While working with ad agencies early in my career, I got involved in projects related to branding. These projects would often involve identifying a name for a product/business and then concept testing it.
Brainstorming business names/brand names became my favourite part of this exercise and with time I got better at it. Since I was in client servicing/account management, there was also this unsaid competition with the creative team, and I worked towards consistently producing names that the creative team would appreciate and include in the concept testing.
During my time in advertising, exploring domain names and SEO while recommending brand names wasn’t a thing yet. But as I moved towards digital marketing I learnt about domains, exact match domains, various TLDs, SEO, etc., and today all these are key to review when finalizing a brand name.
In this blogpost, I will share everything I know about finding a name for a product/business, and I hope it helps you.
Is there a difference between a brand name and business name?
Yes, and to put it simply: Business name (or trade name) is for legal/tax purposes, while a brand name is for marketing purposes. Brand name is how your customers/audience know you For example - iPhone is a brand name owned by a business whose ‘business name’ is Apple Inc. (used to be Apple Computer Inc.) This article is intended to highlight and talk about the brand name specifically.
In most small businesses however, the business name and brand name are the same. Please note that in this article they have been used interchangeably. For a small business owner/entrepreneur/start-up founder, business name and brand name are usually the same.
Brand + Name = Brand name
This seems obvious (and it is) but it deserves a section. Most people looking for ‘a name for their business’ are essentially looking for a brand name. As you’ve seen in the previous section, there is a difference between the two.
Once you are aware that you need a brand name and not a business name things get clearer. Since brand name is for your target audience/customers, you should leverage it to connect with them. Your brand name can communicate your product/service category or the value proposition.
Branding (verb – action): Branding is essentially ‘perception hacking’. The process of intentionally shaping how your company’s products and services are perceived.
And since the name is part of your business branding, you need to be careful on how it is perceived. That’s the reason ad agencies conduct concept testing to check if the brand personality aligns with the options of names before concluding on one.
Interesting, but does a brand name really matter?
It depends. Marketing is not so binary (thank goodness).
Your target audience and the competition in your industry determine if the name really matters.
Here is an example - a local landscaping company and a meditation app. Where do you think brand name is more important?
If the local landscaping company is operating in a small town, a basic brand name like ‘name of the town’+’landscaping’ should be good. Here, I assumed there isn’t a lot of competition in the market and therefore brand name wouldn’t matter as much.
In a large town/big city however, a basic name won’t do. There are hundreds of players in the market and a basic name might not attract attention. An effective brand name is one that stands out, and clearly speaks to the consumer / user.
Let’s now focus on the meditation app. This is a digital product and the competition is fierce - there are over 2500 meditation apps available. You definitely need a brand name that is a) unique b) communicates the app’s benefit c) easy to remember. ‘Calm’ for example is a great name for a meditation app.
I hope you’ve got an idea of when and where brand names really matter. Since most of my work is around digital products, I will explain my brand name process using the meditation app as an example, later in this post.
What should a good brand name communicate?
My first entrepreneurial venture was into ethnographic / research filmmaking. It was in 2012 and I named it ‘Research Frames’. Getting the domain ‘researchframes.com' (not with me anymore) was like icing on the cake. This brand name conveyed to my target audience that the business is related to research and photography / videography.
Similarly, the name AirBnB does a great job of explaining what the service is about.
But iMac doesn’t say it is a computer/desktop, nor does Adidas say it is a sports apparel manufacturer? That’s because these companies have spent billions of dollars on advertising and establishing what their brand name stands for. Even if you have all the advertising budgets in the world, I will still suggest going for a clear brand name.
What are some of the potential names you can generate by using these naming rules?
Finding the domain name:
You have a brand name in your mind and it communicates the essence/value proposition of business/brand quite well, should you just run with it?
Once again it depends.
I have seen most founders/business owners get too attached to the domain name. The domain name is certainly important but not always, please see below when the domain name really matters:
If you are convinced that the domain name is important, you’ll need to secure a good domain name for your brand/business. A good domain name is:
Unique: If ‘ABC Cafe’ is a potential name for your cafe, you might want to check:
Short: The shorter your domain name, the easier it is to remember (mostly). The short and simple domain names are generally hard to get, and they get auctioned for thousands of dollars! That being said however, you can always find a work around and not pay thousands of dollars (if you don’t want to).
ABCcafe.com for example, is available but is selling for $5000. If you don’t want to spend that kind of money on the domain, you can go for ABCcafe.co or ABCcafe.ca (if you are in Canada). In case you really want a .com domain, you can make it ABCcafeTO.com (TO for Toronto) or ABCcafeUK.com (some abbreviation for the city or country might be a good idea in this case).
What comes first domain or the brand name?
The name in most cases, but there have been times when I would change/tweak the brand name if I was unable to get a good domain.
A sneak peek into my 7 step naming process:
I enjoy working on branding / rebranding projects where I need to figure out a business name or brand name. Let me share my naming process with an example of a meditation app:
Most of these words are synonyms of peace, as I believe that is the key benefit / value proposition of the app. You need to come up with as many names as you can, please don’t analyze at this stage.
You can similarly use other words from step 2 and come up with a good list of possible names.
That is my process and it has served me well over the years. I hope this helps you coming up with a great brand name/business name .
1) Your first 10-15 names are generally not the best ones. Don’t stop there, this is a common mistake I see when brainstorming with clients.
2) Alliteration is great! Names like Coca-Cola and PayPal that start with the same consonant are desirable.
3) If you are in the food business, and struggling to come up with a name - adding the word ‘Grandma’ in the name can help at times.
Recently finished reading the book 'The Brand Gap' by Marty Neumeier and the book had some great insights on brand and brand name. I really liked the seven criteria of a good name by the author:
E.g. Smuckers - distinctive, short, spellable, pronounceable, likable, portable, and protectable.
A couple of quotes I liked on brand name:
It is so unbelievably rare these days for a business to be meaningfully differentiated through its technology, or even its UX, alone. Emily Hayward Context switching is the enemy # 1 to high-quality work. And I've observed that most of it happens in the browser. For the last couple of years I've been trying to […]
I've worked with several founders over the years as a product/marketing strategist. Though these projects were spread across different industries and geographies, most of them had a common problem - the founder's fear of branding. From my experience, most founders are intimidated by branding. They'll keep branding for the end - mostly reduced to a […]