How to Name a Company, Brand, or Product
I’ve been a marketer for 25 years — here’s my algorithm
Naming is simply one of the hardest jobs in marketing. One reason that’s true is that one of the main rules of writing is: fewer words is harder.
Samuel Clemens said it best:
“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”
Fewer words is harder than more words. Way harder. Making things simple requires a combination of brilliance, luck, and adaptation.
After years of working at it, I have developed an algorithm that is structured enough to provide a path forward and is open enough to allow for a lot of creativity. It’s got a good batting average and, at the very least, points people in the right direction. It is far from the only way to name a company, but it has worked for me.
This algorithm requires that you ask yourself some tough questions in order to come up with a good story for your company, product, thing. You can power through this in a few hours if needed, but I have found that giving the process a week is optimal.
Step 1: Cover the Basics
What are the primary attributes of your company? Why are you starting it, and what good is it to anyone? For instance, are you saving people money, allowing them to connect (to someone or something) more easily, etc?
The right answer to this question is always in emotional language, not product-y, or technical. These are your core benefits. This is how you want people to feel because of your whatever.
Step 2: Positioning
Once you have these core benefits established, work on the positioning. This means — how does your company and its benefits relate to the competition? Are you offering a lower price, better value (e.g. more stuff for the same price as your competition), or something else? What kind of experience is your company going to offer that is better, different, less expensive, etc.?
Step 3: Value propositions
From here, work on value propositions. See if you can get the primary values you are offering the marketplace into a single sentence or, maybe, a few sentences (at most). “We enable people to monetize their Twitter posts,” might be one. Or, “Our service enables housewives to enjoy the luxury of a top-tier spa right in their own home,” is another. Keep it brief and completely free of any technical jargon. Your mom needs to be able to read and understand it.
Step 4: Brand Values
These (everything from above) are your brand values; the key elements you need your name to communicate. Eventually, you’ll need to work this out for your whole brand, and this is a good place to start.
Step 5: Name Typing
Using that as inspiration, decide what type of name works best. Is it going to be made up? Is it going to be something constructed from ancient root languages (e.g. Latin)? There are benefits and detriments to all of them. A really good resource for ideas on this is a naming company, Igor. They offer a lot of great ideas and processes.
Step 6: The Magic
From here, and, yes, this is the magic…mull. Let this stew in your and your team’s heads for a day or two. I use a large whiteboard in the middle of the office for this because it helps to see all the names written in one place and in a public locale everyone can contribute to. Usually, just about everyone does. In fact, sometimes it overtakes all the whiteboards in an office.
Give yourself and your team some time here — don’t just hide in a room and do it by yourself, even if you use that mode to think about the name.
Get out into the world with this information in the front of your mind — it’ll open you up to seeing things through this looking glass and interesting stuff tends to pop out at you. It could be anything; a flower, a radio commercial, anything. Gather those and add them to the process.
Step 7: Weed out like a madman
Naturally, some names will rise — keep them — and some will fall — cull them immediately. Cull until you have two or three and choose on by whatever method suits best. That could be voting, choosing, taking a poll, etc. Once you get out to the market and can really test the name you may want to test it and refine it. For the moment, this algorithm should yield a name that, if not perfect, will be something that everyone agrees is a good working title for the company.
And, it may just come up with the right name.
The best piece of advice I can give is don’t overthink it. A name needs to excite the emotions, the limbic system — the old, fast, lizard part of our brains. If a name takes more than two seconds for you to be attracted to it, then it’s the wrong name. One of the reasons naming is such a challenging exercise is that a name is your 3-second elevator pitch. You can’t ask too much of it. Making people smile is a great response.
An example of a good name is a start-up I met recently: NachoNacho. What makes it good? It’s fun, which makes it attractive. It’s memorable because it’s familiar. And there is a great story behind it: Nacho nacho means dance, dance in Hindi (the first language of the founder), and the brand is all about making a tortuous task so simple that their customers want to nacho nacho all the time.
Naming is an incredibly rewarding part of marketing, perhaps because it is so challenging. It’s like hitting a home run: sounds simple on paper, but in practice…not so much. As runners say, the hardest part is starting.
Now, go get your name on.