Like most writers, I will spend a disproportionate amount of time figuring out titles. A good brand name, like a good title, should ideally capture and communicate everything you absolutely want to say, while hooking in the people you want to reach.
Your brand name isn’t the most important thing about your company. After all, it is possible to build up on a brand name that isn’t catchy or doesn’t communicate anything particularly well. A look at the latest Fortune 500 list contains a lot of familiar companies that have average or even mediocre brand names. But that’s fine, since they’ve already built a name for themselves. What if you haven’t?
All other things being equal, it’s much harder to build up a business with a bad brand name than it is with a good one. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when coming up with a brand name.
1.) Keep it simple – The fewer (easy-to-pronounce) syllables, the better. It shouldn’t look ridiculous on a letterhead or a business card. Even Kentucky Fried Chicken changed their name to KFC, not because it sounded generic (which it was, see #3) or because they didn’t sell real chicken as the joke goes. It just made their brand easier to remember, even in markets that don’t speak English. The change also made it easier to include it in logos.
2.) Think of your (present or future) domain name – If you plan on expanding your business, you might want to consider a name that would be easy to turn into a solid, easy-to-remember domain name. Check if anyone currently owns the domain you want. If no one else is on it, claim it ASAP.
3.) Try to be different – The main point of a brand name is to differentiate one product or service from similar offers from the competition. If your brand name’s too similar to your competitors’, then you might want another name. This’ll help keep you safe from trademark lawsuits.
It goes without saying you should check if the name you had in mind already exists.
4.) Don’t make it too cute – This might be the wrong kind of “different”. While puns might draw attention to your business, is it the kind of attention you need? While a lot of people will have no problems eating at The Greasy Wiener’s (an actual, highly-rated food truck in LA), it’s hard to imagine that joke not getting old. You’ll be hard-pressed to find respected companies with names that started as a joke. As with #1, a name that doesn’t rely on a gimmick is easier to keep as your company grows.
5.) Learn some empathy (you sociopath) – You always have to put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Here’s a list that claims to have the 30 Worst Brand Names Ever. I think the title’s misleading.Were these products sold devoid of context in most English-speaking countries, they would be pretty regrettable. That said, the hilarity comes from these brand names being taken out of the context of which they were sold. Almost all of these products have either a positive or neutral meaning in their home markets. If these were sold in the US, they’d be pretty darned controversial because the circumstances are so different.
Of course, the best brand names sound good in a variety of contexts. Lexicon, a boutique marketing firm responsible for brand names such as BlackBerry, Dasani, Febreze, OnStar, Pentium, Scion, and Swiffer employs 70 linguists in 50 countries- just to make sure the brand name looks fine across as wide a market as possible.
6.) Choose a name that means something – Make it refer about your industry, your history, or choose a name that describes your product or service. Or just make it evoke imagery that means something positive for your audience. A name that provokes some sort of discussion about your company will help strengthen brand recognition.
7.) Don’t think about it too much – If you’ve already got a pool of names to choose from, then just get it over with. If you’ve followed all the above and still can’t decide at this point, one name’s probably just as good as another. As far as we can tell, a generic name did not hurt Texaco and Microsoft. While a good name can help, how you actually build and run your enterprise will ultimately be a bigger factor in shaping how the public looks at your brand.
BONUS: Can’t think of a name yet? Hire someone to do it! – This actually makes more sense than a new entrepreneur might be willing to admit. We’ve all seen horrible brand names at some point- most of them from entrepreneurs like yourself. You wouldn’t want to be one of them, do you? While you don’t necessarily need Lexicon to do it for you, there are plenty of smaller marketing firms out there that would probably do a much better job than most novice business owners can do themselves.
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