How to Come up with a Brand Name
What are the first steps of starting a business? Obviously, first off, you need a concept or product. Without an idea to monetize, you have no foundation to build on.
Coming up with a name.
The name of your brand can make or break your business. A brand name represents who you are, what you create, and your value.
A bad brand name can affect the perceived value of your business and drive traffic away.
Choosing a brand name can be incredibly stressful. You want one that is specific, but not too limiting; catchy, but not cheesy; and modern, but not perishable. Once you pick a brand name, you’re kind of stuck with it. Of course, you can rebrand if absolutely necessary, but that is a frustrating and expensive process.
If you can choose a good one from the get-go, you’ll have a leg up when building your business.
No pressure, right?
Since I’m all about helping you make good business decisions and growing your portfolio, it’s only natural that I help you take those first steps.
Here are my tips for brainstorming, narrowing down, and ultimately choosing the perfect brand name.
Pick Your Keywords
Your keywords will help you figure out a brand name, as your brand name should be related to the products or services you want to sell. It’s even better for your business if your brand name includes a keyword for your main product.
Once you have a product, you’ll want to think about how people will find it. Unless you’re planning on distributing exclusively to brick-and-mortar stores, you’ll need to assign keywords to your product for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.
If you’re selling T-shirts, you’ll want keywords like “shirts,” “tees,” “tops,” and “T-shirts.” If you’re selling a new fitness program, you’ll want words like “fitness,” “fitness program,” “health,” “wellness,” and “exercise.” These keywords will factor into your page titles, slugs, copy, and meta-data.
Of course, if you have come up with a name for your product, like Frank’s Fat Finisher, you can include those words in your list. But you’ll want general words when you are building recognition, as people won’t be searching for your product directly.
So, if you’re selling Frank’s Fat Finishers (and you don’t want that to be your brand name), you might want to go with something like Frank’s Fitness.
If you go with strong keywords, make sure they are also brandable and have growth potential. Don’t just rely on words that will be useful for SEO, as those words aren’t always the most practical for marketing purposes. “Shirts” and “shorts” may be good keywords to rank for, but they are pretty bland brand names.
Brainstorm, Brainstorm, Brainstorm
Whether you do this alone or with your business partners, you need to sit down and start tossing ideas out there. It doesn’t matter if they are brilliant, stupid, or not at all related to your business; you need to get the creative juices flowing somehow.
Just like you created a list of keywords that will help your business get noticed, make a list of some names that you think could represent your products and your brand. Try to keep in mind that you will design everything for your business around that brand, and that it will grow and evolve over time. There really aren’t any “rules” when it comes to naming things, though you might want to shy away from anything political or obscene, unless it is absolutely essential to your brand.
Good brand names, however, do have some characteristics in common:
Your brand name has to be unmistakably yours. If you have a liquor store, don’t brand yourself as a coffee place. JavaStop doesn’t sound like somewhere you can get a beer, it sounds like a place where you can get a drink pre-5 p.m.
Clarity comes back to keywords. People looking for a place to get coffee are going to stumble across your bar and be very confused. Worst of all, they won’t buy anything from you.
So while you might get some traffic to your site, it will be useless.
Using words that clearly relate to your business ensures that you are transparent about what you provide, which will help make sure that customers know what they are getting.
To build awareness of and recognition for your brand, people have to be able to remember your name. The human memory is a fickle thing. We tend to forget things that we don’t deem absolutely essential — and even then we might forget them.
Luckily, there are tricks to making things stick in someone’s brain. A tried-and-true one is making your name activate a feeling, memory, or sensation that is already there.
By using words that are both familiar and unique to a certain emotion or physical sensation, your name will be more likely to appeal to your customer and stay in their mind, as it now has a memory to associate with.
Did Hershey need to name those teardrop chocolates Kisses? They could have named them Hershey’s Teardrops. Except when you think of tears, you think of sadness. When you think of kisses, you maybe think of your significant other, or your first kiss. Happy memories and sweet things, just like the chocolate.
They’re Short and Simple
Another fun fact about the human memory is that it’s relatively short term. We’ve known for about 50 years that the brain can only remember about seven items at a time. So it’s best not to overload your audience with a sentence-long brand name.
Think of the big brand names out there: Apple, Coca-Cola, Amazon, Starbucks. Many of the most well-known brands are only one or two words long.
These brand names are also simple. They are easy to spell, say, and incorporate into a logo. While it may seem unique and innovative to use a misspelled word as your brand name, it will likely just confuse people.
There are some exceptions, like Froot Loops or Toys “R” Us, or brands that leave off a letter, like Flickr or Tumblr. If you must misspell your brand name, make it deliberate and understandable. If your brand name is Frank’s Fitnes, people might just think you’re stupid or that your graphic designer made an error. And if you create a new word entirely, make sure it is easy to spell, pronounce, and remember.
From its inception, your products and brand must have a target audience. You can’t just advertise to the planet Earth; even Coca-Cola has a target market.
We’re not saying that you need to do extensive market research before choosing a brand name (though I can’t imagine it would hurt), but you should think about who your ideal customers are and what appeals to them.
For example, if you have created a product for young adults, you’re going to want to name your brand something that speaks to them in the kind of language they use. Millennials and Generation Z have grown up in a text-friendly world, where short and sweet is the norm. So your brand name will want to be short (obviously), but also fun to say.
Venmo is a new, popular app among young adults that lets you transfer funds to others with the added benefit of social interactions. The brand name is short — one word, two syllables — abbreviated, and has the added benefit of being able to be used as a verb.
When someone first said to me, “I’ll venmo you for parking,” I was so confused. Now, I use it all the time, because the app is convenient and it’s easier to say than “I’ll transfer you the money.”
The same goes for Snapchatting and Googling. Both brands have become such staples that their names are used as verbs. If you can come up with a brand name that makes sense in this way (it’s called a gerund, FYI), you’ve just added a great opportunity for free marketing.
Dropping parts of a word, or just a couple letters, will be more appealing to a younger audience than an older one. Using foreign words is more appropriate for a worldwide audience rather than a rural American audience. Understanding the preferences of your customers will help you figure out the best way to present yourself.
It’s hard to predict what will happen in the future and what words will become taboo. ISIS chocolates sure didn’t know a terrorist group would start posting horrific videos on YouTube under the name ISIS, and Ayds appetite-suppressant candy had no idea that an autoimmune disease with the same pronunciation would become an epidemic.
Nevertheless, you want to aim to have a name that will endure for many years. Maybe even throughout a lifetime. Coca-Cola has been a trusted brand for 120 years and doesn’t show signs of stopping. The great thing about their name is that it’s relatively neutral. While the words originally stood for the plants used in its creation, Coca-Cola was able to grow their brand recognition past the relevance of the terms. So even when coca and kola nuts stopped being used in the soda’s production, the word survived being solely associated with the plants.
My best advice for creating a timeless brand name is to not rely on current trends, fads, or phrases. Choose something that has the potential to outlive its origin and become its own entity.
If you start a clothing line called On Fleek Fashion, you’re putting an expiration date on your business. “On Fleek,” as a slang term used by the younger generation, is already on its way out in coolness. As soon as that phrase becomes outdated and lame, so does your brand. Would you put “for shizzle” in anything associated with your business?
This goes without saying, honestly. Your brand name has to be unique, or your business won’t even get off the ground.
You can’t copy anyone else, or pick anything generic, because it will just get lost in the millions of pages of Google.
If you can make up a new word, do it. If you can choose something personal, go for it. Whatever you can think of that no one else has heard of, the better.
Narrow Down the Brand Names
Once you have a good, long list of options, you’ll have to start making cuts.
If you have several names that are similar, perhaps only differing in spelling, now is the time to make your choice between them. Flicker or Flickr or Flikr? Which one looks the best, fits with your brand’s audience, and is unique enough?
You’ll also want to check which of your options are currently available, both as a brand name and as a domain name.
I mentioned that keywords are important for branding and marketing, but a lot of people think SEO is the king of all things. While it would seem as though getting your hands on an exact match domain name would be a brilliant move for your business, “Best Jeans for Moms” isn’t exactly an evocative name for your brand. Plus, Google has been cracking down on gimmicky sites for the last few years, so it’s not a great idea to try and make it work now.
You can easily check the availability of your potential names by doing a quick Google search, but there are also apps to check on the availability of certain domains. Shopify has a search, and there’s even an EMD site called Instant Domain Search with the exact service it promises. (I guess there are always going to be exceptions.)
After eliminating similar names and checking availability, you should have a lot fewer options than before. If you’re not down to between five and 10 names, you’re going to have to start making the hard cuts.
Consider every good name factor I mentioned above, as well as which brand name will help your business grow the most. If your options don’t fit every single criteria, throw them in the trash.
Your goal is to have less than five options by the end of the reaping. It’s going to be a bloody affair, but your business with thank you.
After spending an inordinate amount of time mulling over your options, it’s time to let go and give the power to the people.
The easy way to do this is to list out the options on your Facebook page, Twitter account, or blog, and have your friends and followers give you feedback. If there is an overwhelming response for one of them, you know which you should go with.
The more business-savvy strategy is to test out your options on your target market. Conduct an A/B test of your options and see which one gets the most traction. You can do this by signing up for Leadpages, creating identical landing pages for the possible names, and sending them out into the world. You can use Facebook Ads or Twitter to run your test, depending on where your target market is.
After a few days (or weeks — it’s good to be patient), you should have enough data to decide which brand name will get the most attention. While there’s no guarantee the data will accurately predict the success of your business, they will give you an idea of how strong your concept is.
The Big Decision
The testing data should make your decision pretty clear, but it’s also understandable if the results aren’t what you wanted or were expecting. You may have a personal connection or preference for one that keeps you from tossing it.
We’re not going to tell you to ignore your gut feeling, because sometimes it will work out in your favor.
Your brand name should be one that is right for you and your business. One that can grow and expand as you find new things to create and market.
So, if you’ve done all this and still can’t make a decision, don’t rush it. Great work takes time, and you don’t want to be pressured into making such an important decision for your business.
But when you do finally choose a name, be prepared to fully commit to it.
Full Speed Ahead
Before your snazzy new brand name makes its debut, there are many more decisions to make. The hard part is far from over.
Next, you’ll have to decide on graphics, fonts, site designs, packaging, slogans, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Feeling overwhelmed yet?
Don’t worry. Brainstorming can be a long and intensive process. Do you think the name for Windows software was thought up in a week? HA!
If you have a strong brand name, everything should fall into place relatively easily, but be prepared for many sleepless nights and possibly some hair transplants.
Just remember to have faith in what you are creating and have confidence in your choices. Success is not as elusive as you think it is.
Photo credit: bloomua