A clear, memorable, and unique company name can make your business successful just as much as a bad name can break your marketing strategy. To help you choose one, we asked founders in our community at the University of Utah’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute and other businesses around Salt Lake City for advice. Here are their five steps you should take to create an optimal business name:
1. Make a Creative Brief
Sarah Kate Price, a co-founder of pajama company West of Breakfast and a graduate of the Master of Business Creation program at the David Eccles School of Business, recommends you start your process by defining your direction. Collect images, text, and colors that you associate with your company. Put these aspirations together in one place visually and then reduce your inspiration to what you feel best encompasses your company. “Look at the brand you want to build and the essence as a source of inspiration,” Price said.
Once you have sharpened your brief, make starter words that draw from these elements. Use recognizable words and spell your words phonetically to increase online accessibility. Keep in mind desired brand experiences, consumer insights you have received, the tone of your company voice, and themes you want to explore in your market.
Memorability is a determining factor in a good name according to Andrew Pignanelli, CEO and co-founder of Velvet, a marketplace for private equity funds. “If your employees say, ‘I work at Velvet,’ people should know which Velvet you are talking about,” Pignanelli said. Step away from your creative brief for a few hours and test your memory when you come back to see what stuck with you.
2. Use SEO to Your Advantage
Search your list of starter words to find associated places, song lyrics, or other popular pieces of media that you can play off of with your name. If your starter words don’t lead you to new ideas, use a name generator with key search words for your business. Find a balance between using popular trends to your advantage and falling back on business name templates. “Break out of formulas, like adding ‘& Co.,’ to cut through the white noise of the market,” Price said.
In addition to being memorable, it helps your company to be unique. “Having a novel name is valuable because we don’t have to compete for social media handles and website domains,” Price said. Look around on search engines to see what other company names already exist in your market and take similar names off of your list.
Know that most people will find your website through search engines. Even with a unique and memorable name you will need to make sure that your landing page uses key search words for SEO optimization so that when people search your company name it pulls to the first page of results. At the end of your search, check the traffic volume for your finalized ideas as compared to the SEO difficulty for those names.
3. Rank Your Top 10 Ideas
Narrow your list down to 10 names, get out your whiteboard, and audit your items one by one. Ask yourself as many questions as you can think of. Is it hard to spell? Is it restrictive to your offerings? Are there any images you can associate with it? Is it hard to pronounce? Do you have to explain what it means?
Ask others these questions as well. University of Utah student Sydney Ostendorf, founder of No Society Films and a student at the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, knew it was time to change her film production startup name based on other’s feedback. “Everyone kept repeating it back to me, like they weren’t sure they got it right,” she said.
Practice using the names that you came up with. Your name should be comfortable to say quickly over the phone and in casual conversation. It needs to blend with the language embedded in your brand voice. Looking at your final names, ask yourself what feels most natural to you. Ostendorf invites others not to discredit their intuition and to choose a name that you genuinely like. “My new name has meaning to me so I don’t think I will change it again,” she said.
4. Prepare to Protect Your Name
Once you have settled on your top name choice, check that you are able to get a website domain and social media handles with the same name. If those domains are unavailable, see if there are modifiers you can add simple modifiers to your name — like how Pignanelli added “fs” to velvetfs.com or the addition of “motors” to the original Tesla website, teslamotors.com.
Avoid the temptation to use your exact name with .io or .net domain extensions, which will hurt your brand memorability. Create evidence of the date you first started using these domains in case of a trademark claim against your company in the future.
Do research to see if you can get a trademark or service mark for the name and regularly look to see if other startups appear or already exist that could file a claim against you. “If you use any word in the dictionary it’s likely you’ll get a trademark threat,” Pignanelli said. Should you go into court, identify what will differentiate your startup’s business from its opposition before pursuing legal action.
Tami Steggell, founder of RubySnap bakery, pleads with businesses to check trademark laws for their state with a copyright lawyer. It is worth the money upfront to work with a lawyer to avoid running into costly issues later. In a copyright battle with national brand Philsbury, she lost $50,000 to hand over their former name without contest. “If you are serious about your business, it’s essential to protect your attachment to your name because that’s immediately your brand,” she said.
5. Know When to Rebrand
As important as it is to protect your brand, you may need to change your name to reflect the growth of your startup as it becomes a larger business. Continually recruit feedback on your name from your employees, your customers, and your business partners on your branding. If you feel that it is time for a change, don’t be afraid to take the leap. “If people like you they will stick around,” Steggell said, “community is a big part of your success as a business.”
If you are forced to change from a trademark claim, don’t act like a victim. Instead, tell your story as a sign of your company’s strength. Capitalize on the change as a chance to re-engage interest from your audience by promoting it on your social media with a reveal of your new name. As you transition, use a redirect from your old website to your new domain. “The good thing about competition is that it makes you smarter,” Steggell said. Make this an opportunity to further refine your product and differentiate your startup.