I’ve been partnering for several months with Clarity.fm to give short, focused phone consultations about names and verbal branding. I’ve talked to business owners in Mexico, Australia, England, Brazil, and the U.S.; I’ve answered questions about company names, product names, taglines, and even Twitter handles. Most of my callers can’t afford comprehensive name-development services; what they want from me—and my 20-plus years in the branding business—are tips and feedback.
A few themes have emerged from these calls—common naming challenges that many entrepreneurs face. I share them with you in case you’re struggling with your own do-it-yourself naming project.
1. Not writing a naming brief.
Many business owners—even serial entrepreneurs—have never heard of a naming brief or don’t know why they should take the time to write one.
My response: Finding a name without the benefit of a naming brief is like setting out on a cross-country road trip without maps or GPS. You’ll end up somewhere, but it may be a one-star motel next to the freeway instead of that comfy bed-and-breakfast you’d envisioned.
Write down what you’re naming, what the name needs to communicate, what your domain and trademark needs are, who your audience is, and everything else that will shape the names your develop. The results will guide you (and the process may yield surprising benefits).
For more, see Why You Need a Naming Brief.
2. Writing an insufficient naming brief.
“Brief” may be misleading: the naming briefs I research and write are usually four or five single-spaced pages long. Write the brief as though you plan to hand it off to someone who knows nothing about your business and needs to get up to speed quickly.
My post How to Write a Naming Brief has guidelines, but you should look beyond them. Be as inclusive and specific as possible.
3. Betting everything on one name.
I often quote the Nobel laureate Linus Pauling: “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” Don’t stop at 15 or 25 names: you’ll want a list of at least 150 to 200. (My friends at Catchword Branding say, only partly in jest, that the first 500 names anyone comes up with are “obvious and uninteresting.”)
Why such a long list? First, because fewer than 10 percent will be legally available. You’ll need a Plan B, a Plan C, and a Plan Z.
Second, because the more you work that creative pump, the more freely the ideas will flow.
4. Falling in love with “the one.”
I’ve said it before: Forget about love. You’re looking for an arranged marriage—a name with substance that will help you build a promising business future.
Besides, just as in life, all the really desirable names are probably spoken for. (Unless you catch them on the courthouse steps, as a friend of mine used to say.)
5. Ignoring your own objectives and criteria.
Occasionally a do-it-yourselfer will write a thorough and thoughtful naming brief—and then appear to toss it out the window. Why do I say that? Because the name(s) she’s showing me will have no connection to the objectives, the criteria, or the brand personality. Instead, the DIY-er will have fallen in love with a name (see #4) and then reverse-engineered a justification. (“Does JINGLE match my objectives of silence and prestige? Yes, because JINGLE starts with a J, and so does JUDGE.” I made that example up, but you get the gist.) If you can’t use your list of objectives to create at least 15 good name candidates, it may be time to revisit those objectives or try some new techniques.
Descriptive names are easy. (Think of all those parody names the “Silicon Valley” writers came up with for a compression algorithm: Tinyosity, SMLLR, Diminisher…) A descriptive name is an undistinctive name: It’s the name any company or product similar to yours could have. You probably won’t be able to get trademark protection for it.
For more on why descriptive names are not as good as suggestive or arbitrary names, read my post on the Five Types of Names.
7. Forgetting the point.
What’s a name for? It’s the title of your story. It’s not the story itself; it’s what gets your audience to flip open the cover, read the table of contents, and buy a copy. In fact, I often recommend that do-it-yourself name developers think of their company or product as a book, a movie, or a TV show. What title would you give it? What would be the tagline on the poster—the catchphrase everyone repeats?
You may not be in the publishing or entertainment business. But you still need to grab your audience’s attention and stand out in a field of competitors. Try thinking of your company or product as something other than what it is actually is. You may find it’s the perspective shift you need to develop an outstanding, memorable name.
Need advice on your own naming project? Let’s connect on Clarity.fm.