Coming up with a name for your brand is tough.

You're essentially shaping the entire identity of your brand with a single decision. It's like naming a child: it's going to stick with your business for the rest of its life.

This significant decision should not be made instantly, lightly, or with reckless abandon.

Here is my advice.

1. Clarity: Don't send mixed messages.

The sound and feel of your brand name should suggest what the brand is all about.

For example, if your brand name is NomNom, this suggests food. NomNom should not be the name of a financial services SaaS. That would be confusing, and unencouraging.

To achieve clarity, assemble a list of the relevant buzzwords in your industry or niche. If you are creating a finance SaaS, you might have a list that includes "numbers," "spreadsheets," "accounting," or "books."

A hodgepodge of relevant words will trigger your brain to come up with a relevant name. Maybe this is how Freshbooks came up with their name.

2. Descriptive: Make the name sell the brand's identity.

Just as the brand name should have clarity, it should also be descriptive. The name should describe the business's industry, attitude, approach, and goals.

This doesn't mean that your brand name should list the product or service. Instead, it should capture the essence, the experience, and the benefits of the brand in an oblique or suggestive way.

Amazon, for example, chose a name that connotes massive growth and all-encompassing service. My brand, Quicksprout, suggests rapid growth.

3. Memorable: It needs to be easy to remember.

The human brain is notoriously bad at remembering names. Why? The brain stores names in its short-term or working memory. In ordinary life, our working memory can be likened to our desktop. It keeps the information we are working on active and present for a time, but have too many windows open, and the system starts to crash.

The downside of working memory is that we can't keep track of everything at once, so, we forget things.

To be memorable, a brand name should counteract the brain's easy-in-easy-out tendency. How do you do this? By anchoring the brand name to another feeling, attitude, or sensation.

There are different types of memory. If your brand name can stimulate two types of memory--say, a physical sensation and an emotional memory-- then the brain is more likely to remember it.

Here are some suggestions for creating a memorable brand name:

  • Make it short (discussed below).
  • Make it unique (discussed below).
  • Use familiar words or sounds.

4. Short: It needs to be easy to remember (part 2).

One of the most-cited papers in psychology has this casual title: "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two."

The researchers claim that the brain can't juggle a lot of information at one time. Although the brain's ultimate capacity is virtually unlimited, it still faces challenges in storing, processing, and retaining select bits of information simultaneously.

Don't burden the brain with too much information. A brief brand name boosts memorability, fluidity of speech, and catchiness.

Uber, IBM, Buffer, Apple--brevity is a beauty.

5. Simple: Make it easy to spell.

Don't try to be cute by creating a brand name that is a misspelling of a common word. This will only confuse people and evoke bad memories of unpleasant spelling bees.

There is some wiggle room here. If your misspelling is so drastic that you essentially create a new word, that might be ok.

Hipmunk, for example, is a brand name that slaughters spelling, but violate expectation or conventional grammar. (See what I did there?)

6. Trendy(ish): Don't follow outdated suggestions

A brand name must have a trendy vibe if it's going to connect with trendy people. And yet, you don't want to veer too far in that direction.

Why not? Because a brand name that's trendy today might be completely outdated tomorrow. You want to have a name that will endure the next five years.

Outmoded advice for brand name creation includes identifying available domain names and choosing your brand name based on that. This just isn't as important as it once was, particularly due to the advances of SEO and brand signals.

You should still pick your domain name strategically, but don't weaken your brand name based on domain name availability.

7. Unique: Yes, it has to be unique.

There are tenable neurological reasons why your brand name should be unique. As long as it's not too wildly off-the-wall, a unique brand name can stick in people's minds like a burr on a hiking sock.

Yet the business reasons for a unique brand name are even more compelling. When a business enters the market place, it competes for a mindshare among the target audience. If it fails to catch their attention, it's doomed.

Furthermore, as brand signals increase in the digital marketing space, the brand's very existence depends on its unique identity.

You won't rise in ranking and be found by search engines if you choose a plain-vanilla word like "spark," or "hammer." You must differentiate yourself by creating an entirely new word or combination of words that doesn't break the cardinal rules of Simple, Short, and Memorable.

8. Appealing: The brand name should connect with your target audience.

To say that a brand name should be "appealing" is pretty simple advice. Obviously, right?

Here's why I introduce it: a brand name should not merely be "appealing" overall (that's difficult to accomplish), but rather it should be appealing in particular to the brand's target audience.

Thus, to come up with the perfect brand name, you should first consider who it is you're trying to reach. What is their language? Their style? Their age? Their income? Their education? Their level of sophistication? Their interest? Their religious outlook? Their brand preference?

Take the brand VineMofo. This brand zeros in on the millennial, progressive, hipster population; they are not targeting baby boomer wine connoisseurs, not with a brand name like that.

I recommend not choosing a rudimentary, standard vocabulary word. Uber can be forgiven because it's not a common word. Apple can be forgiven, because they are, well, huge.

Make up your own word a la portmanteau.

Your brand name is a product itself. You have to sell it. It communicates the value, the purpose, and the identity of your business. When you can successfully connect the dots between your audience and your brand name, then you will achieve true appeal.

9. Enduring: More than just your own name

It would be nice if your brand were to outlive you. A brand can have a revolutionary effect on a generation. When that brand is inextricably tied to a single individual, it is less likely to do so.

With all due respect to Walt Disney, I suggest choosing a name that can endure alongside you, apart from you, and long after you are gone.

Conclusion

When you pick a name, stick with it. There comes a time in every startup's life when they face an identity crisis: a shift in product, marketing, awareness, strategy, or some other fundamental aspect of the business.

You might change your branding, tweak your logo, and shift your approach, but try not to change the name of the business. This creates massive unease.

For this reason, pick a brand name you love--in addition to satisfying all the requirements above. The name should remind you of why you started your business, and transmit communicate that excitement to your audience.

How did you choose your brand's name?

Published on: Dec 10, 2015