5 tips when naming a new company
Naming your kid is hard, naming a company is harder. But the positives of getting it right, at least call for a good try. Let’s see if these five tips can give the naming chaos some structure.
“Use your name to fit in, and you’ll spend your marketing budget trying to stand out.” — A Hundred Monkeys
The above is a pretty accurate description of what might be a future (and expensive) struggle if you end up with a bland name primarily developed to “just fit in.” The name of your company is, in essence, the purest form of the brand. A good name outlives most trends, is a tiny investment compared to the longevity of it and most importantly, it has the potential to be a catalyst to storytelling far beyond the technical features of your product. A good name sends a signal.
So why is it easier to name your baby, than your next venture? Well, that’s because your baby doesn’t have 10 stakeholders, a competitive market scenario to consider, a pre-defined business strategy to align with or require a domain name to drive traffic to. But also when naming a company such processes tends to get personal, but try not to. Remember, naming is just one of several exercises to build a holistic and meaningful brand experience.
To help you out, here are 5 topics you need to engage in together with your team to make the process more structured.
1. Stakeholders, don’t make it personal
If we were to name one single reason why a lot of good names don’t see the light of day, it must be lousy stakeholder management. Imagine the overly experienced chairman that gets the final say and selects his wife’s “brilliant” proposal with references to brands that died 20 years ago. That’s why you need to consider who should have a say in this process before you even begin. Agree on a group of people from your company that can follow the process from A-Z. Diversity is key. These might be employees, board members, or even trusted friends in business. But make sure they all know and understand your product and strategy. Once the group is in place, agree on some essential criteria.
2. Define name criteria
Now define a set of rules to help you qualify names. These won’t need to be set in stone but should work as an efficient reference when hell breaks loose. Discuss criteria, summarise, and distribute to all participants. Examples of some critical criteria are:
- Language and markets: A list of the short and longterm markets that you want to operate in. Language is culture, and words might have different meanings in different languages. Can the name align with your business objectives and also convey the right idea or attitude?
- Competition: An overview of your competitors both regionally, nationally and internationally. Discuss with your team which tendencies you see and which opportunities you see. Any gaps to fill? Calibrate based on standing out, not fitting in.
- Domain and legal: An available domain name should be possible to obtain and trademark. Either in pure form (X.com) or with a prefix (getX.com) or suffix (Xnow.com). How much are you willing to invest in this? Budgets are always easier to discuss up front.
- Company structure: Do you only need one name for one company, or a naming system for several services under the mothership? Consider this before entering a naming process, so you don’t go into this backward.
3. Values fuel storytelling
Now, this is a bit tough if you’re a new company with no brand legacy or even a brand strategy at this point (don’t worry, it’s normal). But try to do a list of 3–5 core values relevant to your company. Focus more on cultural aspects than product features, and please forget dull words like “dynamic,” “agile,” or “flexible”. They basically all mean the same, and everyone says it. If you compare your company to a person, what kind of personality does it have? Loyal, fierce, bold, or maybe even a bit timid? Use words with a bit of color to them, they’re more engaging. The values are supposed to work as another qualititave filter when discussing name suggestions.
4. Names, more names!
Now to the fun part, generating names. Try to do this in 2–3 stages. Longlist, shortlist and finalists. To help you avoid opening up your first dictionary from high school, let’s help you out with some structure. When developing company names, we typically use four categories to sort everything in:
- Descriptive: These names say what you do. Like Hotels.com. They’re easy to remember and don’t need much explaining. The downside is that they can be challenging to own, and tend to be limited to a specific business activity you might scale out of later.
- Associative: Words that can reference your values, product, or service. An example of this is Amazon. The huge, colourful and diverse rain forest (of books, and now everything else). Words like these are often useful for conveying more emotional aspects and differentiating qualities in your product.
- Abbreviations: Now combine. These are names that are either shortened or combinations, like Evergreens or FedEx. They can work in many ways, for example as a description or to add some flair to a more basic name, which makes it easier to own.
- Abstract: We call these ‘empty vessels.’ They’re not directly linked to your product, market or values — but can be, with time. An example of such a name is Apple. Very atypical for its industry, but very unique when the brand gets traction.
Now focus on generating a high volume (50–100) of names to begin with. This is an exercise that can be done both as a group and individually. Then discuss and eliminate together with your team until you have a list with some potential to it (20–30). Discuss and repeat. Try to look at the names from different angles, and from a market perspective browse domain availability, product fit and longterm company culture. Remember your criteria and set of values. Then finally discuss and reduce your suggestions into a shortlist (5) with your finalists. Again, test these across your team. Which feels better? What do the words look like visually? Does the name roll off the tongue? Are we standing out or fitting in?
5. Check it, clear it, own it
The final and most important part. Get help from a trademark office to help you do the legal clearing of your finalists in your relevant markets (this has a cost to it, but isn’t necessarily very expensive). Secure your domains, but stick to your budget. Don’t get overboard if a domain with prefix or a suffix will do the job, to begin with. Budgets are usually roomier later. Now that you’ve ended up with typically 1–3 cleared names — pick one. There’s no magic solution to this. Discuss the potential. Words that generate creative ideas and have the right associations, usually have something going for them. Again, focus on your set of values, your criteria and what you want to convey. And for the third time, don’t make it personal.
Still stuck? Give Heydays a call and we’ll get you sorted.
Heydays is a design team tailored for ambitious companies about to launch, or corporations seeking an effective innovation partner. Through insight and strategy development, brand and product design, we help our clients shape meaningful experiences for their users.