Startup companies, much like flowers, sprout up fast and grow quickly.
In a rush to capture market share, the company naming process often centers on the initial product offering. The name focuses on the what vs. the how or why.
Worse yet, the business moniker results from a late-night brainstorming session based on trending fads, awkward mashups, or knee-jerk word associations.
The results are scattered, outmoded brand names that require clarification, explanation, and expensive marketing.
To brand right, you have to dig deep.
For a brand to really take root, you must first do the hard work of shoveling and creating space for the idea to grow.
This means uncovering the taproot of the business model, which is the central theme or core attribute powering the brand. We call it your “pivot point,” the prime motivator that inspires both your current and future product and service offerings.
Avoid Names With Limiting Categories
Literal brand names such as Toys “R” Us, CompUSA, RadioShack, and Linens & Things all proved problematic once they grew and evolved beyond their names.
To create a transcendent brand, an “evergreen,” the name should align with attributes or values that never go out of style.
Books-A-Million made sense when shipping hard copy books was in style. The name, however, pigeon-holed the company into the narrow and growingly obsolete niche of paper and hardcover books.
In desperation, product-identified brands will resort to tag lines such as “We’re more than just books!” In the case of Books-A-Million, the marketing department reduced it to BAM!, as if getting books by mail were some heart-palpitating event.
Amazon took another route, aligning itself with a metaphoric river, one that flows with an abundant assortment of products. Aligning in this way allowed this brand to expand without having to rebrand or overbrand its existing name.
One client of ours came with the name of PCnet-inc.com (both a hyphen and “inc” in the website name). The PC in the name was no longer PC.
This IT startup had its origins in networking PCs via ethernet cables. It eventually evolved to hosting, data management, cloud services, and data security.
We rebranded PCnet-inc.com as Corserva, based on the word morphemes of core, services, and servers, with a Latin-esque “a” ending, giving it a corporate feel.
The marketing lexicon now revolves around these attributes of vital or mission-critical, core services. Clients will always need core services, but they won’t always need PCs.
To avoid choking the life out of your brand, avoid literal, descriptive, or geographic references.
Avoid literal, descriptive, or geographic references.
Don’t use “wholesale” in the name if you ever plan to sell retail. Don’t use “USA” if you want to attract a global audience. Same applies to “host,” “hosting,” “site,” “sites,” etc. if you plan to expand beyond hosting and web design.
If you ever find yourself saying “We’re more than _______,“ then you have too literal of a name.
Use Timeless Names With Positive Attributes
Great brands stay green no matter how long they’ve been in business.
They don’t follow trends and popular naming schemes such as mindlessly adding an “ly” or “ify” to the product name itself. (e.g. Optiqly, Spacily, Sevenly, Flightly, Boxly, Bonusly, Optimizely, etc.).
Just because the .ly is available, it shouldn’t be the deciding factor in choosing a company name.
Instead, base the name on key attributes and/or positive connotations.
InVision follows this strategy; “in” is better than “out,” and “vision” beats running around blind. Who doesn’t want to be in? And who doesn’t want to have the advantage of long-range perspective?
Evernote is another great example of an evergreen name. “Ever” is better than never, and “note” sounds simple, intuitive, and harmonious.
Grow Your Own Company Brand Identity
So, just how do you create an evergreen brand name? Start by making a list of short words that capture your company’s key characteristics and attributes, words such as "true," "tru," "new," "nu," "bright," "smart," "star," "key," "first," "spring," "stream," "ever," "on," "all," etc.
These word parts imbue the company with pre-existing positive equity that can jumpstart the first impression. Make sure these words match up with what you do best, qualities you naturally exhibit.
Combine these words with more generic “tofu”-type words, such as "mark," "point," "line," and "time" – words that absorb the feel of the stronger, positive-connotation words.
You can also add some industry descriptor words but only if you know for certain they are broad enough and that you will remain in that sector for the life of your business.
So, tread lightly when adding these types of words. As a tool, we find it helpful to create an 8x8 or 10x10 grid and populate it with all these words as in the example below for an imaginary IT service company.
With this simple naming technique, you can mix and match thousands of possibilities such as:
Most of these names’ exact domain match will be taken or already in business, so be persistent and look up the current owner through a WhoIs.sc search and do a preliminary TM search on USPTO.gov.
You will eventually find some winners that are available (as in deleted and available to register) or ones listed for sale on sites such as Afternic, GoDaddy, Sedo, or HugeDomains.
A couple thousand dollars is a reasonable investment for a good two-word domain name.
You will want to vet the short list as much as possible by running it by a TM attorney and Googling the name to see what’s similar to it.
Try out each name by practicing it as an introduction.
Develop a matching tag line that complements and clarifies the brand message and mission. Complete it with your own brand story that tells the “why” behind the brand.
Creating an evergreen brand name is one of the top naming strategies we employ, so fully explore the possibilities this type of company name can offer.
Create an Evergreen Name
Aligning your company name with what you currently sell can spell trouble.
Aligning with the “how” or “why” behind your company can clarify your true purpose and empower future growth and expansion.
By choosing attribute-based naming strategies, you can grow a brand that adapts with changes in the industry.
About the Author
With over 25 years of company naming and branding expertise, Tungsten founder Phil Davis is a marketing and advertising veteran, having personally named over 250 companies, products and services worldwide. As a sought-after branding expert, Phil has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Inc.com, Businessweek, Entrepreneur, AdAge, and Newsday.