Choosing a name for your startup

Through my marketing career I have helped companies name themselves and their products.  Each journey is unique, sometimes it is quick and sometimes not, it should not be rushed. More recently I have helped out a couple tech startups, think this through. Here are my insights from the perspective of a startup or small business. I will assume you do not have a large advertising budget to educate your consumers or users.

The strongest names tend to be:

  • Unique
  • Easy to say(pronounce) and easy to write(spell)
  • Easy to understand
  • They tend to reflect Values or Benefits of the product not features, not sure of what FBV are? Look here
  • Have emotion as they describe inherit values
  • They may use words, with inherent trust in them, or coming a mythology already in place
  • They may be counter-culture, to rest of their sector
  • At least one noun
Bad names:
  • incorrect spelling
  • acronyms
  • boring
  • based on the latest trend
  • swear words
  • when using two words or more there is an inequality in the power of the words
  • adverbs

Things that do not matter:

Too many companies choose names based on what is available on the web.  URL vs Google search – in my humble opinion people rarely type in the URL bar, but instead will type the company name straight into their search engine (Google, Bing or Yahoo).

Corporate or product naming

Corporate branding – about the values, behaviours and thus culture of your organization.  So that you can attract the right talent to your organization.  In Simon Sineks’ book Start with the Why – people don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it

Product branding – All about your customers and their needs/desires.

An example from a startup weekend (54 hours – No talk, all action):

We wanted to build a tele-presence (e.g. you could control it from a web browser) robot (on wheels, inductive charging and video camera) that people were comfortable with having in their home, it would either check to see if their pet was ok, used to communicate with tech-phobic granny or sweep the house to see if all was good.  We felt the biggest market was to look after or checkin on either pets or grannies, our price point was $300. Women cared most. So I went to a dog park to see if small dog owners in apartment block inner cities would be interested.  There were more women the first morning, all small dogs, about half could not get home to check their pet at lunchtime and would then rush home after work.  They said “I would love to check-in with Frankly, he is so cute”. The term check-in appeared a lot in conversation.  However they did not like the idea of a robot, it felt too un-organic, but one suggestion was “well if it looked like a bear that would be cool.  So I started asking what animals people liked.. They seemed to reflect the movies of the time so, chicken, panda, penguin and monkeys.. so it made sense to call it ANIMAL + CHECKIN.  So I tried Chicken Checkin – people reacted with a surprise and then a smile (That is good). This played well with the audience would buy it for their grandmother as well (the grand daughters using their own or mothers money for their grand mother). I then used animal names people wanted most on the higher price scale, aspiration and all that. Chicken checkin as the cheapest base model, Chatty Panda for the good model (two way video conferencing) and periscope penguin (extendable neck – kitchen counter).

One other thing I knew the leading competitors at the start-up weekend – one was being led by a local Venture capitalist on home security – so i was guessing they would be going for rational proposition, a touch of fear (of home invasion), republican and money.  Another competitor was being led by a local Angel – another way to give money to homeless people, so very emotional, democrat, and fair.  In terms of name and brand I was looking for humour, clarity, independent, emotional but tying into common sense.  Essentially I was ensuring we would portray something very different in the pitch, not just in product but in style. It worked to a degree we won best presentation.

You can read the start weekend post here.

The importance of emotion

Every word comes with a meaning to a person, it may even not be about the word but the letters used.  They may not or love the name simply because of their history. People always come with baggage.

Literal versus abstract names – its on a scale

Personally I believe the more literal the name, the less education(marketing) will be needed for people to place you. And it is important(why psychology and memory) for people to be able to place/position you if you want mass market rather than just visionary buyers.

Comparisons

How would you choose a child’s name? Why do certain names mean more than others? We have a surprisingly amount of prejudices/emotion based on human names, often based on the first person we met with that name

Process

If you are finding difficult here is a process that may help you discover the name. This journey may help you explore more than just your name but your whole business. Its important to keep it separate from the design process.

Stage One: Research

  • Know your shit – the business, the sector, the competition
  • Know your values – a process in its self, which should really involve others
  • Research your stakeholders – Porters five forces (Customers, Suppliers, Competition, New Entrants, Substitutes)
  • Choose a perspective (Who are the first set of customers you want onboard, who will champion your cause – what is their psychological makeup? What words do they like and use)
  • Your name is not alone – Type, colours, logo – will add clues to what you are about and can dramatically change the way words are perceived.

Stage Two: Get past the NOW

Sometimes people are so fixed about their idea, filter and prejudices that they cannot see clearly.  As the startup journey is very often emotional, it can cloud us from ration thought, which can be helpful.  That said a good name depends on having a strong emotional connection.

First Impressions

Get your team together and put the following questions on flip chart paper – give everyone post-it notes and a felt tip (it limiteds the number of words used) and describe:

Q1 – What do you(the organsation) do?

Q2 – How does your consumer/user benefit?

Q3 – What do you change in your consumer?

Q4 – Why are you unique? This one tends to get more bullshit answers than the others, be honest.

Q5 – What are your values and how does this reflect in behaviours and product/services? (If you are seeking actual behaviours then your values are not a reality, yet..) You should know this BEFORE you consider your name.

Everyone gets to put up there own views, no filtering or founder bullying.  Each idea should be discussed (people can keep adding) and grown. Brainstorming – not sure how? Have a look here.

Stage Three: Record the journey

Reserve a lot of wall space..

The Wall of Names – somewhere there should a wall of ideas, post-it notes with names, all are valid ideas. Each person would try to grow each idea, or help it down the evolutionary ladder. The more people you allow into the process the more ideas you will get.  This wall is not limited to words , pictures, sketches and photos are equally good.

The Wall of Customers (for product name) – the same as above but describes the customers you want. Their personalities, their drivers, fashion, music, everything

The Wall of Talent (for corporate name) – What are the types of people you want to attract? We all want smart people to work for us. But what kind of smartness? At a small business level your talent will be limited by the personality of the founder/leader. The unaware founder will want lots of people like them, but with different capabilities. The smart founder will be looking for different types of personalities as building a team is often about weaving, very different people together (as they all have different perspectives and will be able to see different problems and solutions).

Stage Four: Step out of your space

A fair degree of innovation comes from looking at other people doing other things, in other places and seeking what we can learn from them.  In part this happens so often that Michael Porter had two elements (Threat of New Entrants and Threat of Substitutes) in his Porters Five forces model to account for people who can come from another sector and replace what you are doing e.g. Apple taking over music and in part mobile.

Look at other organizations in other sectors (not your own) – which organization would you want to be from any sector profit, non-profit or governmental.  You are looking for the organizations that you admire and would like to emulate in some way.  For each organization breakdown why you like them, into values, people, products/services, get a little deep here, you are trying to truly see past the marketing/propaganda to see how they are connecting with you.

Unique possibilities

After you have reviewed the organizations consider what does not occur in your sector that already exists in another.

Stage Five: Deciding

Choosing a name is not an easy process.  Some people start with code names e.g. Project ALPHA, so they can just label it. Labelling is important for most humans.  If you are on a timescale I would suggest taking everyone out of work to start the above process, allow for no distractions, if possible get an independent to help facilitate the session.  They will concentrate on getting the best out of people in terms of ideas.  What ever you do always sleep on it.  The brain generally does some amazing stuff whilst you are asleep.

Names are like falling in love, you know it.  This can take time. Everyone will feel it.  That said even after choosing you may have doubts, thats ok.

The advocate – you will need at least one person to love the idea and explore its possibilities. Without a true advocate you do not have a good name.

Good places to think about it – Road Trip (with the team, not alone) you are together but in the real world with different stimulations, walk around a shopping mall, go to a conference about something you know nothing about, read an autobiography of someone with a completely different life to you. Lack of sleep can help 🙂 Expose yourself to different forms of stimulation.

Good books

These books are not directly related, but each has taught me something with naming:

Sticky Wisdom – Understanding and growing creative cultures

Eating the Big Fish – About branding when you are the punk on the block

How to have Kick-Ass Ideas – Shake it up

Visual Meetings

Logo Design love

If you want to deeper into branding here are a couple other reccomendations

Designing Brand Identity 

Brand Sense

Brand Portfolio Strategy

I welcome your thoughts and experiences.  Where did your names come from?  What are your favourite names?

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About Eric Brooke

I’m deeply curious, love to learn, insightful about people and their psychological makeup, deft at communication, excel at networking, deeply tech-savvy and relish growing others through education and leadership. I am a developer, marketeer, gamer, lover of water slides and ice cream :-)

Posted on 29 February , 2012, in Branding, Change Management, Communcation, Culture, Marketing, Startup and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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