Choosing a business name is one of the first big tasks for any entrepreneur. You’ve decided to follow your dream, and you need a name to form your company.
We’ve all gone through the exercising of naming something – our pets, our kids, our toys – so what’s the right approach for naming our company?
At the minimum, you should perform some research to make sure that your name won’t potentially infringe on another’s trademark or service mark. How would you feel if your dream took off, and then you found that your brand couldn’t grow because someone else owned the rights to it in another territory? Or worse yet, what if you were forced to change it, and spend tens of thousands of dollars (if not more) to change your entire corporate identity?
Before you sign off on your incorporation documents, follow these 4 steps to save yourself some big potential headaches in the future.
Will you company name be the main brand promoted to the marketplace? Will it represent your product or service? Or might you offer numerous products and services, all under their own names?
This question will help you determine the importance of the marketability of your name. If your company name will represent your main brand, you’ll want to take extra steps to ensure that it’s the best fit to represent your brand, you can protect it, it’ll help cement your product or service in the marketplace, and that you’re not infringing on another company’s intellectual property rights.
For non-marketers, this can be a difficult step. There are 4 general categories of name types:
Descriptive names are what many businesspeople default to during brainstorming sessions. They describe exactly what you do. Examples: Jennifer Julian Design, Dental Associates Inc., Smith Construction Group.
The positives about descriptive names is that they help with your marketing in the early stages, because you don’t have to spend marketing efforts to tell people what you do. The negatives are that it’s harder to market descriptive names on the web, and more difficult to build strong brands using them.
Made-up names can be very powerful if done right, or they can be a total flop. Think of Google or Skype. The positive of a made-up name is that it’s easy to own, and very powerful if it catches on. The negatives are that it can cost a lot to promote the brand to the market, and it can be difficult if the product or service isn’t awesome. And it can fail miserably.
Experiential names are a derivation of descriptive names that are more benefit oriented. Think of Microsoft, Best Buy or Coffee Bean. They can be easy to understand and more memorable than descriptive names and create a more powerful connection with your market, but they can be hard to protect.
Often the most powerful type of name is a name that positions a company. Igor, a top naming company, says that this is the type of name that scares businesspeople the most, but it’s typically the best name for a brand. Think of Apple, Oracle, or Virgin. These names represent the brand’s philosophy, attitude and market position. They’re typically common names used in uncommon circumstances, which makes them easy to remember once the market is introduced to them.
Your company is your baby, so you want to own it and protect it. Start with an Internet search. What companies have similar names? It’s typically ok for a company in a different industry to have a very similar name, but if your name is already being used by someone in a similar area, it might be best to continue brainstorming.
You can also perform a trademark search, to see if any companies have been granted federal protection for the name. In the US, it’s at the USPTO.gov website.
Finally, nothing beat the advice of a good attorney. There can be conflicts that are difficult to uncover, and good legal counsel should perform the research to make sure you’re protected.
You’re about ready, but take this final step. Practice using the name for a few days – saying it aloud, typing it, and bouncing it off friends and colleagues. Does it get better or worse over time?
You may also wish to check to see if your name has any derogatory meanings in other languages. This is rare, but many have heard of the Chevy Nova urban legend – “no va” in Spanish means “doesn’t go” – a bad name for a car in Spanish-speaking countries.
Good luck! If you want more guidance, find it in the Naming section of our marketing planning app.
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