Naming a business is infinitely more difficult than naming a newborn.
At least, this has been my experience over the past few months, as I have painstakingly labored over finding a name for a unique craft brewing startup. While I have enlisted the help of a few incredibly talented entrepreneurs at Startup.SC, a new South Carolina business incubator, and developed more possibilities than I care to remember, the arduous task of settling on just one has caused me more than one restless night.
I know that I share this plight with other entrepreneurs.
There are numerous resources for helping name a business. The problem for me has been that, like most entrepreneurs, I have a long-term vision for a company that has its own set of naming needs. Additionally, it seems that almost every possible name has already been trademarked and every possible URL has been purchased. For a while, these challenges caused it to feel as though my creativity had been extinguished, and I was close to just settling.
To get a little help, I spoke with Nikolas Contis, global director of naming at Siegel+Gale, a global branding firm specializing in strategy, customer experience, brand identity, design and naming. Contis and his naming team recently renamed the social incubator if(we). He provided me with a great and insightful set of considerations for all entrepreneurs stuck in this naming conundrum.
1. Consider your brand architecture.
Understanding how your business will brand itself is crucial. Ask yourself if you plan on being a branded house (focus on the overall business brand, such as Apple) or a house of brands (focus on branding individual products and services, such as Procter and Gamble). It is difficult, risky and expensive to do both. Understanding this will help guide your process.
2. Think about your long-term goal.
If you are chasing a long-term goal or technology, you do not want a name that might ultimately become obsolete. Netflix is a great example. When Reed Hastings originally named the company, his vision was to deliver movies streamed over the Internet, not by DVD. The infrastructure and market, however, were not ready. Regardless, his name reflected his long-term goal, and the company eventually grew into it.
3. Do not chase trends.
As tempting as it may be to chase recent naming trends, such as substituting “z” for “s,” understand that trends change. Also, because language and lexicon change ever faster these days, adopting a slang word or phrase is very risky. You do not want to be stuck with a name that becomes irrelevant.
4. Do not rush to describe your business (completely).
There is an argument for having a name that is descriptive and educates customers about what you do. While this might be important in some cases, more important are names that stir emotions. Great names engage but do not declare, and they evoke rather than explain. Instead of flat-out describing your business, look to a name that prompts the customer to seek more information.
5. Do not be afraid to take a risk.
Along these lines, you really want a name that will get you, your staff and your customers excited and talking about the business. Sometimes, this requires getting a little more creative than you might be comfortable with. Google recently named its Android 4.0 operating system “Ice Cream Sandwich” (following its previous operating system, “KitKat”). By doing so, it has literally changed the way people talk about operating systems. You may not be able to get this creative, but if your name gets everyone emotionally involved with your business, it will help drive the conversation.
Contis was quick to point out that your business’s name is a creative platform for telling a long-term story to the world, so it is worth spending some time and effort into finding the best fit.
Also, it is crucial to put naming as a top priority, as your company name will ultimately drive the culture of your startup and set the tone for everyone involved. If you are of the mindset that your name can be changed down the road, consider how much easier it will be and how much brand equity you can retain if you start with the right name.
While expensive for some entrepreneurs, the cost of hiring a naming company like Siegel+Gale can have a long-term return. With a great name, your company may not need to spend as much to raise visibility, build its brand or attract and retain talent. Even if you do not hire a naming company, Contis suggests hiring trademark help, since nothing will deflate an exciting startup like a cease-and-desist letter.
Naming a business does not have to be as difficult as naming your children, but it should be given the same amount of effort. Hopefully, both pay off for you in the long term.
Do you have a similar experience naming a new company? Please share your thoughts with others in the comments section below.