Brand name basics: guidelines for success

The United States boasts 24 million companies, and every year that number goes up by 6 million. Due to the sheer volume of in-use names alone, developing a unique brand name often takes hours of work and multiple trips to the drawing board. But it’s the first impression customers have of your business or product, and arguably one of the most important decisions you’ll make as a business owner.

There’s no surefire formula for developing this huge piece of your company, but there are multiple things to keep in mind.

Things to remember when brainstorming

You might be gifted with an epiphany while driving down the road, coming up with a brand name that fits perfectly. But most likely, you’re going to have to put some effort into it. The brainstorming process is different for everyone, but keep these key points in mind.

Keep it short. Names consisting of just one or two words stick in customers’ minds and streamline the entire branding process, from securing a domain name to creating a logo.

Make it flexible. Even if you’re currently selling just one product or service, avoid pigeonholing yourself. Amazon started as an online bookstore, and could have branded itself that way, but Bezos kept his future wide open.

Understand brand name “types”. There are endless ways to name a brand, but certain categories of names stand out while remaining easy to work with. These include, with examples:

  • Named after a person: 20th Century Fox, founded by William Fox
  • A description of services/products: Toys R Us
  • A description of an experience: Sprint
  • Wordplay: Krazy Glue
  • Made-up words: Verizon
  • Repurposed words: Apple

Other options include acronyms (IBM) and regional names (Southwest Airlines), but both require extensive marketing to get your message and brand out there and grow your company. While it’s certainly not impossible to make these types of names work, prepare yourself for the added time and effort.

Creating a short list

Have a good list of ideas? Time to weed out the losers. If the brand name doesn’t meet all of the following criteria, toss it:

Unique. Obviously, you can’t name your company the name of an existing company, but is the name a bit too close to something else out there? If it is, cross it off.

Evocative or suggestive of your services. The brand name doesn’t have to spell out what you do, but customers should instantly get it when introduced to your business. Poll people you know to get a sense of how well the name fits what you do.

Easy to recall. You want customers to remember your brand, and there are two types of names that they remember best: something that creates a strong image in their head (think Nike), or a name consisting of real words that flow easily off the tongue (General Motors).

Nailing down details

When you have a short list, it’s time to delve into the practical aspects of branding. Follow this checklist to come up with the final contenders (or discover that it’s time to go back to the drawing board):

  • Run the name through the US Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Electronic Search System to see if it’s already in use
  • Research domain name availability, sticking to .com and .org domains – these are viewed as the most legitimate by consumers
  • Look at every social media platform you may use now and in the future, verifying that your brand name is available
  • Type your brand name into search engines to find out if someone is already using it, sans trademark

Merge creativity with practicality, and you’ll develop a brand name that sets you up for success.


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