If you have gotten through the tough part of dreaming up a product or service, analyzing your market, defining your niche and doing a first draft of your business plan, you are ready for the fun part: choosing a name for your business.
Although certainly a creative exercise, it isn’t always as easy as it seems. My buddy Suzanne Falter-Barns and I have been coaching a group of small business owners and have spent weeks helping them get clear, crisp and compelling brands. Suzanne breaks down the process in two parts:
- Brand Name: Catchy, easy-to-understand name that says something about what you do.
- Unique Selling Proposition (USP): Phrase that describes what you do more specifically, preferably addressing a key problem faced by your target market.
Examples I love:
Furniture That Fits: Small Furniture for Small Spaces
I saw this on a billboard here in Arizona. I think it is a local store. The URL is actually owned by a company that is called “A Perfect Space.” But I like it as an example of speaking directly to a problem faced by people living in small spaces. I think they could have raging success targeting people in New York City or San Francisco where you spend 82% of your salary on rent for an apartment the size of a small storage locker. (The other 18% is on parking tickets since there is rarely a garage and parking on the street is a nightmare).
Area 51: Top Secret Research Facility
I realize that this is a government-run facility more known for UFO conspiracy theories than a spunky brand name. But what if they had chosen to call it the Nellis Air Force Range Research Center? It hardly has the same effect. If I was a famous researcher aiming to take over the world, or build a better bomb or whatever they do inside there, I certainly would want to be part of a “top secret research facility.”
Garage Technology Ventures: We start up start-ups. Early Stage Venture Capital.
This is a good example of a clean, clear and crisp business and brand name. You don’t have to guess what they do. The garage part of their brand is very pertinent to their target market, Silicon Valley technology start ups. Those in this community would love to grow big like a few famous people who started in a garage: Bill and Dave in their Palo Alto garage (now known as Hewlett-Packard) and the Steves (Jobs and Wozniak who started Apple).
We can also learn a lot from good book titles. Granted, the titles are probably longer than you would want for a USP, but they do speak directly to their target audience and the problems they face. The bold part of the title could be considered the brand, the rest the USP.
You could argue here that Kawasaki defies the niche guideline by opening his book to “anyone starting anything.” But chances are that if you know of him, you are interested in starting a technology company.
I like that Port works in two major problems people in his target market face: lack of clients and a deep loathing of sales and marketing.
Kawasaki also recommends some guidelines for choosing a name (details on page 35 of Art of the Start). My explanations are in parentheses:
- Have a first initial that’s early in the alphabet (you will be in a directory, may as well be in the top)
- Avoid numbers (too hard to know how to spell : 1 or one?)
- Pick a name with “verb potential.” (think Google)
- Sound different (don’t choose a name close to a competitor or other, unrelated brand which will get confusing)
- Sound logical (match your business name with what you actually do)
- Avoid the trendy (probably not a good idea to call your firm Sick and Phat Technology Services)
I would now add my two cents:
- Choose a name with an available URL. These days, your web presence is critical. And you don’t want to have a different URL from your brand name.
- Don’t be fluffy or cute. Coaches like me tend to go off into happy-fluffy-lala land when choosing business names with ridiculous results like “Be all that you can be coaching: Find the YOU in YOU!” (No, it doesn’t exist yet, but just wait!)
- Don’t use a misspelled word. Kawasaki mentions that Krispy Kreme is misspelled and sells products that are neither crispy nor creamy. I don’t know if the misspelling has anything to do with their recent tanking stock, but it couldn’t have helped. Please, please avoid names like “Kute Klocks and Krap” (the USP would be fun: Ridiculous stuff you don’t need that make perfect gifts for annoying relatives)
- Focus on the benefits to your target market. You may think “Anal Accounting” is clever and catchy, but your target market may care more about “Accepting Accounting: Cleans up your financial mess without making you feel like a loser” (Anal Accounting does have potential, you have to admit)
I didn’t follow my own advice, and will continue not to, since a decade ago I named my company an obscure Spanish word, ganas. It means inner fire, exuberance, motivation and drive. Most clients love the name once they understand it. But misunderstandings have been a great source of amusement through the years (yes, people really thought I named my company this):
- Guano Consulting (Guano is seabird and bat excrement)
- Goddess Consulting (Somehow I didn’t have a problem with that. It meant that either I was a goddess or wanted to turn my clients into one, neither of which is a bad proposition)
- Pamela Ganas Consulting (Pronounced “Gann-ASS” because they thought my last name was Ganas. I did receive nice emails from people that did have that last name)
And my all-time favorite:
- Gutless Consulting. (I may need to open the door on this company just to develop the USP: Watered down advice that will change nothing for people afraid of hearing the truth)
While I am keeping Ganas as a company name due to its good reputation (plus, I just dig it), I am developing brands that are more fitting with the criteria outlined, such as Escape from Cubicle Nation: How to go from corporate prisoner to thriving entrepreneur.
I hope you have some fun naming your company. Before you print your business cards or design your logo, make sure that you test your brand with your target market. It will take some time to get it right, but your patience is well-worth the outcome. Feel free to test here.