The dos and don'ts of naming your startup
A great company name can have a powerful impact on your brand. Siegel+Gale’s group director Aaron Hall attests that the right name can elevate you, while the wrong name can be a PR nightmare.
A powerful name can set the tone for your brand / Patrick Perkins via Unsplash
You did it! You decided to create a company to sell your expertly crafted kitchen cutlery. You have the product; now for the name. Culinary Cutter? Blades Bae?
Choosing a name for a startup typically starts with a brainstorming activity that may not even feel like work – until you get into the thick of it and need to make tough decisions you didn’t anticipate. For example, what if your preferred URL is already taken, or another company has already chosen the same name?
If bladesbae.com is already taken, you might consider bladesbae.kitchen, bladesbae.company or bladesbae.world.
These domains open up other ways to establish your brand, using both sides of the dot. They’re short and memorable, making it very clear what the company does, but they can also make the brand more identifiable.
Whether you’re already dealing with naming challenges or just getting started, here are some strategies to consider – and pitfalls to avoid – to develop a successful brand quickly, making it synonymous with a lifestyle or activity.
Start by defining your brand strategy
One mistake people make in naming their new business is not spending enough time answering foundational questions about their vision for the company. What kind of company are you? What makes you different from businesses offering similar products or services? Who is your audience?
Answering these questions will collectively define your mission statement. The more clearly you define who you are, the easier it will be to refine your choices.
Don’t overcomplicate it: 3 pitfalls
Three main culprits tend to add unnecessary complexity to the naming process.
First, involving too many people: while it’s nice to make every stakeholder feel involved, it becomes challenging to manage. Don’t ask friends or family members for ideas. While they might be clever, they won’t necessarily align with your vision.
Second, thinking you need 100% agreement. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that everyone must love the name before you progress. If you and half of your team like Blades Bae, but the other half likes Culinary Cutter, keep them both in the mix, move on, and come back to it later.
Third, overthinking it. Companies with existing brands looking to create a sub-brand often fall down here. Netflix learned this the hard way. When they decided to split their business model into two separate brands (one for streaming and one for DVD rentals), they felt the need to come up with a flashy new name for the DVD rental business: Qwikster. After tons of negative feedback and press over the clunky name, they decided to keep everything under the Netflix name.
Focus on what works
Naming strategies often involve using a process of elimination. Over the past 53+ years helping clients with their naming and branding initiatives (we designed the NBA’s logo and the IRS’ 1040 E-Z filing form) we’ve found a better alternative: focus on words that work.
It may seem like a subtle difference, but the results are significant. Focusing on what a particular word accomplishes is more actionable and helps move the process in the right direction. The weaker names fall by the wayside naturally.
Don’t get hung up on a ‘.com’ domain
When searching for a company domain, it’s common to look for a fit ending in .com. But many excellent top-level domains (TLDs) are available like .org and .edu.
Domain providers like TrueName offer nearly 300 top-level domains, including .studio, .solutions, .style, .games, and .life. Besides enabling a company to describe more succinctly what it does, these descriptive domains are SEO friendly; Google doesn’t discriminate between domains.
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Choose a complementary logo
Once you have your company name and domain, you’re ready to create a logo. This is another important touchpoint that lets prospective customers know who you are.
Amazon’s logo is an excellent example of how a logo can complement a company’s name. It’s simple: an arrow that’s curved like a smile. And if you look more closely, you’ll notice the smile begins at the letter A and ends at the letter Z; hinting that Amazon sells everything from A to Z.
Keep it simple
Keep in mind that the word(s) you choose for your name and logo aren’t your company. These things make up your brand, but they’re not the only or most important aspect of your business. Choose a name with a simple hook that cuts through and allows you to tell a great brand story to which your audience can relate.
Aaron Hall is group director at Siegel+Gale. He’s been creatively naming companies, products and beyond for 20 years, for brands like Alphabet, Microsoft, HP & HPE, LeapFrog, Logitech, and McDonald’s.
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