A question I get asked a lot by new business owners and even brand leaders is, "Where do I start when naming my company?" It is understandable that many new business owners, even those who have named a few companies before, are scared at the start of the naming process.
It's easy to get stuck in a rut of believing only one type of name, like something short and modern, will do. It's also easy to find bad advice about naming, offering shortcuts and tips and tricks that just won't work for most businesses.
Even after more than 30,000 naming projects with Squadhelp, my answer to the all-important question remains simple: I ask them who they want to be when they grow up. Or rather, what they want their business to be. Let's look into what that means.
Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?
Asking who you (or your business) want to be in the future means taking a wide-angle view. What are your main business aims? Who are you trying to attract as customers? What other brands have inspired you? How do you want to position your brand? Can you imagine what your future storefront or website will look like? This is all part of taking a 10,000-foot view. And it can be really tough when you're starting a business and you are spending a lot of time on the details.
The 10,000-Foot View
A parable we use a lot at Squadhelp is the pizza shop entrepreneur. You're starting your pizzeria, and you're spending hours, morning and night, thinking about the details of your business. You're investing countless hours in determining the perfect amount of oregano for your sauce. To name a business, you have to take a huge step away from the standard detail-oriented aspects of launching.
You must start with a wide-angle, 10,000-foot view and then zoom in. Thinking about a business from this perspective is a little like abstract art. Abstract art is made to leave an abstract impression, even a general feeling. It is not designed to depict a detailed sense or convey a concrete concept. Just like art, the brand dialogue begins with feeling and big ideas. Compare Wassily Kandinsky's Composition X, Piet Mondrian's Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow, and Jackson Pollock's Convergence. You'll see just what we mean.
When we get into feeling, we begin to think about name types. Some of the most popular are: Preeminent, solution-focused, modern, playful, and emotionally powerful. In fact, I've found that 80 to 90 percent of business names fit into one of these naming categories.
An emotional name elicits feelings in your audience: The Honest Company is a great example. A solution-focused name might simply say what makes your startup unique: QuickPay and PayPal are both fantastic solution-focused names. This, as you can probably see, is where we're really starting to zoom in.
Zooming In to Building Blocks
Building blocks are still "big ideas," but they're not visible from that 10,000-feet view. They're nuanced. They're words, ideas, and concepts that are connected to your brand and help you brainstorm what is unique about it. Apple, for example, has always put human experience and functionality at the core of what they do. Apples have been part of being a person for millennia: They are tied to both myth and the day-to-day, the epitome of the human experience. In this way, an apple is a great symbol for the core focus of the company.
So in naming, what you're looking for is your brand's version of what human experience is to Apple. When you discover what you want to convey at the center of everything you do, you can then move on to determining how you want to convey it.
So what makes you unique? Why is your pizzeria the best pizzeria in town? Maybe it is that oregano-heavy sauce. Maybe the story of the hours spent trying to recreate your grandmother's recipe for the oregano-infused sauce is the story that defines your company. In that case, you'll want a story-driven name.
If the story root isn't for you, perhaps the simplicity of your business idea is your unique selling point (USP). If you can easily summarize your business and what it does in one sentence, then try to boil that down to a name. Dollar Shave Club? I mean, that's literally a description of a service. And it works.
How to Make It Happen
But how do you know what abstract concepts to align your brand with? What naming style to pick? And what building block to, well, build from? You can, of course, employ business consultants, planners, official surveys, and audience research. This is certainly a great option.
But realistically, most entrepreneurs and brand leaders can't stretch to these. In this case, keep in mind that brand decisions are an extension of your business plan.
Then turn to some of these resources:
- Your experience in the industry (hopefully you have at least some).
- Conversations that you've had with real potential customers (even if you haven't conducted rigorous and official research, you should definitely take the time to speak with real people within your target demographic to see how they are responding to your ideas).
- A trusted mentor who has gone through the process before.
Finally, bear in mind that this won't be a quick and simple process. You should be writing everything down as you go, and inviting input from your team and trusted friends in business. Even after 30,000 naming projects, my team and I are still learning. Every naming process is unique, just like every brand is unique.