Karl Schmieder

Article Summary:

Nine tips for choosing a company name.

Choosing a Company Name

The first impression potential customers will have of your company will be based on its name. For this reason, the name you choose for your company, product or service matters tremendously.

A great name will catch your customers' attention. They will remember it. And, will be motivated to get to know you. A poor name will be quickly forgotten. Worse, it can turn customers off and drive them to your competitors.

Here are a few tips for naming your company or product.

  1. Ask Yourself Questions.
    To jumpstart the process of creating names, ask yourself the following questions and write down the answers.

    • Who exactly are my target customers?
    • What problems do I solve for them?
    • Should my name describe what we do?
    • What words of phrases appeal to my customers?
    • What are the three to five most attractive benefits my business brings to customers? Are there word pictures or metaphors that communicate what I do that would be relevant to my customers?
    • What are my competitors' names? What kind of name would differentiate me in the marketplace?

    By answering these questions on paper, you begin creating a framework that will help you generate names.

  2. Devise A Strategy.
    Decide what you want your name to do. This will make it easier to:
    1. generate names
    2. judge the names you develop

    Your strategy might be to create a name that reflects your company's mission or defines what you do. Or, you may decide it is important to motivate your customers. Or, you may decide that being different from the competition is most important.

  3. Namestorm.
    Once you've asked yourself questions and you've devised a strategy, you're ready to brainstorm company names.
    • Look at the answers to your questions and jot down words that come to mind and describe your company. Look at those words, play with them. Combine words to create compound words or even create words. Use the thesaurus to find underutilized words similar to the ones you've written.

    • Invite friends or colleagues to help you.

    • Creative brainstorming means putting aside your internal editor while you create. That means writing down every name while turning off the voice that says, 'That name doesn't work.' The idea here is quantity, not quality.

  4. Evaluate.
    Once you have a long list of potential names, compare them to your strategy. A "score sheet" based on the criteria you've developed will allow you to quickly eliminate any name that does not meet your criteria.

  5. Confirm Availability.
    Once you've narrowed your list down, check the United States Patent and Trademark Office's database to see if your name is available for your business. Check the availability of the domain name at any one of the many domain registrars available.

    A service like Name Protect (www.nameprotect.com) allows you to check the USPTO, Canadian, European Trademark databases as well as the domain availability all from one place. For a fee, they will also register your name for you.

  6. Go Global.
    The moment you put your business online, your business goes global. That means that a name that might sound and mean great things to an American audience, might get you in trouble elsewhere. A quick check using the any foreign dictionaries online will help.

    If you're not sure, take your short list of names to a linguistic expert who can cover literal translations and idiomatic expressions.

  7. Listen.
    Say your remaining names aloud. Does a name sound as good as it looks? Do you feel comfortable saying the name when someone calls you? Can a caller understand the name when you answer the phone? Would they be able to spell it easily?

  8. Review your strategy.
    Again. Go back to your strategy. Take a look at your naming criteria. Then take a look at the remaining names. Are the names meeting the criteria?

  9. Choose your finalists.
    Look at the remaining company names. Does the name speak to you? Does the name tell your story? Does the name sufficiently distinguish you from the competition? In the end, you alone will be the judge of your name's success or failure.

Finally, a great names takes risks and is appropriate to its unique audience, not to everyone everywhere. This means the name that is most appropriate for your business might be the one that sends a little shiver down your spine.

If that's the case, then you've come up with a great company name. Congratulations!

Karl Schmieder is the President of Messaging Lab, a branding and communications firm based in New York that provides naming services and brand development. Their area of expertise includes life sciences, consumer brands, and high technology. Karl can be reached at 646.233.3188.

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