04 Sep 2016

How to Name Your Business or Product

Naming your business is one of the most important decisions you will make for your company and can be a key factor in its success. In fact, in the beginning it can feel like the name IS your brand. I mean, after your product it’s all that you have. If it’s not perfect your brand will go up in flames, everyone will hate it – even worse, they’ll forget about it. You’ll be chased out of your category by angry customers with flaming torches never able to return.

This is true – sort of. You are right, when you start you may only have a product and a name – these two things alone make up your brand. But as your brand grows, many equally important things make up your brand and what it means to your customers. Over time, things like product quality, innovation, and customer trust, will make up the true meaning and perception of your brand while its name becomes the signal of those things. As you grow your brand, if you lose customer trust, your great name isn’t going to save you.


Think of it in human terms. When you were born a lot of thought and care went into your name (hopefully), but as an adult your name alone does not define you. It is an identifier for the things that make up who you really are – your reputation among your friends, family, and colleagues.


Ok, now that that’s out of the way…


Phase 1 – Define your Brand Strategy


Over the past 20 years we have named hundreds of products and many brands and the process for each one always has one thing in common – we start with a clear brand strategy.

It’s easy to get caught up in finding the “coolest”, “funniest”, or “quirkiest” name, but without a clearly defined brand strategy you will find yourself deep in naming vortex with hundreds of options and no clear winner. Worse yet, you end up with a name that does not…

  • Resonate with your customers
  • Set you apart from the competition
  • Clearly align with your brand strategy and business goals

If you do not have a clear brand strategy, the most critical thing you can do is identify your target customer. You can start with this piece by building a customer persona that clearly defines who your ideal customer is and their motivation for buying what you’re selling.  We typically do this as part of the overall brand strategy so that it aligns with the company’s business goals.


Phase 2 – Type of Name


Once you have clearly defined who your ideal customer is, the type of name you choose is critical to its ability to connect with those people as well as differentiate you from the competition.

The typical naming categories include (but are certainly not limited to)…

Personal names are the least subjective and typically include the founder’s name(s). They are usually used when the founder’s vision, accomplishments, reputation, designs, etc. play a key role in connecting with customers. Example: Ford, Chanel, Ralph Lauren

  • Pros – If the founder’s reputation adds value or is a defining factor in the quality of the product or service, personal names can be a great option.
  • Cons – With a brand name forever tied to a person/persona, that brand can often struggle to expand into new markets, or be subject to the the ups and downs of that person’s reputation.

Descriptive names are often used when a company wants to communicate a particular function or benefit of a product or service. Example: Best Buy, Home Depot, iPhone

  • Pros – They clearly communicate what a product/service does as well as its value to the customer.
  • Cons – If they describe a function that can change or become obsolete, so can the name. Function-specific names are usually best for products with a short lifecycle vs. the actual brand name.

Suggestive names are often an existing word, or set of words, that imply certain emotions or value to the customer. Example: Guess, Target, Sprint

  • Pros – They are a great name to “take over” the meaning of existing words and use the association to support your brand’s position.
  • Cons – They can be restrictive in other countries because of the origin language, or seem outdated over time if the words take on new usages or trends change.

Abstract names can be unique sounds, combinations of words, or truncated words that are ultimately defined by the brand itself. Example: Google, Lexus, Twitter

  • Pros – You can better differentiate, and they are often easier to trademark, register domains and social handles.
  • Cons – It can be more challenging to communicate the meaning and establish a connection with customers. They can have international language challenges depending on pronunciation.


Phase 3 – Validate


You have your name, it sounds amazing, you can’t stop saying it, you’ve written it on everything, you’re ready to go. YOU love it… but that’s just not enough. Here are some key considerations while you finalize your brand or product’s name…

  • Be objective. Whether or not you personally love or hate the name should not be the deciding factor. It doesn’t matter if the name reminds you of your high-school gym teacher’s middle name. Take a step back, if it has the potential to connect with your customer and differentiate you from the completion, you should consider it.
  • Availability. Is the name, or something similar already in use? Is the domain available? Are the social handles available?
  • Length & Use. Is the length of the name right for your customers? Imagine them saying “I’d like to learn more about YOUR BRAND NAME”. Does it make sense? Is it easy or hard to say? Do you have to over-explain it?
  • Distinctiveness. It is important that your brand name differentiates you from your competitors and supports your unique position in the market.
  • Design. Letters have different shapes, and when it comes to design some work better with others. Ask yourself, is your name visually appealing? Will it work well as part of the logo and brand identity?
  • Legality. Is the name, or something similar already in use? Can you trademark the name? It is important to have an experienced intellectual property lawyer research your name before use.
  • International use. Does your name mean something strange or undesirable in another language? This is a particular risk for abstract names, but can be risky for any name.


Why choose an expert?


It’s simple – experience and creativity.

An experienced brand agency or consultant has the tools, creativity and data to understand your business needs and create a naming strategy that will give you an edge in your market. Investing in the help of a professional when naming your business or product can save you time and money in the long run, as well as provide unique and creative name solutions that will help your brand stand out from the competition and engage with customers.






Joe is a senior brand and marketing strategist with 15+ years of experience building brands in the sport and outdoor lifestyle consumer goods markets. Joe has been instrumental in the growth of industry-leading organizations by identifying key opportunities and developing comprehensive brand growth strategies.

Write a Reply or Comment

eleven + twenty =