How to Name Your Business (3 Step Pro Process)

How to Name Your Business (3 Step Pro Process)

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How many ads for businesses you don’t really know do you see every day? Apparently, at least 4,000!

This is a real phenomenon of social media – we used to see ads in isolation, in a magazine, on a billboard, in the commercial breaks on TV.

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These days, though, the ads, and therefore the businesses, are in your pocket. You’re hit with them constantly.

But how many do you remember?

If you think back to yesterday… Can you think of a product, or a brand name, that stuck?

That’s the challenge.

Standing out from the crowd. Being remembered.

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The first step to that? A great name (and I’ll let you in on a secret – finding that name will help you define a lot more about your brand).

Of course, you can no longer just use your name and piece together “& Co.” or “& Sons”. Well – maybe if it’s really ironic and you’re going for ‘edgy’ and aiming for a younger audience.

Basically, our current level of chronically-online means you have to get customers hyped. They have to be excited about who you are, and remember it. The first step to that?

An epic business name.

The process of coming up with one is really important. But it doesn’t have to be hard (don’t get me wrong, there is some effort involved!).

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I can confidently tell you that there are three key steps to naming a business, whatever that business may be.

How to Name Your Business (3 Step Process)

In a nutshell, to name your business you must follow this three-step process:

  1. Define
  2. Brainstorm
  3. Validate

Let’s dive into how to name your business.

How to Choose a Great Business Name: 5 Tips from a Pro

1. Understand Your Brand

Understand Your Brand

Your brand’s name is what everyone sees first, but realistically it’s just a reflection of everything else. The name has to convey – or at least not contradict – things like brand values, your style, your venture, what you provide to customers.

Who are you? What do you offer? It should all be in the name!

You can work all this out with a few questions – ask the team if you have one, because it could be a really interesting conversation that leads to changes in outlook and ultimately a more honest and appealing brand and name.

We’re looking for a brand personality.

So, here’s what to explore:

  1. What does your brand look like, what does it feel like?
  2. What are your brand values?
  3. Why are these the chosen values?
  4. What tone fits with your brand?
  5. What emotions do you want your customers to feel when they think of or encounter your brand?

When you understand all this, you’re starting to get an overview of your brand. You’re like that brand new picture of space – but space is your brand. You can see it clearly finally!

This puts you in a pretty good position to start a  comprehensive business naming process.

There are a couple of weirdly scatological companies I often think of as an example. SquattyPotty, the company that sells toilet props to help you poop, aims to “improve  bathroom health around the world.” That’s a health company! It’s scientific, researched. But they knew that being a bit silly around – a little toilet humor – was better branding. Their name proves that. Plus, their website uses color and fun and even advertises a mini squatty potty. For fun… or mice?

The same technique is used by Who Gives a Crap, who use color, puns, and cheeky and playful language to sell a product that is to be perfectly honest… toilet tissue. It’s toilet tissue! And sustainable, buy-in-bulk toilet tissue at that. But they make it appealing.

This is great branding, because it’s going against the obvious. Against the grain. That makes it stand out.

This proves that knowing your brand is important. Whether you go with the prevailing wind, making a serious product look serious, or against it, having fun and/or selling to a younger audience .

But how do you get to that point?  Start by considering three things:

  • Who are you as a business?
  • Who do you want to be to your customers? How do you want to be seen by them?
  • Who are you, in comparison to your competition?  What makes you different?

Imagine you start an online dog food company – healthy, premium dog food at an affordable price, in prepackaged portions for each dog.

So. Pets. Who are you to your customers?

Are they families with multiple pets who might order for more than one? Are they busy professionals with a dog they treat a bit like a kid? Are they eco-conscious, and not wanting to waste food or packaging? Do you maybe offer vegetarian dog food options or options for special dietary requirements?

All of this is who you are as a business and who your customers might be. And yes, maybe you tick multiple boxes. That’s okay. Brand identity is as complex as… well… identity.

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Finally, what makes you stand out? There are quite a few bespoke dog food companies out there now. Butternut, Paws, and that one that makes all their food out of bugs.

Are you cheaper? Is your packaging more eco-friendly? Do you cater to more specific diets? Can you be ordered week-to-week rather than monthly?

Answer these questions, and then ask yourself more! It will all help you work out who you are as a company – and get you closer to that perfect business name.

All of this leads into tone. As mentioned with SquattyPotty and Who Gives a Crap, you can play to or against type with tone. But your intended customer should be your main barometer.

Overall, I tell naming clients to choose from these five broad tones:

  • Modern
  • Emotionally Powerful
  • Pragmatic
  • Playful and Fun
  • Pre-eminent

A name like Gucci is pre-eminent, classic, opulent. It describes what they do, and fits their wealthy and tasteful demographic.

On the other hand, Slack is modern and playful. It’s called Slack, but it’s for work. And as we all now know, we use it for serious huddles and talking nonsense with our colleagues.

This seems like a long first step. But you’ll be pleased to know it is also the most time-consuming.

Once you know who you are as a business and how you want to be seen by customers, everything else is easier (and a bit more fun).

2. Time to Brainstorm

Time to Brainstorm

Told you things were about to get fun. At this point, get together with your team (or failing an existing team, some trusted friends), grab a whiteboard and a few pens, and brainstorm.

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Seriously. Chuck ideas out there.

Make sure everyone understands where we are after step one, and just riff. Think freely. You aren’t aiming for analytical. Don’t overthink. Just shout out what comes to you! Turn those creative taps on.

You can even throw words in a hat for a mix and match, or play some kind of a ‘consequences’ style game with sentences. The key is not being scared of bad ideas. Bad ideas can lead to good ones! And you never know what will spark something in you or your team.

If you need a bit of a jump start, here are some additional ideas for the ‘namestorming’ process:

  1. Crack out a thesaurus  
  2. Think about visual names, perhaps involving a color 
  3. Consider emotions, especially unusual ones – ‘glee’ for example 
  4. Industry slang isn’t a bad idea
  5. Rhyming words  are a good starting point

You can also use root words – often these are prefixes, suffixes, or words with Greek or Latin origin, to come up with an ultimately  brandable business name that is totally original.

According to Squadhelp research, the root words most popular amongst our customers are: gen, omni, case, spot, and door.

If you’re at all stuck with your core team, try including a few wildcards in your namestorming group. A range of age groups will help you keep in the loop regarding slang, and also allow you access to words that aren’t used much anymore but which may be perfect for your needs!

A 2021 Squadhelp survey found 25-34 year olds go for modern brand names, while 45-65 year olds are far more interested in historical names. This is no surprise, but it does mean you need to think about who you are selling to, and why.

And bridge gaps if you have a wide user or customer demographic. Including a mix of different ages in your research and brainstorming allows you to weigh multiple perspectives and decide what makes most sense for building that perfect brand.

At the end of this brainstorming – or namestorming – session, you might have 15 names, you might have 50, you might have 250. It doesn’t matter. The next step is still the same.

Make a Shortlist

So, this is when we look at step one and two together.

Which names match your brand tone and value proposition. You will, at this point, create a naming brief that highlights tone and business aims. So, try some names out. How do they look on paper? What kind of branding would go with them? How excited do they make you feel? Your team feel?

Finally – are they catchy? Memorable? Easy to spell, say, remember? Are there domains available? You should then plan to end this step with less than 10 shortlisted names.

At this point, your names should be within a category. You know you’re pragmatic, so stay pragmatic. Family names, initialisms, classics. With other tones you have more room to play. Misspellings are okay, but they should be kept simple. Lyft, for example. Avoid complexities like numbers, exclamation marks, or anything else that will slip the mind when people are just trying to recall your name and get to your site!

3. Get Some Validation

Get Some Validation

Your favorite name? It might not be the best choice.

Sorry, but it’s true.

This is why you need outside input.

There are a few tests your name will have to see out before it gets the okay.

a) Feedback from an audience:

The public has to like your name! They’re going to be your customers or users after all.

Use friends and family for feedback, but do remember they have a vested interest in pleasing you. If you can, maybe carry out an online poll or some other anonymous test of your favorite names.

You can also do the ‘bar test’ – askl strangers at a bar or cafe about the potential names, and come back ten minutes later to see if they remember any of them. And if they like any of them. Make sure you write down the results, especially if you’re running tests out at a bar!

You should also make sure that the last few shortlisted names can’t be… misunderstood at this point. No one wants to be Colgate, launching in France with the same name as a pornographic mag.

b) Domain:

You need a website. You basically are your website, unless you’re a local locksmith.

So, you need to check if a suitable domain name is available. It’s best to land nameofyourbusiness.com. But that’s hard-won. And you often have to pay for it.

If you can’t get the ideal, you can try different spellings or removing the vowels. Adding numbers or going with a different name entirely is a bad idea – and hard to remember.

If you can’t get a premium (.com, etc) domain name, try something local like .co.uk or .de depending on where you are.

c) The Importance of Trademarks:

No one loves the trademarking step, but it usually saves a company from future trouble. Most regularly used words are trademarked for something, but trademarks are industry specific so you might be lucky.

Either way, you need to check if your fantastic new business name passes the TM test. You can seek legal advice at this point, and you can also run a basic check on a naming site like Squadhelp. You can also use the help of a legal consultant at this stage.

Annoying as it may be, skipping the trademark check might land you with a cease and desist letters in the future.

How to Name Your Business Conclusion

Your brand name IS your brand.

A brand name can mark the line between success and failure.

A great name can boost success, both financially and socially. A really great name helps create buzz, and buzz leads to customers, sales, and on and on. Even if you have a wonderful idea, it might fail with the wrong name.

I mean, imagine if Google had remained ‘Backscratch’ or Pepsi had stayed ‘Brad’s Drink’ (that one’s just creepy).

It might seem like a lot of effort, but a name is a huge part of branding. And in working it out, you’re doing a lot more heavy lifting on branding than it initially appears.

So, put in the work. It’ll save you work in the future, and help you decide who you are as a company.

Plus, if you’re working with a team you’ll come closer together on who you are as a business and who you want to sell to. The opportunities are endless! Set yourselves up for success, brand name first.

Need a professional brand name? Please get in contact with JUST Creative.

About the author: Grant Polachek is the head of branding for Squadhelp.com, 3X Inc 5000 startup and disruptive naming agency. Squadhelp has reviewed more than 1 million names and curated a collection of the best available names on the web today. We are also the world’s leading crowdsource naming platform, supporting clients such as Nestle, Dell, Nuskin, and AutoNation. 

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