What's in a business name?

In the not so distant past, a startup entrepreneur could slap together an adjective and a noun describing his or her business, do a trademark and business name search, and be ready to print business cards in no time.

These days, however, finding a name that differentiates your business in a crowded and fickle market is a huge challenge. Adding to the complication is the fact that in order to be found, your name has to be managed online, including search engines and social media.

As I continue to develop my startup idea for a unique craft brewery business model with my partners at Startup.SC, a South Carolina business incubator, I have continued to struggle with finding a name that is unique, powerful and conveys the culture of our business.

Although numerous brainstorming sessions with craft beer (for inspiration, of course) have yielded countless options, the challenge I (and other startup entrepreneurs) face is finding a name that fits these critical rules.

1. The 5-10 Rule. I once met a New York trademark attorney who insisted that the name of my first company, Wild Creations, was terrible. He explained that it was no accident that the greatest companies throughout history had names with no more than ten letters, at least one hard consonant, and often a repeating letter. I was not long after that insight that I started noticing this naming convention everywhere--Google, Yahoo, Apple, Exxon, Starbucks, Ford, Honda, Mobil, Cisco, Verizon, Hasbro, Mattel--the list goes on. There are exceptions of course, but having a short and recognizable name is critical, especially these days with your marketing messaged squeezed into 140-character tweets.

2. The DotCom Rule. Although there are countless domains in which you can secure a business name, such as .net, .co, .biz, and even .ninja, the overwhelming preference for consumers these days is to default to .com. While this will undoubtedly change over the coming years, in order to build brand recognition today, entrepreneurs need to consider a name in which they can secure a .com domain. And while iterations of a name may be possible (sta-rbucks.com, for instance), you want to make certain that your brand does not get confused with other companies.

3. The Social Media Rule. In addition to finding a good website domain, you need to look at securing your business name around the web, such as on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, etc. (there are hundreds). In addition to helping improve search engine optimization (SEO) organically, having these accounts is essential to protect the online reputation of your business. While you may not actively use these social media accounts, at least you assure that you own them before someone else does.

4. The Icon Rule. Today and in the future, customers are moving to mobile, consuming content and making purchases on smart devices. Real estate on these small screens is scarce, however, so it is important to consider how your business name and logo will appear. As well, while your business may never develop or use a mobile app, consumers have been conditioned to recognizing brands by their square app icons. Your name and logo should comfortably and recognizably fit into this format.

Naming a business is not something that should be taken lightly. With these few considerations, at least you will set a solid foundation for maneuvering the evolving mobile and social environments through which you will reach your customers.

Have more naming advice for entrepreneurs? Please share in the comments below!

Published on: Oct 3, 2014