Everyone knows that a business name is important. It is the single most used aspect of your future brand. Ideally, yours will be mentioned by reporters, shared by referrals, and hopefully remembered by customers when the need for your solution arises.
A great name like PayPal can introduce your company, hinting at what makes it unique and interesting. PayPal is a payment solution with an upbeat brand and uniquely easy user experience—their name brilliantly captures this value proposition.
An intriguing name like Uber can help build buzz, causing people to wonder, “What is that?” An emotive name like SalesForce can resonate deeply with potential customers, lending a sense of authority.
Naming is often one of the first business activities where the rubber meets the road—where an idea becomes a reality.
While there are many thoughts on what makes a great name (easy to say, short, euphonious, phonetic, memorable), the insights that the team at Squadhelp and I have gained from nearly 10,000 naming projects point to a deeper principle than some of the simpler, surface-level guidelines.
We have discovered that a great name evolves from an excellent business plan. A company that has gone through the process of defining their business by writing a business plan generally has a greater sense of self-awareness than a company that hasn’t.
Many naming projects start with the thought, “I don’t want to limit creativity. Let’s just see what we can come up with.” While in the end a creative, short, pleasing name is always a good thing, I often find myself asking the leaders of new ventures to look back to their executive summary to find a value proposition (also known as a unique selling proposition) from which to build a foundation for their naming project.
Why do we exist? How are we different? How will we position ourselves in the marketplace? Why will our target market care? It is only when we look back at these critical questions that we begin to develop the insights we need to create a great name.
Using the business plan as a statement of a company’s identity, we can start making decisions about some deeper qualities of a name, such as: “I’d like a playful name (e.g. MailChimp or Squatty Potty) that will immediately connect with my audience and allow us to showcase our upbeat and fun brand experience”; or, “I need an elegant and classy name (such as Blackstone Labs, which currently sits at #26 on the Inc 5000 list) that will allow us to fit into the existing industry and command respect.”
What we can learn from Apple’s name
I’ve read many articles and posts in entrepreneurial communities that express the sentiment, “If Apple can win with such a poor name, why am I trying so hard to create an excellent name for myself?”
Contrary to this common sentiment, Apple is an incredible name when analyzed against the company plan. While it is not as enticing, clever, or fun as a name like Moody Mango (marketing agency), Love Bites (chocolate brand), or Naked Bun (burger restaurant), which were created by the Squadhelp community, Apple is still extremely smart and productive.
Entering into a market dominated by IBM, Burroughs, DEC, HP, and MassComp, Apple easily stood out—an organic fruit that virtually that everyone has experienced. The name foreshadowed their famous 1984 anti-corporate ad, and it still works today as they continue to be one of the most lively and people-focused companies around.
To further understand this deeper principle which is at work in great names, let’s look at the IT company Dream Hatcher. If we believe that a great name should simply be easy to say, phonetic, memorable, evocative, and so on, then this name should work for almost all IT companies, right?
But, certainly, there are many people reading this article (even some who own IT companies) saying, “I wouldn’t use that name.” That’s excellent! The truth is, even after following all the best checklists and naming advice available, the critical ingredient for developing an outstanding name is its ability to help you execute your business plan.
As the rubber meets the road and you begin to move out of the idea and planning stages of your business, you will need to create a name that will represent all of the qualities that your business plan outlines. To help you make some tough decisions, here are the guidelines we use in our crowdsourced naming projects.
5 approaches to choosing a business name
1. Stick with the classics
When your business plan requires you to fit into an industry, work with government agencies, or align with contextually driven or cultural norms, a classic name might be your best option. While classic names are becoming less common, there are still companies that decide to follow traditional naming standards.
While choosing to use a classic name may not be a good fit for many businesses, companies that want to exude professionalism and trustworthiness may benefit from a classic name. The Squadhelp community-developed names such as Red Shield Hunting Supplies and Sage and Saddle Outpost are both examples of strong, classic names.
Also, the Vault Law 100—a site that ranks the most prestigious law firms—demonstrates an industry dominated by classic names, often surnames of firm partners, that seems to follow the industry standard.
2. Craft an experiential name
Another option is to use your name to convey the experience of using your product or service to your customers. This type of name should give customers an idea of what their interaction with your product or service will be.
For example, when Twitter entered the somewhat crowded social media market, they used their name to capture their unique social experience. PayPal is one of my absolute favorite descriptive names (a subset of experiential names). Many experts believe that a descriptive name can cut down on marketing costs by intrinsically explaining the value proposition.
3. Get clever with your name
A clever business name is one of the most challenging to pull off—a name that you think is clever and funny could easily fall flat with your target audience. However, when done well, clever names can be very powerful—they help your business stand out from competitors and create an instant connection with customers.
As a customer, you’re much more likely to remember a name that made you chuckle than one that didn’t. Alpha Mail (an email app), Guac and Roll (a food truck), and EyeQ (a local eyewear store) are all examples of well-used, clever names.
4. Evoke an emotional response
An emotional name is any name that brings up some type of emotional response for the customer, whether it’s happiness, excitement, or nostalgia.
Tony Robbins’ health and fitness product The Body You Deserve is an excellent example of an emotional name. In contrast to Tim Ferriss’ excellent descriptive name, 4-Hour Body, Robbins’ name evokes a feeling of pride and personal strength—a brilliant way to add meaning and inspire prospects. Squadhelp winning name, Happy Belly, for an online food marketplace, is another fun example of an emotional name.
5. Intrigue your customers
Some names will capture customers’ attention not because they’re clever or descriptive, but because they have an air of intrigue. These names are the ones that are likely short and provocative, and provide little information to the consumer about the company’s products or services.
If your name piques your customers’ curiosity, they may be more likely to research your company and remember it in the future. To me, Uber always stands out as the company that harnessed their short, evocative name to drive curiosity throughout their geographic expansion.
While it is probably true that ventures rise and fall based on their strategic plan, a name can make a difference. Apple, Zappos, Twitter, SalesForce, PayPal, Uber, Google, Airbnb, Accenture, Costco, Squatty Potty, and Dollar Shave Club are all examples of companies who won the name game (some on their second try) and have leveraged their exquisite names on their road to success.
If you’re at this critical stage in your business development, take the time to determine what you want your name to do for your company (based on your business plan) before starting your name-storming process.
Grant Polachek is the Director of Marketing at Squadhelp—transforming the way names, logos, and taglines are developed by combining an affordable agency-level brainstorming process with the unmatched creativity of “the crowd.” His book “How to Develop the Perfect Name for Just About Anything” is available to Bplans readers for free.