Picking the right brand name is one of the most important decisions you are going to make. Regardless of your amazing technology or killer features, people will only remember one thing: The Name.

I have always been terrible at naming. Contour started as Twenty20, then VholdR, and finally we arrived at Contour. It was a painful process that took several years and resulted in lost market traction because with each change we had to start our branding efforts over. It resulted in lost time that we never made back against GoPro.

In retrospect it’s easy to point at a name and call it obvious. Especially if the company you are referencing did a fantastic job of telling a story with their brand. Except when you are in the throws of naming, the word is anything but obvious.

In beginning the naming process here are a few categories that help to get the creative juices flowing.

  • Emotions - what are the raw feelings people experience while using your product. Uber is a great example here as they make it feel “vip” at an affordable price point.
  • Purpose - what are works that relate to the purpose of the activity consumers are following? GoPro represents what a lot of young riders are aspiring toward, bing a professional so this brand resonates with their struggle.
  • History - are there original inventors or words used many years ago that symbolize something important about your product category, or behavior. Tesla is now the most innovated car company, but Nikola Tesla is one of the most amazing inventors of his time.
  • Parts - are there any components, shapes, or parts of your product that are memorable. Square is tied to the shop of their credit card reader, while Mini represents the key feature about their car, size.
  • Sounds - are there any distinct sounds that are reminiscent of your product or its experience? Twitter was perfect because it’s a word that relates to a bird chirping, the same sound you get when your mobile phone buzzes at you with a new update.
  • Environment - is your product going to live in a unique environment that you could name? Nest, makers of the learning thermostat, instantly makes you think of home. While polar makes you think of the outdoors, exactly what Poler Stuff was looking for when it branded their camping gear company.

Once you have lists of names you can begin combining, shortening them, or translating them in different languages. Using your gut instincts to guide which words are jumping off the page at you.

As part of your name filter be sure to check which domains and social handles are available. If you pick a generic name, like Square, you better have a massive opportunity on your hands and be ready to spend a lot of money owning the brand both legally and in consumer’s minds.

Contour, for examples, was a lot harder to own than GoPro. Because Contour is both generic and used by large companies to describe their products, it is a very hard word to legally own around the world. Even though we were able to purchase the URL, we were going to need to spend a lot of money to own Contour in millions of consumers minds.

Down to your final few names, you are ready for the Bar Test. A straightforward test you want to know if people in a bar can remember the name of your company and understand what you do.

It works like this:
- Hang out in a noisy bar.
- When someone asks what you do, tell them the name of the company with a single sentence describing what the company does.

If they can’t pronounce the name, or keep asking you how it’s spelled, or don’t understand how it’s related to what you do, you failed.

We never did the bar test with VholdR and we should have because we would have realized that 9 out of 10 people couldn’t spell it and when they did see it spelled they mispronounced it.

In conclusion, here are a few traps to avoid.
  • Don’t use “technology” in your name. That screams 1980’s tech company, which you aren’t. It’s very hard to create an emotion around the word “technology.”
  • Be careful of the product versus company name. You get to brand one name so pick the right name and market the hell out of it. Don’t confuse people with a product name and then some random company name. People remembered Flip Video, not Pure Digital Technologies (the company name).
  • People struggle with weird spellings. If you have to correct them it means they will type it wrong when they search for it and tell their friends about it. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to figure out your cryptic spelling
  • If you are successful you will need to trademark your brand all over the world. If you pick a name that is already heavily trademarked around the world by different companies, you will have a very expensive mess on your hands down the road.
  • Long names are hard to remember. Shorter is always better.
Image Credit: InverseHypercube via Creative Commons

This guide was first published on Oct 14, 2013. It was last updated on Oct 14, 2013.

This page (Picking A Brand Name) was last updated on Oct 13, 2013.

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