The process of naming a company has two parts: Coming up with name options, and choosing a name from your list. This post covers part one.
We’ll assume you’re naming or renaming a company, although the same principles work for naming products and services. We’ll also assume you’re doing this without the help of an agency. If you are working with an agency, you should ask them what their naming process is. It should look a lot like this. If they’re not following a process like this, you should hire us instead.
So you need a brand name…
That’s a big task. Because your name does a big job. It carries the bulk of the load when it comes to communicating to customers and prospects. Naming a company means trying to distill it to its essence. That’s not easy.
Keep in mind that your company name doesn’t have to communicate everything your company stands for all by itself. Your descriptor, tagline, logo, and brand colors help too, so when all the parts are assembled, they create a cohesive picture of who you are and what you do. This is a great example of message strategy.
Today, we’ll focus on your name. To come up with a business name, you should take seven steps:
- 1. Decide what you’re trying to communicate.
- 2. Look at the competitive naming landscape.
- 3. Select a naming team.
- 4. Generate a lot of ideas.
- 5. Give it time.
- 6. Vary your approach.
- 7. Marvel and bask.
This is the process we follow, and we’re accustomed to good results. Let’s dive in.
Naming your company step 1: Decide what you’re trying to communicate.
A name is a message. It should convey something about you. (Obviously.) But maybe not so obviously, it will ideally communicate on an emotional level too. With that in mind, start by asking yourself two questions. When people hear your name,
1. What do you want them to think? 2. How do you want them to feel?
Write down everything that comes to mind. Then keep that list handy and refer to it throughout the naming process.
Naming your company step 2: Look at the competitive naming landscape.
Take some time to do some name benchmarking. Think of some other successful companies in your industry. What are their names? How do they portray themselves? Check out competitor websites, logos, and promise statements. What do you like and dislike? This will help guide your brainstorming. It’ll also help you stay away from names that are already taken. More on this in Part 2.
If you’re not sure where you stand among your competition as far as what you offer and how you’re different, that’s a red flag. It could mean you haven’t nailed down your company’s positioning. And that should come first, before you start trying to come up with a name. See how we approach positioning with our Position X™: methodology.
Naming your company step 3: Select a naming team.
At Counterpart, we’ve worked in various industries, and we’ve named everything from enterprise mobility solutions to dry cabbage boxes. We’ve discovered one commonality among them all: It’s best to have multiple people working on naming projects. If you’re already part of a naming team, great! If you ARE the naming team, enlist a few more folks.
Invite people with different experiences to help. Aim for a mix of creative types and analytical thinkers. You don’t have to have a huge group; in fact, three or four is plenty. The important thing is to include people with a rich variety of expertise, personalities, and perspectives.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is solely a teamwork exercise. Just because you have a team doesn’t mean it’s necessarily teamwork, especially on the front end. Work separately at first as you go through the next few steps. Then come back together and share your ideas. You’ll be surprised at the diversity of concepts.
And speaking of group sessions, here’s some food for thought. Sometimes group brainstorming is helpful. But I’ve been in sessions where the naturally quiet people were hesitant to speak up. In others, the group started thinking the same way about the product or company, and the ideas started to feel monotonous. And still others where a few people felt the need to fill the silence by talking, when others just needed quiet time to think. Group work can be counterproductive if it’s not facilitated in the right way, so keep that in mind when you go into a session.
Naming your company step 4: Generate a lot of ideas.
Linus Pauling was a two-time Nobel Prize winner, chemist, peace activist, author, educator, and all-around brainiac. He famously said, “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” Preach, Linus. Preach.
So when you’re brainstorming names, think quantity over quality first.
It’s counterintuitive, right? But it’s crucial not to self-edit at this stage. If a name comes into your mind, write it down. Even if you think it’s terrible? Write it down. Even if you’re embarrassed to show it to anyone? Write it down. There are no wrong, bad, or dumb ideas at this point. You’ll trim your list later. There could be a kernel of brilliance there, and if you don’t capture it, it’s lost forever. Write. It. Down.
Credit source: giphy.com
Naming your company step 5: Give it time.
Don’t try to do this job in a day or two. Doing it right takes time. In his book A Technique for Producing Ideas, James Webb Young emphasizes how important it is to spend time working, and then spend time away. Great ideas often strike in the period between stressing and striving to find them.
Give yourself time to read, research, and work. Then step away from the project entirely and come back to it later. The in-between time is just as valuable as the time you spend actively working. True story: I once worked for days trying to come up with a clever headline about a specific brand of copy paper. The line that eventually made it into the ad was one I dreamed up (literally). I guess I had put so much time into thinking about it that my brain was still working when I was asleep. So yeah. Work hard, and then give yourself some time away from the work. It will pay off.
Naming your company step 6: Vary your approach.
Each time you come back to your project, try a new angle.
For example, at first you might try very simple, literal names.
Then get descriptive.
Explore evocative options that might not literally relate to your product but tie in metaphorically.
Think of acronyms.
Try using names of company founders.
Then explore totally made-up names that sound good or feel fun.
Try combining words to make a new one.
Don’t neglect variants. Think of creative ways to spell each name. Use numbers in place of letters. Anything that comes into your mind, guess what? Write it down.
Naming your company step 7: Marvel and bask.
By now you’ve been working on your name for several days or weeks. You’ve done a lot of creative brainstorming and exploration. You’ve written down every idea. And you have a long list that runs the gamut from practical to whimsical.
Now take a moment to read through all those beautiful ideas.
Marvel at your productivity.
Bask in your creativity.
(Seriously, do it. Marvel and bask. Have a celebratory taco. You’ve earned it.)
Credit source: giphy.com
Since this is such an enjoyable step, and since the next stage of narrowing down your list can be challenging, this seems like a good place to pause until Part 2. Then we’ll talk about strategies for paring your ideas and presenting your short list. Specifically:
- Narrowing down your list of ideas (as painful as that might be)
- Using trademark searches to ensure ownability (and stay out of trouble)
- Creating rationale (to reinforce why your concepts are amazing)
- Presenting ideas to get buy-in (and wow everyone, of course)
For now, bask on.