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Winning the startup name game

Naming your new company or product is crucial. Ask Virgin. Or Apple. Or 2 Degrees. Your company’s name is often the first thing your customers meet, so the connection needs to be instant, compelling and believable.

In the long run, the right name could save your company thousands of marketing dollars fighting to stand out from your competitors, or trying to explain what the hell it is you’re all about. 

Your name is only one component. The logo, brand identity, advertising, PR, website, your Facebook page, your in-store experience all help to tell your brand’s story. But nail the story in the first place with a memorable name and the rest will fall into place a whole lot more easily.

Yet so many startups and marketers pay this crucial part of the branding process very little attention (not to mention budget). So, for the startups, innovators and entrepreneurs out there, the following are a few pointers on finding that pithily perfect name:

1. Don’t be me-too 

When I first started specialising in naming, you’d be surprised how many times I heard the request, “we want a name kind of like 42 Below”. Yes, it’s a fantastic, distinctive and highly successful brand, but it’s been done. Your name will belong to you. It will stem from your company’s philosophy and/or values, the products or services you offer, or the need you fulfil for your customers. And chances are, it won’t be anything like 42 Below, but it should be equally memorable and distinctive.

2. Don’t be boring

Similar to the above point, but even more dangerous. If your name is unremarkable, you’ve got a much harder job getting consumers to like your brand, remember it and recommend it to their mates. Particularly when you have to sell in that name to a board or committee, it’s much easier to choose a name that’s comfortable or familiar. It’s much, much more challenging (read scary) to choose a name that’s unexpected, or provocative, or brave. Take advertising agencies as a case in point. The industry is full of ‘initials’ and there is good reason for this: the brains behind the eponymous names. But the names that appeal to me are names like Shine, Special and Contagion. I can see what you stand for and I remember your name.

3. Be relevant 

Sure, you can have a crazy, silly, coined name. In some cases, the more ‘out there’, the better. But if it doesn’t stem from some truth about your company or your customers, all the craziness in the world isn’t going to connect your name to what you do or stand for. Google is a much-touted example of a seemingly ‘coined’ name, but in fact it’s incredibly relevant. It stems from the word ‘Googilplex’ a mathematical term meaning ‘infinity’ and the story goes that when one of the founders registered the name, he misspelt it. As it turns out that was rather fortunate, because as a verb, the name reads ‘go ogle’. Which is what we all do online, dozens of times a day, every day.

4. Don’t try to say it all 

A real danger is trying to be everything to all people in those one or two crucial words or morphemes that make up your name. Figure out your SMP and stick to it. Once you’ve caught their attention, you can fill them in on the rest of the story with your logo, tagline, packaging and brand identity.

5. Keep it simple

Sometimes, clever word plays or misspelt words work well. And very often all the good names are already taken in your category, so you have to be a bit clever to stand out. But beware of expecting your audience to figure out how to spell your weird name or find you online. Never underestimate the power of simplicity. Z Energy is one of the best examples I’ve come across of paring a name right down to the bare essentials. Ti Tonics was another one – we pulled ‘the ‘ti’ out of the word anti-oxidants. Simple and relevant.

6. Don’t rely on DIY 

Many great names have been arrived at around the boardroom table and, when that table is populated by great thinkers, this can be highly effective. But if you still haven’t cracked it after a couple of sessions, maybe it’s time to call in the experts.

To sum it up, your name is a very worthwhile investment. Get it right and not only will your brand resonate and connect with more customers more quickly, they’re more likely to remember you, recommend you and look for you again. Of course, a truly great product or company will succeed regardless of its name, but why take that risk?

Spend the time and effort creating a truly distinctive, memorable name and begin your new brand as you mean to go on. Successfully.

Sarah Walter is creative Director at The Namery, a specialist naming and copywriting consultancy. 

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