A Quick Guide to Naming Your Business

A Quick Guide to Naming Your Business

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Naming a product or a company is a difficult decision. Unlike most challenges you'll face, this one is in a field in which virtually everyone claims expertise. The first thing to remember when naming something is not to rely too heavily on another's advice. Names created by committee are usually losers.

Don't forget about the law. Your name can cause a Jurassic Park-size problem if you don't first conduct a legal name search. The last thing you want is to hit it big, then be forced to change your name because a tiny company has the same name and wants $100 million from you for the rights to it.

Start by sitting down and making a list of what you want your name to stand for in the mind of the consumer. Your name should reflect your name and your positioning. Haagen-Dazs is supposed to make you think of cold fjords and rich, creamy milk. It doesn't matter that there's no such person as Haagen or no such place as Dazs--the name serves its purpose.

You must decide what you want your name to imply. It's usually the first thing your prospects learn about you. Here are some of the things your name can tell your prospects about you:

  • Quick
  • The best
  • Convenient
  • Highest quality
  • Experienced
  • Fun
  • Outrageous
  • Reliable
  • Inexpensive
  • Guaranteed
  • Recommended
  • Honest
  • Dangerous
  • Unique
Eight Simple Rules for Choosing a Business Name
1. Your name should have a positive ring. Avoid anything negative. Your name should make people enthusiastic and optimistic about working with you.

2. Avoid difficult names. If people have trouble pronouncing it or spelling it, they won't remember it. (Embarrassing exceptions: "Haagen-Dazs" and "Guerrilla.")

3. Make your name unique. You don't want people confusing you with a business that already exists, especially if it's one with a poor reputation.

4. Don't use a name that will limit you down the road. Acme Sleep Shop will limit you to selling sleep products. Acme Interiors is more open to expansion.

5. Use a descriptive name, such as Jiffy Lube. Note that this name also conveys a benefit.

6. Don't get caught up in trends or fads. While it may be profitable in the short run, you can't ride a fad for the long haul, and focus on the long haul.

7. Your name should reflect your identity: dignity, largeness, local identification, quality and other descriptive elements.

8. Pick a name that looks and sounds attractive on the phone, on the radio, on your letterhead, and on your website.

Once you've got your list of attributes, try it out on peers and focus groups. For example, if you're starting a dry cleaning service, ask them if the attributes you've chosen -- fast, reliable and inexpensive -- would meet their needs. If not, adjust your list and try again.

Now that you've got a list, you've got to make a decision. Do you want a name that's generic, descriptive or fanciful? Any lawyer will tell you that a fanciful name is the best sort of trademark. It's the easiest to protect from encroachment by competitors, and eventually it makes the strongest name. A fanciful name is one where no picture comes to mind. No one knows what a Nike or a Xerox looks like.

The problem with fanciful names is that it takes an awful lot of time and money to persuade the consumer that they stand for something. The name itself doesn't begin by positioning the product or the company. So for most guerrillas, a fanciful name is too expensive to develop into an asset.

The second alternative, which is more difficult to protect, is a descriptive name. These names help position your company or product, and they telegraph information about what you do. Some examples:

  • Speedy Muffler
  • Ultimate Auto Body
  • College Pro Painters

Descriptive names are my favorites. They communicate enough about your product to help the sale, but they're unique and stick in the customer's mind and help stop the competition.

Lastly, you can use a generic name. These names are virtually unprotectable, but they have the ability to immediately telegraph what your business does.

Some generic names include:

  • International Business Machines
  • U.S. Steel
  • Park Avenue Cleaners
  • General Foods

As you can see, sometimes a generic name takes off and works, but in general, it's an uphill battle--you've positioned your company, but your company has no identity.

Examples of Good Names

  • Faith Popcorn--a memorable name that reminds you that she doesn't take things too seriously.
  • National Public Radio--a simple name that immediately connotes weight, seriousness, and the fact that everyone is involved.
  • Staples--a simple word that brings together a ubiquitous office supply with another word for "essentials." Once learned, the user never forgets what it stands for.
  • Head and Shoulders--the name lets you see the benefit of the product--no dandruff on your shoulders.
  • Apple Computer--simple, friendly, basic, easy to remember.

Related: 'Bar Rescue' Asks: Is Your Business Name Hurting Your Business?

The Best of Guerrilla MarketingThis article is an adapted excerpt from The Best of Guerrilla Marketing -- Guerrilla Marketing Remix (Entrepreneur 2011) by Jay Conrad Levinson and Jeannie Levinson and contributing authors, including Seth Godin.

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