Every startup faces a common dilemma — what to call their budding new venture. It seems like a simple enough task at first, but the fate of a new enterprise often rests on the ability to establish a quick and meaningful connection with potential customers. Too bland or descriptive of a name and it goes unnoticed. Too bold and daring and it may appear risky or unproven. Here are five steps to getting a company name that will communicate your message and build brand equity.
Step 1: Know Your Objectives
Most startups and entrepreneurs get so caught up in the idea and potential of their business, the name becomes an afterthought. The entrepreneurial mind, because of its creative nature, can go down all sorts of unrelated paths (e.g. Let’s name it after the initials of the founders, a Greek god, or a nearby mountain peak, etc.) Approach naming your business just like you would any other crucial business decision, and give it the strategic planning it deserves. Ask yourself some basic questions, such as…
- What do I want this company name to accomplish?
- Do I want the name to stand out, or sound like it belongs?
- Where will my company be in three to five years? Will the name still fit?
- Will the name need to accommodate new products and services in the future?
Knowing these types of answers will keep your from creating short term naming solutions that lead to long term problems (such as creating a niche name that you quickly outgrow, as in CompUSA)
2. Decide Who Best to Name Your Company
This is where you have a number of options. You can do it yourself to save money. You have have a naming contest with family and friends. You can crowdsource the name to get as many ideas as possible. Or you can hire a professional naming and branding service.
The benefit to doing it yourself is the money you will save. The disadvantage is the lost time and the potential pitfall of creating a name that has issues (e.g. trademark, domain availability, difficult to say or explain, etc.)
If you do it internally, make sure you have a short list of decision makers who understand your objectives (see step #1) so they are on the same page with you and not just spewing random ideas. If you outsource the project, get two to three quotes from established naming firms with a proven track record. Look for similar projects that mirror the types of company names you admire. Speak to the owners and get a feel for their style and methodolgy.
3. Develop Your List of Names
Whether internally or externally generated, create a running list of your best names. Ping them against your branding criteria set in step #1. Ask yourself these basic questions…
- Is the name easy to read, say and spell?
- Is the name engaging? Does it create interest?
- Does the name provide a backstory, or platform, to build your brand message?
- Does the name have the matching .com domain name?
Winnow the list down to the top three to five names and run them through a trademark search. You can do a quick search by going to the USPTO.gov, but be sure to conduct a full trademark search before deciding the final name. Check the name availability of all social media identities.
From the remaining candidates, take a day and practice role-playing with it. Say the name as if you were answering the phone or making an introduction. Explain it in as short and succinct a manner as possible. Can you fit it into a :15 second elevator speech? One that is interesting and compelling? Finding the right name isn’t always easy, because new names are inherently unfamiliar. So give it a couple of days to let the final names sink in and percolate.
4. Pick the Winning Name
Sometimes the decision itself is the hardest part of finding the right company name. If you’ve followed these steps, you may in fact have two or three names that fit the bill. In the end it comes down to you — the owner, the visionary, the driving force behind it all. So all things being equal, pick the name that feels best and meets your long term objectives.
Some names that seem like “B” grade names can take on a life of their own once they are outfitted wiht a matching tag line, a great logo and a cool web site. Don’t worry if the name doesn’t communicate everything about your company, it’s not supposed to – that’s the job of the entire brand identity, not just the name. A new company name should create interest and provide a pathway forward to continue the conversation.
5. Develp the Entire Company Identity
Finding a great company name is a big piece of the start up brand puzzle, but it’s not all of it. Make sure to finish the job by completing the picture. Compliment the new name with a strong tag line, and also your own marketing lexicon — snippets and phrases that underscore and suport your name and brand message (e.g. MailChimp uses all sorts of monkey and banana references throughout their web copy, keeping the experience fun, friendly and consistent.)
Develop a matching logo and collateral materials. Think of ways to use your new name on promotional gift items that underscore it’s message, and send them out to potential clients. Create a social media branding strategy to help spread the word on your new business.
Have Fun With It!
Once you have your new company name, continue to find additional ways to interweave your brand name throughout the company. After naming the moving and storage company PODS, the staff got so into the new identity, they named their large trucks “PODZILLAS!” So use your new identity to create enthusiasm and interest in your new venture. With your name decided, you can now move confidently forward in building your brand equity and your bottom line.