A 7-step Brand Name Discovery Process

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If you’ve ever had a child (or a pet) what was the first thing you started thinking about as soon as you got them–or even weeks or months before that? This living, breathing, independent entity that you will watch grow and nurture to maturity, strength, and achievement… Was it by any chance their name?

Why, though? Why was that important? Why didn’t you just choose any name and call it a day?

As for children, so for business: Is choosing a name for your business that important?

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Brand Names have greater impact than you think

It is a sad truth, but we have lost the faculty of giving lovely
names to things. Names are everything.

Oscar Wilde

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When you think about it, a name is usually the very first thing people encounter about a person or a business in the written or digital worlds, and not very far behind in the physical world. It has a profound effect on how we see ourselves and how others see us.

What’s the most obvious feature on your business card? When people are looking for you online, what’s the thing they’ll type into a search engine? When people visit your website, what’s the first thing they see? When people see your logo, what’s usually there staring back at them? When people see an ad, what’s usually in one of the corners? What’s the immediate follow-up question when you tell someone you work in an agency, firm, company, or business?

“What’s it called?”

Your name is your first impression. It’s part of your identity, it’s part of your brand, it’s what immediately differentiates you from others, it’s what people will use to refer to you and refer you to others.

7 steps to choose a brand name

It’s obvious that you need to name your startup. It’s less obvious that you might need to rename an established business. Regardless of what stage you’re at, these steps should help you find the perfect name for your business.

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STEP 1: Framing the Quest & Setting the Rules

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If you start to randomly wander about in search of names, chances are you’ll get nowhere fast. The key is to organize the hunt.

You’ll need to set timelines, objectives, milestones, agendas, roadmaps, etc. to guide the people undertaking the exercise. You’ll also need to identify those people and communicate the rules clearly. This is a creative endeavour, and nothing can sap people’s creativity faster than boredom or feeling that they’re wasting their time.

You should also include rules about the name itself as a means to narrow down the search field.

1- What language is it going to be?

2- What conditions must it satisfy?

3- What must it not be?

4- From what must it be different?

5- Can it be more than one word?

6- How long is too long?

STEP 2: Soul Searching & Getting Vocal

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Trying to define a name for your business and brand without first setting its positioning and personality is like trying to buy a box without deciding what you want to put in it: it is an endeavour that will more often than not leave you with something that’s too big, too small, too flashy, too toned-down, and generally just doesn’t fit.

You’ll need to assemble the team and introspect deeply about your business to find out what it really stands for. This is why it’s important to include anybody who can bring value to the discussion, even if it doesn’t seem at first glance that they should be deciding “company strategy”.

You should start by identifying the industry in which you’re functioning, your business model, the customer segments you’re targeting, the value proposition you’re offering them, and the personality of the brand. It might help to come up with a short statement that sums all that up.

STEP 3: Knowing the Competition

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It always pays to know who you’re up against. Who are your competitors? Are they local or global? Do they compete with you directly or indirectly? Is there anybody you admire in the industry? What do you like about them? What do you dislike? Is there anybody you hate? What do you hate? Is there anything you like about them?

These questions will help you differentiate from competitors and emulate successful businesses.

STEP 4: Defining the SEED ideas

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Once you’ve defined your business in the steps above, you’ll find several concepts emerging and recurring that describe your business and what it’s all about.

Write those down on a board or large poster. We’ll call these are your “seed” ideas.

STEP 5: Growing the Brand Name Tree

Start with your seed ideas and flesh out arrows and connections relating to them, synonymous with them, or having any other associations you find appropriate. Next, flesh out ideas related to those, and so on, until you build a “word tree”.

Tools that can help you develop your word tree include dictionaries, thesauruses, and of course Google search and Google image search.

This word tree doesn’t necessarily have to contain the names, but the ideas and concepts written in it will be very suggestive.

STEP 6: Name-Storming & Harvesting

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You’re fast approaching the final stages of developing and choosing a name, so you need to be aware that not all names are alike.

There are several categories that your name can fall into:

1- Your name can simply be the name of the founder(s), like McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, or Lockheed-Martin.

2- It can be descriptive, telling people what you do, like Toys’R’Us, Dollar Shave Club, or Bed Bath & Beyond.

3- It can be a metaphor, like Apple, Red Bull, or Nike.

4- You can change the spelling of a word so that it looks like an incantation or a magic spell, e.g. Swvl, Netflix, Lyft, or Wii.

5- You can also choose to have a fabricated name that has no meaning in itself but sounds powerful. Examples include Kodak, TiVo, and Xerox.

6- Or, you can combine several words to make a new one, like FedEx (Federal Express), Cinnabon (Cinnamon + Bun/Bonbon), Netflix again (interNET + Flicks = movies).

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These are not necessarily clear-cut categories, but trying to fill examples in many or all of them will help you explore different directions that you might not have considered before. And, as we can see with Netflix, you can combine several ideas into one name for greater effect.

A helpful exercise here would be identifying bad names and trying to discern why we hate them.

STEP 7: Getting to YES

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Now that you have a jumble of names (and “not-names”), you need to shortlist them based on the answers to the previous steps, including your initial rules and guidelines, your brand personality, your vision and mission, competitors, resonance with customers, etc.

In order to make the final decision, you might need to employ several tactics.

1- You could reserve the final decision for the owner(s).

2- You could have all people involved vote for their favourite 3 names, and eliminating the least favourites in rounds until you reach one name.

3- Or, you could take a handful of names and test them out with customers for resonance and engagement.

Once you have your name you’ll need to start looking for domain names for your website. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t find it exactly, and bear in mind that you can search beyond “.com” names. Once you’re done with that, you can register the company with your country’s commercial registrar and you’re done.

Or maybe you’ve only just begun!

Wrapping it up

People are bombarded with words every day, and if you want to be remembered, your name has to stand out. Do you really want to be another “Creative Solutions”? Seriously?

Your Brand name is the first word in your story. Make sure it’s a good one.

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