A great brand name is not just something that looks cool on your business card or is fun to say. And it isn’t great because you like it. It’s great because it communicates something to customers.
The need for good brand names originates with customers, and customers will always want convenient ways of identifying, remembering, discussing, and comparing brands. The right name can be a brand’s most valuable asset, driving differentiation and speeding acceptance.
But choosing the right brand name can be a daunting task. How do you find a name that works? A name that’s catchy? A name that looks great on a web banner and has an available URL? Some say it’s easy—just use a name-generating tool and call it a day. Some say it’s nearly impossible—just give them a million dollars and they’ll do it for you.
What Makes a Good Brand Name?
While there is no magic formula, there are common traits that make a brand name easier for you to use and easier for other people to remember. Ideally, you want something that’s:
- Meaningful: It communicates your brand essence, conjures an image, and cultivates a positive emotional connection.
- Distinctive: It is unique, memorable, and stands out from your competitors.
- Accessible: People can easily interpret it, say it, spell it, or Google it. (Even if you have an unusual or bizarre name, it must be understandable.)
- Protectable: You can trademark it, get the domain, and “own” it, both legally and in the general consciousness.
- Future-proof: It can grow with the company and maintain relevance—and be adapted for different products and brand extensions.
- Visual: You can translate/communicate it through design, including icons, logos, colors, etc.
This is useful criteria to help you vet names, but there is really one question to determine whether a name is successful. All that matters is this: Does it resonate with people?
How to Find the Right Name
Step 1) Articulate Your Core Identity
Before you name yourself, you need to understand who you are and what you’re trying to achieve. This includes:
- Vision: Why your company exists.
- Mission: What your company does.
- Values: How you do what you do.
These three elements encapsulate your purpose, and they influence everything you do (including choosing a name).
Once you know who you are, look at your competitive analysis to identify and understand your differentiators. (Don’t have a competitive analysis? Here’s how to do it.)
Understanding what makes your brand unique is the first step to finding a brand name.
Step 2) Brainstorm
Gather your stakeholders and creatives and host a structured brainstorm. While it sounds fun to let everyone go wild, we find people often need some sort of guidelines or constraints to work within. You may want to start these discussions with certain prompts or specific exercises. For example:
- Write down all the adjectives that describe your service.
- Describe what you want your customers to feel when they use your product/service.
- Do a free association of words about your product/service.
Another useful way to brainstorm is to think of the different categories of brand names. These include:
- Founder: A name based on a real or fictional person,
- Descriptive: A name that describes what you do or make, .
- Fabricated: A totally made-up name or word,
- Metaphor: Mythical, foreign, or imagery-heavy things, places, people, animals, or processes,
- Acronym: A name that uses initials or an abbreviation,
- Magic spell: A name that is a portmanteau (two words together) or a real word with a made-up spelling, such as FaceBook or Flickr.
Challenge your team to come up with a name for every category. You’ll probably start to see a trend or preference for one type over the other. Try to come up with 15-20 names.
Step 3) Vet Your Brand Name
This is absolutely the most frustrating part. There’s no point in testing anything that’s already taken, so you need to vet your frontrunners.
Narrow your brainstormed list down to the team favorites (ideally those 15-20), then search the States Patent and Trademark Office’s database of registered trademarks. If they’re all taken, it’s back to the drawing board. This exercise will surely winnow your list down for you. But if you’re a genius who has somehow found 20 unregistered names, narrow it down to your top three to test.
Note: If a name appears to be available, get a legal team to fully vet it.
Step 4) Test, Test, Test
Now that you’ve cleared the legal hurdle, here comes the most exciting part. You get to create your mockups (think logos, product packaging, and homepages), and test your top three names. You may be surprised at what resonates with people.
Here’s one simple and easy testing idea:
- Build a branded landing page for each name. Use identical copy and only change logo/brand name.
- Run a highly targeted FB ad to your target customers for a week.
- See which page got more conversions.
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