An incredible 74 per cent of customers say that they use a brand's name as a key factor when choosing whether to buy a product or service, reports Forbes. But for those three-quarters of your audience, your company's name is a double-edged sword. Your brand name can either build confidence and engagement with your target client, and boost your sales and visibility. Or it can confuse your audience, detract from your core values, and alienate the customers you're trying to reach.
As you launch your business and brand, spend time laying the groundwork for years of success down the road. The following strategies will help you to navigate the most important factors involved in naming your business, and help you to generate a distinctive, memorable name that will excite your staff, build buzz in your industry, and immediately connect with your future customers.
What's in a Name? The 4 Benefits of a Unique Business Name
Your brand's name matters. Sure, you could go with a basic naming convention like Your Name's Product (i.e., Joe's Coffee Shop, or Jane's Marketing Team). But such a quick, low-effort approach to branding won't serve your long-term growth and dreams for your business. And it can even pose costly, creating a need for an expensive rebrand two or five years down the road when your company has outgrown your hastily chosen name.
There are four key benefits of a unique business name:
1. It Will Be the First Thing Customers See or Hear
Your company name is your chance for a great first impression. When someone is scrolling through their Instagram feed, or browsing products on a store shelf, they'll make a split-second judgment about your product, service or company based on your name.
A company name done right will give your product, service, messaging and marketing a chance to do their job. A poor brand name will immediately cause the customer to move on to something else, and you'll likely never get a chance to engage with them again (and if you do, it will cost you a lot more money and effort to convert them!).
2. It's Your Unique Take on the Market
Your company's name is one aspect of your full brand package, and it helps communicate your brand core (your vision, mission, values, etc.) to the industry and marketplace.
While it doesn't carry the full weight and responsibility of your brand, it's one of the most visible aspects of it, and it absolutely must support your overall brand.
3. It Helps With Brand Recall
Brand recall is your customer's ability to remember your company at a later point in the customer journey when they're encountering a problem or scenario that your products/services can solve.
A great company name helps them remember who you are and what you do. (Don't worry, we'll talk more about ensuring name memorability later in this business naming guide!)
4. It Builds Emotion
Customers might think they choose a product or service because of research and facts, but the truth is that most of us make buying decisions based on emotions. The right company name can evoke the right emotions to help your audience feel emotionally connected to your messaging.
Cautionary Branding Tales: Examples of Bad Brand Names (And What NOT to Do When Choosing a Company Name)
The Huffington Post recently published a list of what they ranked as the worst company names in North America – it's a startling and eye-opening example of how things can go off the tracks if you don't follow the best naming practices we discuss in this guide.
Some of the publication's notable mentions include:
- Passmore Gas & Propane: This Arizona company's accidentally humorous name doesn't convey the seriousness and value of a gas-and-oil company, does it?
- Chew-N-Butts: On paper, this Washington-based tobacco shop's name makes sense (they're referring to cigarette butts and tobacco chew). Put them together, and you get quite the proverbial mouthful that's unintentionally a potty joke.
- Stubbs Prosthetics: This prosthetic store in Tennessee was named after its founder's last name, but we'll go out on a limb here (pun intended) that some of their core customers might find the name a bit offensive.
Now, there's a place for humour (more on that later in this guide) depending on your brand core. But in many cases, unfortunate company names come about by accident and lead to bad press, angry or confused audiences, a loss in sales, customer retention, and more.
- Not knowing your brand core, especially your brand tone.
- Picking a name by committee (only you, and perhaps a few of your staff, truly understand your brand core).
- Making common faux pas, like combining two popular words in your business or copying another name you've seen elsewhere.
- Going too complex (if it needs explaining, it won't work) or too plain (a single-word brand, such as Uber, can work...but often only if you have a multi-billion dollar marketing fund).
- Loving a name too soon and choosing it before doing your due diligence.
- Turning your name into a cliche (e.g., something about a "cup of joe" if you're a coffee shop, or something about "lightbulbs" if you're a creative agency)
Now that you know what goes into choosing a bad business name, let's dive into what actually works and what you should do when launching your new brand.
Six Important Factors to Consider When Naming Your Business
If you want a powerhouse of a name, you need to do what the powerhouses in branding do. The following six factors will help you select a company name that hits all the right goals.
Before we get into these six factors, remember that not every single factor may apply to you. It all comes down to your brand core and tone. For instance, a very functional brand (e.g., something in the medical or legal industry) might not want a witty or evocative name. However, these general principles below can help you settle on what will work or not work for you, your target client, and your overarching brand.
1. Be Evocative
Branding is all about helping your customers make associations and mental connections between your brand and the real-life world around them. While a plainly descriptive company name, that describes your product or service in straightforward terms, can make those important associations for you, but it also risks being too generic to stand out. A more evocative term that's a bit mysterious but brings to mind your overarching brand values or vision may be better.
2. Be Meaningful
Your name must mean something, both to you as the business and to your customers. Think of diaper company Pampers (parents love to pamper their children) or athletic company Nike (in Ancient Greece, Nike was the goddess of victory and often was portrayed holding a trophy).
In some way, a meaningful name should:
- Connect to your vision
- Connect to your mission
- Connect to your values
- Connect to what you do
3. Be Straightforward and Simple
Don't get so lost in the weeds of being meaningful and evocative that you end up with a company name that takes a lot of explaining. If your prospects have to work hard at understanding your name, you'll have to work that much harder in your marketing to win them over.
Plus, overly complex names are also often harder to pronounce and spell, creating additional marketing and promotional hazards down the road.
"Branding is all about helping your customers make associations and mental connections between your brand and the real-life world around them."
4. Be Related to What Your Audience Would Use
If possible, consider ways to incorporate your target audience's own communication, terminology and language into your company name. This will address many of the issues above about being easy to understand and straightforward, and it also creates opportunities for your future messaging.
For instance, let's say you're an inbound marketing company. When your core audience needs your services, they'll likely hop online and do a search for keywords like "inbound agencies" or "inbound marketing help." Finding ways to incorporate a word like "inbound" into your business name may be beneficial.
5. Be Flexible
On the flipside of our most recent example above, don't get so straightforward, descriptive or related to a single term that you box your brand in. Your company name needs to be big and flexible enough to grow with you as your company grows.
For instance, "Jane's Jams" might be great when you're a small mom-and-pop shop selling fruit preserves. But what happens if you branch out into homemade decor, candles, etc.?
6. Be Timeless
Trends come and go. And fads fade quickly. Your brand name should be modern enough to make sense in today's age, but not so on-the-cusp that you date yourself in five years.
Brainstorm Your Name: Eight Powerful Steps to Generate Business Name Ideas
Now that we've talked about the philosophy behind choosing a brand name, let's move into practical action steps and begin brainstorming some options for your new business.
Run through the following simple steps and jot down what comes to mind. Then, in the next section of this guide, we'll help you whittle down your options with a handy checklist of questions to find three to five company names that you love.
Step 1: Get Inspired with Brand Direction Archetypes
All brands are about personality — how a brand makes its target consumer feel.
We tend to judge people based on first impressions, your business is no exception. This is where your brand's personality needs to shine through, as it impacts how consumers perceive your organization from the start.
And all personalities, according to the psychological research of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, boil down to 12 archetypes. Thinking about the archetype that best matches your brand can inspire you to start thinking of names that personify your brand's personality:
- Liberty, rebellious disruption, and thinking outside the box: The Outlaw
- Power and strength: The Magician
- Mastery and problem-solving: The Hero
- Intimacy and closeness: The Lover
- Fun and enjoyment: The Jester
- Belonging and community: The Everyman
- Control and accuracy: The Ruler
- Innovation and creativity: The Creator
- Safety and reliability: The Innocent
- Understanding and trust: The Sage
- Freedom and exploration: The Explorer
For instance, motorcycle brand Harley-Davidson embraces The Outlaw. Disney falls into The Magician, literally and figuratively. Nike would align with The Hero. Chanel and Victoria's Secret embrace The Lover. Playful brands like Old Spice are The Jester. And IKEA and Target are prime examples of The Everyman.
You can see how these personalities come through in their marketing, their messaging, and their names. If you're unclear about your brand personality, try this quick 10-minute brand personality quiz!
Step 2: Refer Back to Your Brand Core
Who are you? What's your tone? What's your industry niche? What are your values? These questions are all uniquely personal to you and your brand.
Make sure you reflect deeply on who you are as a company before continuing. A disconnect between your company name and who your brand really is will breed distrust and confusion amongst your prospects, and create marketing headaches for you as the business owner.
Step 3: Do Your ResearchAs you set up your brand core and your overarching brand, you likely did some SWOT analyses and market research. Check in to see what some of your closest competitors are using for a company name. This can give you insights into:
- Brand name positioning
- What your audience likely already expects for your core products or services
- Opportunities to stand out from your competitors by name alone
"Who are you? What's your tone? What's your industry niche? What are your values? These questions are all uniquely personal to you and your brand."
Step 4: Do a Word Association ExerciseAll potential names for your company fit into one of seven categories
- Descriptive: Names that literally tell you what the brand is about (i.e., General Motors, Hotels.com, etc.)
- Evocative: Names that are metaphors or examples of a brand's story or values (e.g., Virgin, Patagonia, etc.)
- Invented: Names that have no previously attached cultural meaning, allowing the brand to make up its own definition for the word (e.g., Pixar, Verizon, etc.)
- Lexical: Clever names that combine words, phrases, actions, puns or intentionally different spelling formats to create meaning (e.g., Krazy Glue, Dunkin' Donuts, etc.)
- Acronymic: Brands that have become synonymous with the acronyms for their original name (e.g. IBM, BMW, etc.)
- Geographical: Names that link a brand to their core geographic region or birthplace (e.g., Alaska Airlines, Kentucky Fried Chicken, etc.)
- Founder: Names that closely associate the brand with their well-known founder (e.g. Martha Stewart, Calvin Klein, etc.)
- Full phrases (e.g., StumbleUpon, Fruit of the Loom, etc.)
- Intentional misspellings that carry meaning (e.g. Reddit)
- Visual names that create mental imagery (e.g., Iron Flame)
- Foreign words that evoke international meanings attached to the brand story (e.g., Häagen-Dazs, L'Occitane en Provence, etc.)
- Metaphoric names that immediately trigger strong meanings based on cultural stories (e.g., the RobinHood trading app that says it wants to level the investment world's playing field)
You can use each of these categories to begin sparking ideas for your own name. Try and come up with one or two options for your company in each category. They may not all apply to you (for instance, you may not be a famous celebrity who can launch your business on your last name alone), but they'll help you to find categories that work best (and eliminate categories that don't work at all).
Step 5: Start With Descriptive Keywords
If you had to choose just one or two words to describe your brand, what would it be? Start writing out simple descriptions of your business.
A wedding videographer, for instance, might use words like "lens," "capture moments," "forever love" and "lights-camera-action."
"Don't get so lost in the weeds of being meaningful and evocative that you end up with a company name that takes a lot of explaining."
Step 6: Work on Acronyms and Synonyms
Thinking of your business in general, are there acronyms that would work to describe your company? For example, has-been tech company AOL stood for "America online," creating a memorable name out of a descriptive phrase.
You could use the list of keywords that you wrote down in step three.
As you review your acronyms and previous descriptive keywords, also consider synonyms to those descriptive phrases to expand your list of phrases and keywords.
Step 7: Get Creative and Think Outside the Box
By now, you should have a list of at least a dozen words, phrases, acronyms and synonyms.
Now let's get creative and start branching out into those principles we discussed earlier about being evocative, meaningful, etc. From this list, could you make connections with:
- Meaningful words in other languages? (For instance, a prepared meal kit company whose founders are Greek might look to Greece for translations of their previously listed keywords and phrases)
- Mythology, religions, famous literature or history? (See Nike's example earlier in this guide)
- Important geographical elements? (While not a company name, Starbucks' "Pikes Peak" coffee product branding is a great example that would be meaningful to its core customers in Seattle, WA)
Step 8: Mix Things Up
Now we're getting truly creative and memorable. Consider ways to make a mash-up of what you've already gotten, combining meaningful words or phrases to cultivate even more meaning and inspiration. Google's YouTube, for instance, is a mash-up of "you" and "tube," referencing its personalized (i.e., "you") online TV (i.e., "tube") service.
Other ways to mix things up and add uniqueness, distinctiveness or memorability to your existing phrases include:
- Using abbreviations (Example: The BBC)
- Adding or removing a letter (Example: Flicker)
- Adding or removing symbols or punctuation (Example: The rebranding attempts of Aol. and Oath:, both of which included unusual punctuation at the end of their names)
- Playing with capitalization to emphasize certain elements of the name (Example: TechCrunch)
- Getting creative with spelling (Example: Contently)
Your Unique Differential: Use This Checklist to Make Sure Your Business Name Stands Out!
Once you have a long list of inspiring ideas for your company name, take a step back and reconsider all of your options.
Begin winnowing down the field of contestants by running through this quick checklist of questions to ensure you aren't missing any of the key criteria we've discussed (as well as common pitfalls we mentioned earlier):
- Is the name unique and not already taken?
- Is the name flexible enough to expand or shift with my company's growth and product offerings?
- Is the name easy to remember, easy to spell and easy to say?
- Is the name in alignment with my brand core, product benefits, and audience?
- Is the name appropriate in various contexts, and not accidentally creating an offensive faux pas or unintentional humour?
Preparing For Launch: Final Legal and Corporate Considerations
Now that you've got a shortlist of five potential names for your business, and you've vetted them against all of the above branding best practices, it's time to wrap things up with a short discussion on legalities and business requirements.
Before falling in love with your final brand name, make sure that:
- The website domain is available with your company name (ideally yourname.com)
- The name/handle is available on all commonly used social media platforms that you plan to incorporate into your marketing, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
- The name is available for trademark purposes in all markets that you'll do business (laws vary by country, state and province, but you can search the business name registrars online for Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia)
Beyond the Name: Get Full Branding Support and Guidance For Your Business Launch
Choosing the right name for your business can be overwhelming. You don't have to go it alone.
Contact Marketing Your Brand today for an in-depth analysis of your business. We can help you to pinpoint aspects of your brand that translate well to a powerful company name, and help you turn your brand into a brand marketing powerhouse with a complete brand identity that includes not only your brand name, but also your logo, website and more.