So you need to name your business
There’s no magic formula to choosing a name! Every business - and every product - is different. So how you arrive at the right business name is always going to be unique. Still, as a long-time naming agency, we’ve led many dozens of naming projects and have some guidance and best practices that you should follow no matter who you end up working with.
The pre-work: strategy
It’s important to remember that your business name is also your brand name. So, your business name should express your brand. That's why it's imperative to start with strategy. Without brand strategy, choosing a name is like manning a rudderless ship—you have no control over where you're going and could end up anywhere. Business owners need to create boundaries around not just what they are selling or what they stand for, but who they actually are. Once these "brand boundaries" are set, the next step is creating a specific naming strategy. The portion of your brand that is expressed through the name should be decided upon during naming strategy before creative begins. This starts by asking: what are the main communication objectives for this name? What should the feeling or personality be? What types of names (descriptive, generic, coined, etc.) will best serve our intentions? Who else is in this competitive space, and how should our name sit alongside them? Are there any other practical limitations for our potential name? (Parent organizations, partnerships, acquisitions, etc.) A few ways this plays out might look like: basing your name on your brand personality; leaning heavily into a unique marketplace position or brand category; or using your brand essence as a starting point for finding a name. You need to decide on the parameters for what the name should be before you can begin to explore the names themselves. That’s why we recommend brand strategy to our clients, or require that the upfront strategic thinking is presented to us if we are presenting naming options only.
Next step, creative
After strategy comes creative. The creative process it's all about exploration. The deeper the Namers can go along the chosen creative pathways decided upon, the better. By generating a large volume of names, you can ensure that a thoroughness of creative thought has gone into the process. There's often a balancing act that happens after each round of naming—narrow the strategy or broaden it—to create the context in which Namers will land upon the most viable options. Depending on how many names were submitted for TM/legal and/or linguistic analysis, the client can end up with roughly 2-15 viable names to move forward with. From there, the final name selection is dependent on a variety of factors including creative preference by key stakeholders, how well the name ladders up to the initial strategic criteria, and any other creative considerations for the project.
Choosing the name
When it comes to actually choosing the business name itself, there are 2 crucial factors. The first is, is it legally viable? Your full shortlist of names should ideally be vetted by a trademark lawyer before you choose the final name. Nobody wants to experience the heartbreak of deciding upon their business name only to discover that somebody else had that same idea last year. Second, go back to strategy! If deciding upon the final name comes down to a vote, always vote based upon the name's strategic viability—not whether you "like" the name or not. Feelings of affection for your name will come with time as the brand builds equity. But an unfortunate, non-strategic name could haunt you as long as you're in business. And there you have the full circle—when you start and end with brand strategy, you wind up with a "workhorse" name that performs the functions you've set out for it ahead of time and easily builds equity. There is nothing random about it. (Note: some companies, despite naming best practices, have great luck with their seemingly random names. This can happen in opportune situations, like if you're the first to market in an exceptionally new category, offer a far superior product or service compared to competitors, or have a huge marketing budget so you can build campaigns around your new brand name)
The biggest mistake people make when choosing a name is thinking that the name has to stand for every single thing about the business. This is usually a reaction to wanting to play it safe and not miss out on appealing to the masses. But when you try to say everything, you say nothing. And when you try to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one. Names are short; they can't express everything about your business. That is something that happens over time as you build your brand. I'd love to see more business owners take calculated risks with their names.
Case Study: Onduo
An example of a strategic naming process is with our client Onduo, a diabetes management technology organization formed by parent companies Verily (Google) and pharma giant Sanofi.