What's in a name? A great deal, actually. Select the wrong type of name for your promising startup and you may be sending your venture off on the wrong foot without even knowing it.
Startup leaders often select a name that reflects their firm's specific products or services. But that can be a dangerous mistake, notes Aaron Hall, group director, naming, at brand strategy and design company Siegel+Gale. He believes that it’s important to pause and reflect on the fact that the company may eventually add entirely different offerings. That's why Apple Computer is now simply known as Apple. “Separating your company name from your product, features, or service offering, future-proofs the name and allows for more growth and scale,” Hall explains.
Memorable Startup Names
The best name for a new tech startup is one that connects to the company's point of differentiation and personality. “So much of what makes a startup distinct are the people and their passion for building something new,” Hall says. “A name that captures that unique ‘joie de vivre’ is more likely to stand the test of time and helps a team weather the common trials and tribulations a tech startup sometimes faces.”
The best names are short, clear, and pronounceable, consisting of letters, few to no numbers, and no punctuation marks or special characters, advises Megan Miller, a senior consultant at marketing services firm Edge Marketing. “Simpler is more memorable,” she states. A short name is also easier to design into a logo and to view on a phone where screen space is limited. “If your brand will appear in product directories or sponsor listings, consider that those are often sorted alphabetically,” Miller says. “A name starting with 'Z' will be at the bottom of the list.”
Alison Michael, creative strategy leader at B2B creative agency Sköna, suggests holding a collaborative workshop to gain perspective from individuals who might have a stake in the business or with knowledge about what the startup is trying to accomplish. “Don't be scared to get a little weird,” she suggests. “Don't be so myopic as to only focus on the tech itself.” Consider names inspired by nature, hobbies, or even philosophies.
Miller recommends testing a short list of potential names with prospective users. “This can be done with a live focus group, or a poll, or a survey of potential customers in your target market,” she says.
Forgettable Startup Names
Trendy names, based on industry jargon or acronyms, can be ephemeral. “You want a name that will stand the test of time and leaves the business open to pivoting in terms of business models and categories,” Michael says. She also suggests avoiding names already in use. “While trademarks typically apply to your industry only, having the same name as another business can wreak havoc with social handles and search engine optimization,” Michael warns.
Avoid any name that can't be easily pronounced or spelled, Miller advises. “A simpler name will avoid misspellings by employees, customers, and the media.” Also avoid “cute” names that don't relate to the product or service. “Using the number '3' to represent 'E', for example,” she notes.
All too often, names are launched without proper vetting for negative meanings in global cultures. “Today, all names are global,” Hall states. “There are quick and cost-effective ways to vet your names for international cultural connotations and pronounceability.” Several firms, such as Intercheck, can ensure that a company name won't inadvertently offend some audiences.
Tying Loose Ends
Once a company name has been selected, it's necessary to choose an equally effective domain name that will fuel the new firm's marketing efforts. “Startups have a unique opportunity to consider newer types of web addresses that allow you to leverage keywords on both the left and right sides of the dot while retaining a short and memorable brand,” Hall explains. Right side options include “.computer,” “.software,” “.technology,” “.io,” and the rapidly trending “.ai.” “Using one of these top-level domains indicates that the startup was smart enough to invest in reasonably priced, memorable, and descriptive web addresses, indicating they are innovative companies in touch with the tech community,” he says.
Finally, it's important to work closely with legal counsel to conduct a preliminary trademark and brand usage search. An early search ensures that time won't be wasted on developing a non-usable brand identity, design, or product architecture. “Trademark early and often,” Michael recommends. “Even if you aren’t sure you’re going to use a name, grab what you can so that it's available for use down the line.”
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