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What’s in a (business) name? So much. Your business name is going to last longer than anything else for your business—your logo may change and your menu or products may change, but your name will persist. It’s important to nail it from the start.
In our experience, it’s not uncommon for businesses to rush through the process of coming up with their name. We often work with clients needing to rebrand because the business name just isn’t quite working out. Maybe their name is confusing or, worse, unintentionally offensive. But whatever the reason, it’s usually a result of not spending enough time during the name development stage.
While very few businesses can afford to invest the financial resources into a full-scale branding development process (think audience research, focus groups, creating customer personas, brand name testing, etc), it is important to put careful thought into your choice.
There’s no silver bullet or magical formula to creating the perfect name for your business. But, we can offer a guiding framework that can help you get there.
What To Do Before You Name Your Business:
#1 Make sure you have a fully developed business plan. This is important: before you can name your company, you need to have a clear, well-defined business plan outlining your company’s vision, mission, long-term objectives, and how you’ll get there.
A strong business plan should at least include a company overview, market/industry analysis, customer analysis (defining your target customers—be as detailed as possible!), competitor analysis, operations plan, financial projections, and a detailed description of your products and services.
If you have the budget for it, we highly recommend LivePlan ($15/month), which helps walk you through developing your business plan step-by-step. We also recommend checking out our blog post, “3 questions to ask yourself when starting your business.”
#2 Create a brand strategy. Once you have a solid business plan, your next step is to create your brand strategy before you develop your name, logo, or tagline.
So what is a brand strategy? A brand strategy covers what your brand stands for, the promise it makes to your customers, and its personality. It should include elements such as a brand positioning statement, values, brand voice, and a messaging strategy. If you didn’t define a vision statement or mission statement in your business plan, now is the time to do that. If you did, now is the time to give it a closer look. Once you’ve finished your brand strategy, we recommend adding it into your business plan.
Whew. Now that you have your business plan and your brand strategy, you can start working on your business name.
Here are a few pointers for developing a great name:
- Your business name doesn’t have to be literal. And in fact, it often shouldn’t be. Just because you sell coffee doesn’t mean your name has to be ABC Coffee Shop. Apple doesn’t sell apples. Think about some of the most popular brands out there: Google, Starbucks, Nike, Wendy’s. None of them mention the product or service in their name.
- Your name shouldn’t make people think your business is something it is not. While you do not have to be literal with your name, you do want it to clue people in—either directly or indirectly—to what your business provides. You do not want to choose a name that will confuse or mislead people. Let’s say you’re a pest control business that does live traps. If you name your business Capital Captures, people are likely going to assume you’re a DC-based photography business.
- Consider using a word or phrase related to your industry. One way to do this is to use a word inspired by another language. For example, Panera means bread bowl, Hulu is derived from a Chinese term that represents a bowl that stores precious things, and Lego means ‘Play Well’ in Danish. Or, you could pick a term or phrase that is seen within your field. For instance, Little Beat is a veggie-inspired restaurant and Medium Rare is a popular steak and frites restaurant in DC. Dairy Queen is also a great example.
- Make sure it isn’t too hard to say or spell. You need your business name to be easily repeatable. If people do not know how to pronounce it or struggle to spell it, your business will suffer.
- Keep length in mind. Many will tell you that one word business names that are five characters or less are the way to go. Others swear by longer names. In the end, it’s most important for the name to be the right name. Short names can succeed and certainly have the advantage of being quicker to say and easier to write (Apple, Ikea, Pepsi, eBay) but long names can also succeed (Rotten Tomatoes, National Geographic, Harley-Davison, American Eagle). We just wouldn’t recommend making it too long.
- Consider the connotations. Before you settle on a name, make sure you’ve analyzed what it might mean to your audience and to others.
Does your business name mean something offensive in another language?
Is it culturally insensitive?
Does it insinuate something unintended? For some excellent examples of what we mean, take a look at this list of 50 terrible business names.
If you say it out loud, does it take on a new meaning? For example, check out this example from Quality Logo Products: If you say “Sam & Ella’s Chicken Palace” aloud, what do you hear? (hint: salmonella).
- Make sure you can use it. Once you have some ideas you like, it’s time to do the “is it usable” check. Here are a few things you’ll want to check:
Is your name registered in your state? Most states will not allow you to register a name that has already been registered by someone else.
Is it trademarked? Check your potential business, product, and service names in the US trademark database.
Is the domain name available? What about social media handles?
We recommend starting with a brainstorm. Get a group of people together and take a few minutes to each write down any terms that spring to mind when thinking about your business concept. Then, go around and share what you came up with—and continue brainstorming as a group. When forming your brainstorm team, try to gather as diverse a group as possible.
At the end of the day, you want your business name to speak to your audience, symbolize or be relevant to your business, and be memorable & distinct. Happy naming!