbers, etc.
- Keep it simple. Less is always more.
- Choose a name that appeals not only to you but also to the kind of customers you are trying to attract.
- Choose a comforting or familiar name that conjures up pleasant memories, so customers respond to your business on an emotional level.
- Stay away from cute puns that only you understand.
- Don’t use words like “Inc., LLC” after your name unless your company is actually incorporated. And even then leave it out of the brand where possible.
- Considering the domain name(s) and optimize ability – can you control your reputation online, and ensure that when people search for you, they can find you? Look at options, traffic, optimization, the ability for you to rank #1 in your names’ search, and always go for the .com when possible.
Some pathways to consider:
Describe what you do (Southwest Airlines)
Describe an experience or image (Sprint)
Use the founder or inventor’s name (Hewlett-Packard)(Use this method sparingly when required such as an attorney, or where there is substantial name recognition among your target audience)
Take a word out of context (Blackberry)
Make up a word (Yahoo! Or Dropbox)
Common mistakes to avoid:
Getting the “committee” involved in your decision. The old saying two wrongs don’t make a right, play truer in organizations. More often than not, we find that a good brand and strategy is often killed by a committee. Building a brand around a vision is not something that consensus leads us to. And unless you know exactly what you want, be very wary of community driven suggestions. Ask experts, do your research and make the best-informed decisions.
Employing the “train wreck” method of creating a name. When forced to come up with a catchy name, many aspiring entrepreneurs simply take part of an adjective and weld it onto a noun, essentially colliding the two words head on to create a new word. The results are names that have a certain twisted rationale to them, but look and sound awful. This path though potentially differentiating also can require more effort in marketing to help people understand and remember your brand. While Google is now a household name, it was only after billions of dollars of marketing, that it became so.
Choosing the wrong name and then refusing to change it is just silly. Sometimes we don’t have the time and stick with a name because it made sense at the time. If you come to clarity in your brand strategy, and your name is not in alignment, like everything else it is better to start from scratch. Where would Pacific Coast Distributing be if they had not changed their name to Pet’s Mart?
We know that a name can make a man, same for businesses. As with everything we do, we aim to empower you and your brand to make the best, most well-informed decisions possible. If you are looking to launch a new business or brand, reach out to us today, and let us empower you.