Naming a Business
Starting a business is an exciting time and comes with a host of responsibilities. Start-up checklists are extensive and often require significant research to determine the best methods to address each situation. Who’s the competition, what’s the market saturation, where is the best (affordable) location? Entrepreneurs often fret over logos, images and presentation along with a host of other details as they get started, but in many cases they leave one of the most relevant decisions as an afterthought – the business name.
A relevant truth about naming your business is that it has significant implications in several areas and along the life of the business. Names are powerful instruments in business and often depict cost and revenues. Consider this, the more a name is aligned with what a business does the less marketing necessary to convey the message. Any vagueness means the message becomes filtered by all other aligned products and services in the same genre. Consider the word “performance”; if you love fitness it speaks to your passion to train, if you like cars it means horsepower, if you like money it means productivity. Typing in performance in a web search brings up a range from ED medicine to drag car pipes.
Therefore, the name must have alignment with what people think or feel. It has to connect in a certain way with the end-user or customer. It has to be understood and not interpreted incorrectly. The wrong name may confuse and even offend potential customers. All too often people have a particular name that they like for whatever reason and become over attached regardless of the business logic. Sometimes it is a matter of perceived self-actualization – which explains the use of a person’s name in a business title.
This is a major consideration; using one’s name comes with some future implications. First and surnames make it difficult to sell the business once it is established. Secondly, if any negativity is associated with the name or individual it can ruin a business reputation. Tommy Lee’s towing for instance would likely take a hit if Tommy Lee made the local newspaper because he was charged with a DUI. Likewise selling Tina Taylor’s Chef Services may be difficult to a Bob Jones who would have been a potential buyer. When all of these components come together it is even more confusing. Consider Bill and Frank’s Performance Center; what does the name convey and is Bill and/or Frank a strong enough selling point? In this case, it would likely confuse customers as to the products or services, fails to say much about the people (who one would assume are the owner-operators), and potentially makes sales very challenging.
Now if a name is what’s being sold due to significant reputation or status that may be a different consideration. Michael Kors seems to be doing just fine, but that is the exception rather than the rule. Artists and designers tend to sell on reputation.
When coming up with a business name there are some key questions to ask yourself:
What do I want the name to convey?
Does the name let people know what goods and services are provided, what they can find at the store or business, or present a specific image? For example Fresh Market and Whole Foods provide an expectation of food quality.
Who do I want the name to resonate with the most?
If there is a target market it would make sense that the name best addresses the intended customer. Hard-Core or Extreme Fitness would not be an ideal name for a family-oriented location or program. Whereas the Active Aging Fitness Center would certainly speak to older adults – it would not have the same impact as a youth development center. In some cases conceptual branding affects how people think about certain words or phrases.
What could be associated with the name?
Certain letters (X), colors (black and red), and words are interpreted differently often due to association. Likewise, a negative connotation may be interpreted by some consumers which may limit marketing penetration.
Does it sound good when stated out loud?
Jimmy Johns is an example of a name whose reputation was enough to expand beyond start-up. Effective names often include alliterations or have a given rhythm to make them easy to remember. The name should flow off the tongue. Names that are not phonetically easy to pronounce are exchanged for other words or terms to represent the business. This causes an infrequency of use which can negatively impact word of mouth branding.
Is there an acronym for it that is marketable?
Buffalo Wild Wings is a name that clearly conveys what they do, but the restaurant chain has taken it one step further becoming culturally branded as B-dubs – both easy to remember and easy to say. The fitness industry is riddled with an alphabet soup of acronyms but none-the-less people prefer shortened versions when applicable.
Does the name express a specific benefit, value, or opportunity?
The name Quicky Car Wash may not be spelled correctly but easily conveys a message to consumers. Your car will be cleaned quickly – suggesting a time-savings opportunity. One Stop Auto Parts sends a message of car care completeness – everything you need is in one place – again saving you from having to go to different places and waste time.
Is it too specific or too generic?
Your Local Car Wash or Hand Car Wash both say something to a consumer but can you differentiate the concept from the location? While “Your Local Car Wash” clearly intends to make you feel part of the community it is does not differentiate anything. Similarly “Hand Car Wash” says what goes on at the location but does not identify any uniqueness or added value. With fitness facilities sometimes intent becomes too finite; consider The Cycling Gym and Kettlebell Corner – both tell a fitness enthusiast what the primary interest is within the facility but do not convey anything else. To a less-educated consumer looking to work out, the names may present an obstacle to further inquiry.
Can the name be trademarked?
One step in the naming process that many people fail to complete is checking to see if the name can be trademarked. Searching the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database will reveal if the selected name is already in use. If there’s a similar name registered, you may limit where you can use the name. Also check if the name of the company holding ownership is still active. If inactive it may be available and worth the cost to secure it.
Does the name market online?
Recently businesses have become creative with names and spelling variations, but it requires significant branding to be successful. Words that are intentionally spelled incorrectly, or those that are hard to spell, make searching the web a nightmare for consumers. Keep the words and the spelling easy as most people are not highly-literate. Flickr, Chick-Fil-A, Xpert, are all going to require higher branding dollars to ensure the consumer reaches the product. Once a name is selected check how it functions online. Most cost-effective marketing is done through the web both in organic and through pay-per-click programs, so it makes sense to ensure it is not overly-competitive or inundated with off products or services.
With all these things to consider it would seem coming up with a name is challenging. Well, it is – but here is an exercise that may help in the process. First write down what it is that you will produce, sell or service. Next make an exhaustive list of all the words that can align in some fashion with those items. The words may be nouns, verbs, adverbs, or adjectives. Next put together the four that most jump out at you. Arrange them in different orders and see what fits. Once you believe you have several good choices, order them differently on several sheets and give them to friends and family members – ask them to check their favorite and to write down what the name makes them think of when they read it. Do the same thing again to relative strangers. Once the survey is complete consolidate the responses. If one is a standout look it up online, search it in the State database and check it on the trademark registry. If it passes all these tests it is a likely fit for your business name.