If SXSW Interactive is any indication, and it usually is, then this is the age of the startup. It also means this is the age of the unfortunately named startup. We've all come across a company's name that's missing all its vowels, has superfluous "Z"s tacked on, or is so many words hacked together that its meaning is completely lost.
Gary Backaus, chief creative officer, and Justin Dobbs, associate creative director at Memphis-based ad agency archer>malmo gave a presentation on Monday at SXSW with five simple rules for naming your startup:
1. You're not naming a startup, you're naming a brand.
According to Backaus, the biggest mistake you can make naming your new startup happens at the very beginning. If you have a name already in mind, while it may be your first instict to see if the domain name is taken, that's the last thing you should do. More than likely it won't be available, and that's when the arbitrary alternate spellings and additional letters start happening for many entrepreneurs. A much better strategy is to think about your brand name in the context of the real world, not among other startups or as a URL. Come at the name from every possible angle, make lists of adjectives and the human qualities you want to emulate.
2. Make the right first impression.
Your name should create a first impression that’s positive, intriguing and clear. "Think of your name as your [brick and mortar] sign," Dobbs encourages. It can either drive traffic to you or drive it away. Your list of potential names should fit within your brand positioning, be unique, and be easy to read. This is where intentional misspellings or extra "Z"s could be a significant hindrance.
3. Don't create conceptual or technical hurdles.
Backaus put it simply: "You don’t need a big idea for your name. You need a name for your big idea." If you have to constantly explain the meaning or the pronunciation of your name to people, especially people that you pitch to, that's a major hurdle. In no way should your name be a disconnect from what you want to accomplish with your brand.
4. When necessary, be descriptive.
Descriptive doesn't mean boring, especially if your startup is in a niche or technical field. Another big reason to avoid the early pitfalls of checking domain name registries is because a company name you've invented that's unavailable could be paired with a simple descriptive word to create your final, custom, website name.
5. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Let's say you already have a startup name, but a shift in your company's focus arises and you feel the name should change. This is ultimately a judgement call, but if your current company name is not tied to an individual product, and your overall brand identity and values have not changed, your current name may be just fine.
"Naming is hard," Backaus said. It's not an exact science, and there's no perfect how-to guide that will work for every startup. If you spend time at the beginning thinking about the one thing you want your company to do, who your audience will be, and your competitors' names, you're on the right track. When you have your final candidates for a name, just be sure to Google them and check what Google Images comes up with. It's always a possibility someone else came up with your name first and it's tied to vulgar slang or images online.
What have been your experiences with naming your company?
Related: The 3 Coolest Things I've Seen at SXSW Interactive 2013