Five Steps to Naming a Company
One of my favorite things to do at Red Sage is to help potential business owners name their new company. What a privilege it is to be there at the birth of a company and to be involved in something as important as coming up with a solid business name and brand! Of course, we’ve also used the process I am sharing here today to help existing businesses name brands, products, product features, services, or even to create a tagline or slogan. Whatever you are naming in your business, read on to learn how to create a high-impact name that will get your new brand off to a great start.
Step 1: Build your “Naming Team”
First, get together a team that brings knowledge and creativity to the table – and tell them to expect to spend two hours in a dynamic session to establish your new company brand name. You absolutely need all key stakeholders at the table such as the business owner or partners, key employees, and possibly even the spouse of the business owner. If you have trusted friends that know the industry inside and out, ask them to come too. Finally, make sure at least one or two creative thinkers is in the room. No offense to engineering types, but if it is a very technical crowd, freestyle brainstorming can be next to impossible to achieve.
Step 2: Develop your ground rules for the name
When I named Red Sage, my ground rules were:
- The name had to be easy to say, spell and understand over the phone
- The name had to be unique enough to trademark nationally
- The name had to have meaning for my company, my services, and my industry
- I did not want my name (Didier) in the company name because I knew I might want to sell the company someday in the future
These are all pretty good ground rules, but there are others that can be considered.
For example, if you are only working with a local market, it is far easier to come up with a name because there is competition for names. You could consider using your name or geography if your business is strictly local. However, if there is any chance you could be expanding what you do, the industry could go through big changes, or if you ever think the company could sell further away than your local market, do NOT limit your company by naming your company too specifically. For example, “Smith’s Home Cleaning Service of Decatur” limits you from ever expanding to the commercial market, another city, or to selling the company to someone with a different name. Don’t limit yourself.
If your company name needs to work internationally, do research to make sure the words you are using don’t have different connotations in other countries. You may need an expert to help you with this.
If you absolutely want something in the name such as “Services” or “Solutions,” make sure you capture this as well.
Finally, don’t get too crazy. At the end of the day, the name needs to be easy to say and remember or people will stumble over it and you’ll be spending your time explaining your name and not why people should be buying from you.
Step 3: Start brainstorming
Ok, now for the fun part. Get your Naming Team together in a comfortable room with plenty of wall space to put up four or five poster-size sticky notes or easel paper around the room. Have plenty of munchies on hand and establish a very casual feel.
Start doing free word association writing down as many words as possible – you are not naming at this point – you are just trying to stimulate the free flow of ideas and eliminate the filter you typically have over your mouth. Here are some typical triggers we use when we facilitate this process. We go on to the next one when the ideas start to slow down.
- What are words that are industry terms? (such as ‘milestone’ for a project management related company)
- What are product- or service-related words? (such as marketing or web or branding)
- What are product features? (such as ‘fast’ or ‘small’)
- What are benefits gained by the product or company? (such as visibility or streamline)
- Are there any geography related words that should be considered? (such as river or valley)
- Are there any numbers that could be considered? (such as 4 partners, 3 core values, etc.)
- Are there any related colors that could be considered? (such as Red to stand out or Silver for metal)
- Are there any core values? (such as integrity or service)
- Any words that convey what can you bring the customer? (such as clarity or vision)
- Going back through the list – any free word associations that pop up on any of the words on the paper so far? (such as rapid or speedy related to fast)
Step 4: Refining into a Name
Now that you hopefully have four or five papers filled with words of all kinds, ask the group which words resonate with them for any reason at all. Take a different color marker and put a circle around any words mentioned. Put up another sheet of paper on the wall and copy the circled words to it. There should be between six and 12 words on the paper. Now go back and ask if there are any prefixes or suffixes that could be considered such as “advanta” for advantage or “visi” for visibility. Write these down too. Finally, on a fresh sheet of paper or two, start putting combinations together. This is where the creative people will really come in handy for being able to pull words together and make them unique. Typically, at this point you should have between six and twenty possible names. Continue to refine down, eliminating any that people don’t like, or continuing to try different approaches, until a short list of possible names emerges. This step is perhaps the hardest step of all and requires patience, creativity, and perseverance. We have never had this process fail to generate a final name within a two-hour block of time in all of the sessions we have conducted for many different kinds of companies.
Step 5: Check Availability
The final step is to develop a list of two to three viable names and then do a quick check to see if they seem to be available. Caution: the wisest course of action would be to have an attorney make sure the name is legally available. We do a quick search on Trademarkia.com, and then follow up by searching for available web addresses on GoDaddy.com. Another word of caution: be prepared to reserve any available domain names for a year to lock down the domain name just in case. There are many reports of web addresses that have been searched for availability on various search engines immediately being snapped up by domain investors resulting in much more expense and trouble later on. Reserving a domain for a year is very inexpensive and well worth the cost to ensure a name will be yours if you decide you want it.
So there you have it
Names are powerful and it is well worth spending the time to ensure you have a good one for your brand. Our most common question at Red Sage, and best way for me to trigger the opportunity to talk about our brand and how we help customers, is the question, “How did you come up with your name?” The answer: “Red” is the color that stands out the most – which is the point of marketing. “Sage” is another word for “wise,” as in “Sage Advice”. So ‘Red Sage Communications’ is the name of a company that provides wise solutions that help companies stand out in a crowded marketplace AND it is easy to say and spell, understand over a phone, and unique enough to be registered nationally.