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This is the eight article in a series on how to start a company in 2020. See the previous article, Secure Intellectual Property.

“In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic.” — Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks

A name – and more importantly, a brand – gives life to a product and company. Everything in life has a perception about it. So will it be for your product and your company. A name is what you are called. A brand is the identity — the positioning and points of differentiation — that your name is known for. A distinctive name combined with a good branding strategy allows you to create an enduring impression about your product in the hearts and minds of your customers.

To win in the marketplace, it comes down to what people “feel” about your product, not what they “think” about your product. Your name does not have to appeal to everyone. Trying to promote a name that appeals to everyone is a bad strategy. Pick a name that you can build equity in and that you can defend from companies in the market and from potential squatters. Then build a brand around that name that communicates why you are a different and better choice than the other products in the market.

Things to Think About and Decide

First, think about making your company name and product name one in the same. It is very difficult (and expensive) for a startup to promote both a company name and a product name. Most people remember products, not companies (unless the companies are trusted and have been around for decades).

Second, think about how you can create an emotional attachment to your brand. How people feel about something trumps what they think about it.

Third, decide on a suggestive name or a descriptive name. Suggestive names are more memorable and more defensible. Can your product name suggest the experience people will have from using your product, or can it describe the chief function or benefit of the product?

Fourth, think about how your product creates a distinctive (not necessarily better) experience than that of competitive products. How might your name and reinforce this distinctive experience?

Fifth, think about whether your brand can “own” the terms (or meaning) that are used to search for it? People don’t find products by entering a URL in the web address field; they find products by entering a search term. What keywords will customers need to enter to find you on the web or in the app store?

Sixth, decide how best to build trademark rights in your brand and your domain name. Can your logo (visual identity) be clearly expressed as a 16×16 pixel icon in the web address bar? Think about how Facebook (f), Twitter (t), and LinkedIn (in) express their brands with simple, easy-to- identify, letters or symbols.

Things to Do (or not)

  • Research what names have become good brands — and why. Understand why some product names failed to resonate with customers.
  • Write a list of 20 adjectives that customers would use to describe your product.
  • Write a list of 10 competitor names and order them from favorite to least favorite.
  • Assemble a group of friends and associates who are also likely users of your product. View the adjectives and competitor names. Brainstorm a list of possible names that (1) evoke the qualities of your product, (2) can be spelled phonetically with less than four syllables and (3) have an appropriate domain name available.
  • Test the names you like and see if they are available. Checkout NameBoy and Domain Name Generator offered by most registrars.
  • Understand the visual connections your names have by testing them at Visual Thesaurus.
  • Conduct a Trademark Search to see if others have a similar name or mark.
  • Before you test the names publicly, register the domain names at your favorite registrar.
  • Pitch and test your name at UsabilityHub or  MTurk.
  • Run a mini ad campaign using the names on Google AdWords, Linkedin and/or Facebook to see what kind of draw they have. What are others paying to buy those keywords?
  • Once you settle on a name, have a graphic designer work on several graphical implementations. Check out UpWork and 99Designs.
  • Have the graphic designer deliver the logo in black and white, greyscale and color versions, as well as high-resolution and low- resolution formats for each as a EPS vector file and as a PNG file with a transparent background.
  • Test the comps using the same process as above.
  •  Develop a branding strategy around your name and logo.

Recommended Readings & Resources

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die Book by Dan and Chip Heath

Contagious: Why Things Catch On Book by Jonah Berger

WordLab, Online community dedicated to naming and branding.

RhymeZone, Rhyming dictionary and thesaurus.

Igor Naming Guide, Everything you’ve always wanted to know about naming companies, products and services.

The Name Inspector, 10 company name types on TechCrunch: Pros and cons.

How to Name Your Startup, by Sam Shank, CEO and Co-Founder at HotelTonight

Advanced Tips on Naming a Business 5 Tips for Name Storming

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Stay tuned for Step 9, Outsource Ancillary Functions

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Post Author: Michael ODonnell