There’s a special kind of sinking feeling that happens in the pit of your stomach when you realize that you’ll soon be changing your brand name. It’s hard to describe, but you’ll never forget it once you’ve felt it! This heady mix of fear, anxiety, and overwhelm can be temporarily crippling.
You might realize you need to rename your business because you’ve received a cease and desist letter from a competing company. Or maybe you’ve just opened a rejection letter from the trademark office. Sometimes you’re minding your own business at a show and wander down an aisle to discover a vendor with a too-close-for-comfort brand name.
No matter how you discover that a business name change is on the horizon, you’ll likely need a hot bath and a good cry STAT. Once those are out of the way, I recommend rolling up your sleeves and getting on with the task of brainstorming a brand name. Read on to discover how to choose a business name in five steps!
Brainstorming a brand name
Dry your eyes, put a pot of coffee on, and grab a pen. I’ve found that most entrepreneurs who struggle when deciding on a new business name benefit from having a simple system as a foundation for the task. When spaces are so wide open that they feel overwhelming, a fixed starting point can make all the difference. Here’s my system for creating a business name brainstorm that’s rich with possibilities!
STEP 1: When brainstorming names, I like to set myself up somewhere cozy where I can focus. Whip out a piece of paper and launch a stream-of-consciousness about the brand. Write down everything that comes to mind when you think of your audience and what you want this brand to represent. Colors, people, places, feelings, raw materials, anything at all- don’t judge its worthiness or validity… just write it down. If the comes to mind, capture it on paper. Keep going until you’re out of ideas.
STEP 2: Come back to that list another day and scrutinize it, striking words that…
- You decide it’s not a good fit on second thought.
- Are especially challenging to spell or pronounce.
- Potentially have double or negative meanings, etc.
STEP 3: Take the words that survive that editing process, and write each one of them down on an individual index card. You’ve just created a curated brand vocabulary that’s mobile! Spread those cards out on the floor and play with them, putting them together in different ways. When you find a combo you like, snap a picture with your smartphone. Continue with that process until you’re fresh out of creative juice.
STEP 4: It’s time to begin vetting your favorites. Check both domain availability and trademark availability. That will likely knock the list back quite a bit, but don’t be discouraged. You only need one juicy possibility!
STEP 5: Take your shortlist of vetted names and schedule an appointment with a trademark attorney who can do more thorough searches and advise you on the likelihood of securing a federal trademark.
How to pick a business name
What makes a good brand name? That’s largely subjective, but there are some essential guidelines to keep in mind when choosing a business name. Once you’ve got a curated handful of contenders, use this checklist to vet each name and pick your winner!
- BRIEF. Is it short enough to be readily remembered? People generally remember a brand by one-two at most- names. Anything else is likely to be shortened.
- CLEARLY PRONOUNCED. Is the brand name easy to pronounce? People hesitate to say things that make them appear less intelligent. If the pronunciation is unclear, then fans are less likely to repeat your brand name to others.
- OBVIOUSLY SPELLED. The corresponding website will be more challenging to find and share if the name can’t be spelled easily.
- APPROPRIATE. Does it reasonably fit the purpose of the brand?
- DISTINCTIVE. Does the name stand out from the competition? Does it stand out from ordinary text and speech, so as not to sound generic when read or spoken?
- PROTECTABLE. Can a federal trademark be secured? Can you secure an obvious domain name?
- LIKABLE. Will your target audience enjoy using it? Is it a name they’ll enjoy sharing? Does it conjure positive connotations? How easily does it roll off the tongue? How does the name sound when spoken?
- FLEXIBLE. Does it lend itself to visual interpretation? Can it be used as a launching pad to create catchy copy? Can it be used to build brand extensions?
Should I trademark my business name?
ABSOLUTELY. If you’re serious about your business, then you need a trademark! A company is never on solid ground until its intellectual property is on lock. If you aren’t copyrighting your work and trademarking your brand names, then someone can come and (quite literally) sweep the rug right out from under you.
Ever plan to sell your business or acquire investors? A savvy investor will inquire about trademarks quite early in those discussions. Investors are always keen to discover if your intellectual property is secure.
And if you’re investing money into logos and packaging and product photography (all of which will have to be redone if you suddenly realize you need a new business name), isn’t it wise to ensure that you’re investing in a name you can own? Printing custom labels or packaging before you have a well-vetted, attorney-assisted trademark application on file at the USPTO is the ultimate cart-before-the-horse scenario.
I learned this lesson the hard way. A few years ago, I sat down with attorney Kiffanie Stahle to share the trademark nightmare that almost cost me my entire business. If you can summon the courage to read through my agony, there are some solid takeaways, and I genuinely hope you take them away! That’s the silver lining on such a dark cloud. There’s tremendous value in my experience if it helps other entrepreneurs avoid the no-trademark trap.
What questions do you have about naming a small business?
Drop a comment below, and I’ll do my best to help. In the meantime, I invite download my Brand Name Audit worksheet. This simple PDF will help you build a “grinder” through which to run potential company names.
This worksheet is part of Brick House Branding, my 9-week brand development incubator. Need help launching or relaunching your product-based brand? Brick House Branding early bird enrollment will open again on March 10 for a very limited time. I’d love to help you pick the perfect brand name!
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