When you set up a company, it’s not enough to sell a good product or service. You also need a good company name. A good name has a certain stickiness—people remember it, and can help make your marketing campaigns more effective. A bad name, however, can turn you into ‘that company—what was that again?—that sells that whatchmacallit.’
That’s why it’s important to give your company a name that is memorable, unique, and seems to express the personality of your brand. Here are some tips to help you as brainstorm for names, and then narrow down your list.
1. Choose your business name strategy.
The good news is that there are many strategies that can help you create a good company name. You can take the straightforward route, such as ‘Granny’s Kitchen’ for a catering service that focuses on traditional food with a home-cooked feel. Or, you can coin a phrase, the way ‘Google’ and ‘Haagen Dazs’ did.
The thing to remember is that when you choose a name, you need to match it with the appropriate marketing strategy. A straightforward name has the advantage of bringing up emotional associations and expectations, making it easier for people to understand what your product or service is about. However, you may have a problem with product differentiation. For every ‘Granny’s Kitchen’ there is ‘Mommy’s Kitchen’ or ‘Country Kitchen’ or ‘Granny’s Cuisine.’ So you have to put effort in creating a high-impact logo, or eye-catching brochure.
Obviously ‘Google’ didn’t have to worry about that, nor did ‘Haagen Dazs.’ However, they did have to invest more in building consumer awareness. They relied heavily on PR and advertising to get people to talk about the product, recognize the logo, and recall the name.
2. Get business name experts.
Just as you hire an accountant to do your taxes and a copywriter to make your brochure, you may consider tapping the services of a ‘naming professional’ or an image consultant. It is expensive, though. You could spend anywhere from a $5,000 to $35,000 depending on the reputation of the firm. However, it’s money well spent. They can create a very memorable and effective name that will help your company stand out in the sea of competitors. They will also help you craft a good brand logo, and will handle the legal requirements of trademarks and registration. (You’d probably have to pay somebody else to do this, anyway, so might as well get them to handle it from the start.)
3. Examine the emotional associations of your business name.
If you can’t hire a naming professional or an image consultant, you can at least try to replicate the process on your own. The first step is to think, ‘What does this name mean?’ Ideally, the name should reflect what your business stands for, and what it tries to do. An upscale clothing boutique should have a name that’s associated with sophistication and class. You do not call it ‘Bertha’s Bargains.’
It’s also important to ask other people what they would think if they heard a name. You can organize an informal focus group discussion. Don’t tell them what your business is about first; just give the name and make them list values or qualities that it triggers.
Another thing you can do is to ask your focus group what they think of your competitor’s names. Since your name should distinguish you from competition, you can look at their branding approaches and take a different route.
4. Think about the long-term image of your business.
Don’t create a business name that is so specific that it limits your company’s growth. Let’s say you spend years building brand equity for your baby clothing line, ‘Sporty Baby Wear.’ What will happen if you decide to develop clothes for toddlers? Or create a line of formal clothes for parties and special occasions?
Experts also discourage naming a business after its location. It made sense generations ago, when small brick-and-mortar stores often catered to specific communities (ex: ‘San Marino Computers.’ But today, you can easily sell to a bigger audience through the Internet. It alienates potential consumers in other states or countries.
6. Consider the cultural associations of your business name.
It’s important to check if your brand name has negative meanings. Is it politically incorrect? Maybe it means something else in street jargon, or has a particular connotation with a cultural group. For example, ‘Dragon Lady’ isn’t a bad name, in and of itself, but for many people, it triggers an image of a woman who is ruthless, cold and power-hungry.
7. Ask if your business name is easy to spell and recall.
This is a particularly important factor in the internet age, when customers look for you through search engines. Haagen Dazs didn’t have that issue before (and it’s such a big brand now, that people don’t care) but business start-ups don’t have that luxury.
One way around this is to take a relatively familiar word and combine it with another, or to slightly modify the word. For example, ‘flicks’ means movies, and it’s easy to remember a company that’s called ‘Flixx.’