The following is a brief discussion on choosing a brand name that has a better chance of receiving significant federal trademark protection. It’s not comprehensive and is by no means legal advice. Always seek the advice of a competent professional when making important financial and legal decisions.

Choosing a compelling brand name you can protect

Branding experts often advise businesses to choose a brand name that describes their product or service — PlumbingMasters, for example, or Gianni’s Pizzeria. From a legal standpoint, however, these kinds of names aren’t likely to receive significant trademark protection under federal law.

If you’ve been struggling to land on a brand name, consider these tips to come up with one that’s both memorable and can receive significant trademark protection.

Bone up on the basics of federal trademark law

Brand names that are clever, memorable, and original have much more robust trademark rights than ones that are simply “descriptive” of the goods or services you provide.

That’s because original trademarks can be registered on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Principal Register, the benefits of which offer much more protection in a trademark dispute. Descriptive brand names are relegated, if at all, to the Supplemental Register, the “consolation prize” list of trademarks that don’t meet Principal Register requirements but still might be capable of distinguishing a company. If your trademark is on the Supplemental Register you can still sue for infringement, but the fact that your mark is on the Supplemental Register is essentially a concession that your mark isn’t inherently distinctive, which requires you to separately prove that your brand name is actually distinctive.

Federal trademark law is complicated and a little counter-intuitive at first, but the takeaway is this: if possible, you may want to choose a creative, memorable brand name… not a descriptive one, if you want robust federal trademark protection from the get-go.

Brainstorm ideas (with some ground rules)

With a little trademark knowledge under your belt, it’s time to start brainstorming memorable names… Right?

Easier said than done. There’s no doubt about it — brainstorming can be an effective tool, but the process can make even free-thinkers roll their eyes. Unless you know what you’re doing, the whole thing can become an exercise in frustration.

It can help to brainstorm with some structure. Brand consultant, Emily Heyward, recommends a five-step process:

  1. Assemble your team
  2. Let “loose”
  3. Generate a round of ideas
  4. Push yourselves to do another round
  5. And then start assessing the candidate names you’ve come up with

When you’re separating the good names from the bad, consider naming expert, Alexandra Watkins’, SCRATCH principle: you should consider your name less than ideal if it’s:

  • Spelling-challenged
  • A Copycat
  • Restrictive
  • Annoying
  • Too Tame
  • Cursed by jargon
  • Or Hard to pronounce

Use an online tool if you’re unhappy with your brainstorming

You can only sit in a room for so long, however. Sometimes a brainstorming session will end in only a drizzle of name ideas.

Fortunately, there are several tools you can turn to when you decide you need help. BustAName, for example, offers a word combiner to take the pain out of generating permutations of three or four target words. Panabee goes one step further, taking your root terms and automatically reversing words, removing vowels, and so on.

If you’re partial to an abstract brand name, Wordoid does a good job of suggesting made-up words. And another BustAName option — what it calls a Domain Maker — is a free tool that’s so helpful they could charge for it.

When you’ve got a candidate or two, don’t forget to compare your choices to the USPTO’s database of registered trademarks — there’s no point getting excited about a potential trademark if it’s likely to be refused.

Test your names with potential buyers

Now it’s time to see how your name candidates perform “in the wild” — out on the Internet in front of the kinds of people you hope will be your clients or customers.

If that idea seems intimidating, fear not. Yes, it will take some work to test with real people, but the good news is the insight you’ll get will be invaluable.

Here’s how to help crowdsource your brand name:

  1. Create nearly identical logos for each of your names with a logo creation tool. (Google “free logo creator” to see thousands of choices.)
  2. Sign up for landing page software like LeadPages, Unbounce, or Wishpond.
  3. Build a branded landing page for each name you’re considering. Keep the copy the same on each page and change only the logo and brand name. (Wondering what to write? Polish up your best description of the benefits of your product or service, with an email sign-up that lets people find out when you’re launching.)
  4. Show a highly targeted Facebook ad to your ideal customers or clients, using your landing page software to send each visitor to a variant of your landing page. Some of your visitors will see one brand; others will see a different one.
  5. Once the ad has run for a week or so, examine your landing page analytics to determine the name that led to the best conversion rate. Since everything else on your page was equal, it’s probably safe to assume that the variant that generated the most sign-ups is the name your audience responds to best.

Although there are lots of considerations and factors associated with choosing a brand name, the crowd has spoken and you’ve hopefully got the beginnings of a compelling brand.

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