A name is a sign. It’s the start of the brand, and it can work for you or against you. It’s an indicator of how you are different from the other guys. If done right, it can be a distillation of an organization’s purpose. The company name sets the stage for the visual identity.
Some names have helped brands become immensely successful. But let’s get real — a great brand name can do a lot of things, but it can’t save a bad idea or resurrect a failing brand. What it can do is start a good conversation, set your product, service, or company apart from your competitors. What it needs to do is be congruent with your purpose, consistent with what you offer, embody the benefit the customer receives, and align with the brand archetype and backstory.
That’s it. Easy, right? Ha! Not at all. It’s getting harder and harder to find the right name, available Trademark, and open URL.
Because naming or renaming is such a daunting task, you must work with a naming company or brand strategist that does naming who has a proven process. I would also look at their company name — do they drink their own Kool-aid? Or have they taken the easy way out and named the agency after their last names?
The Naming Process
The first step in beginning a naming project is research — knowing yourself and knowing the competition. Sounds simple but you would be amazed at how some approach naming. Focus on “the why” and not “the what” or “the how.” When doing your competitive analysis, note what names are used for competing companies or products, and be sure to stay well clear of these names.
Follow these steps.
- Get a clear understanding of who you are, why you exist, and what problem are you solving for the customer
- Write down all possible competitors, first impressions, or names that come to mind quickly
- Create a 5–7 words to create your vocabulary list* of desired meanings you want to be associated with your product or company
- Take those 5–7 words and put them as a header row on a spreadsheet
- Generate possible names under each vocabulary word
- Conduct a brainstorming session every other day
- Highlight the cells as you go with green (for promising), red (for unavailable), and yellow (close to a competitor or confusing in the marketplace)
*Example of Creating a Vocabulary List for a Children’s Museum
A possible vocabulary list might include words and concepts like: Hands-On: engage, explore, creative, interact, playful, imagine, discovery, fun, playground
- Cultural assessment of most common languages
- Linguistic Considerations
- Phonetics: The sound of the word like Coca-Cola, Flickr, and Tumblr.
- Poetics: Drawing on creative writing techniques like Nutter Butter, Burt’s Bees, Jelly Belly, and Dunkin’ Donuts.
- Phonosemantic: Sound symbolism, referring to the innate meaning in sounds. Names like Swiffer, Kleenex, and Febreze.
- Trademark availability (national or international?)*
- URL availability
- Social media handles available
- Tagline or positioning statement that supports the brand message
This is just a quick download about how to name and the considerations that are needed to have a successful naming project. I have heard many horror stories from IP and Trademark Attorneys about how people have gone to large design studios, marketing firms, and advertising agencies and have spent up to $150,000 for pages of names they can’t use. No Trademark search, no tagline explorations, no URL availability, nothing. Creative firms take on a naming project because they think it’s close to what they do; they don’t want to lose control or don’t what to lose out on the billings. Many creative people think they can get a bunch of people in the conference room on a Friday afternoon with pizza and crank out an amazing new company name. Not saying it couldn’t happen, but it would be a lightning strike. The average naming projects take a couple of months, and that is without the time needed for the Trademark Attorney.
There is a complete chapter on the naming process in my book, “Branding on Purpose Workbook: A Guide for Small Business Owners” on Amazon. It has the complete process, brainstorming sheets, worksheets, evaluation sheets, and over 100 different naming category explanations that can help your brainstorming. Check it out. It will save you a lot of wasted time and money.
*Trademarking and legal services will need to be done by an intellectual property lawyer. You can do preliminary screening through The United States Patent and Trademark Office’s website search. Looking down the road, will there be any additional products or branding that may need to be addressed? Now is the time to find other names within that family and secure those names as well.