The process of naming a business

The process of naming a business 

Naming a business image


You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so they say. More often than not, the first impression anyone gets of your business and its products and services – is a name. And what a big impression that can make! 
Naming a business is not straightforward and the stakes are high. In this short piece we’re going to look at the simple measure organisations can take to make the process of naming a business streamlined and enjoyable for all. We want you to feel confident about naming your business, and if you’re not, just pick up the phone!

Nonsense corporate names such as ‘Consignia’, and product names like ‘Cillit Bang!’ that tell you absolutely nothing about the contents of the bottle, stick in the mind, but not always for the right reasons. While ‘Cillit Bang!’ was supported by a national advertising campaign to give the name relevance, ‘Consignia’ was consigned to the scrapheap. With considerable expense the Post Office discovered just how difficult naming a business can be. 

Then there are names that fail to stick in the mind at all: meaningless acronyms, endless .coms and strings of company names and initials that even the partners would struggle to remember. In a world where so many get it wrong, getting it right offers an unmissable opportunity to create a brand with real stand-out. The freedom to inject creativity into naming a business is seemingly lost on many organisations.

Faced with the challenge of naming a business, many companies choose to get in professional help. Companies that provide specialist business naming services assemble teams of linguists, wordsmiths and strategists and apply strict processes to come up with brand names. Often the best approach is not to view the process of naming a business in isolation, but as part of your overall creative strategy. Especially as your business name is one of the most visible elements of your brand. In this way company and product naming forms part of a wider branding exercises. As an example, Fabrik re-named health-tech company Qinec as Lumeon, as this reflected the Company’s products and ethos. While the name also provides opportunities to make a strong graphical statement.

Similarly, ‘The Bigger Picture’, Fabrik’s name for a personal finance product from Aviva, suggested the Company’s innovative approach and the customer’s dreams and aspirations. It also offered exciting possibilities for a memorable graphical treatment that could extend to sub-brands in the future.

There are no hard and fast rules in naming a business, and sometimes you just have to go with your gut instinct. Breaking the rules can be more successful than following them to the letter. But there are some good, sound principles that will put you on the right path to getting a business name that works:

What’s your USP?

When naming your business, try to find a name that embraces the unique nature of your products and services. This could be a literal expression of your offering (like ‘Carphone Warehouse’) but the names with the best brand potential are those that capture the essence of your company (like ‘Virgin’).

Look ahead

It may be a local business now but think about what the future might hold and don’t limit yourself. Europeans weren’t comfortable with the name ‘America Online’ and the company had to rename itself ‘AOL’. 

Do your research

Today, naming a business is made more complicated by a lack of boundaries and geographical divisions. Online, everything is visible on-screen. Be sure to search for potential competitors who might be using a similar business name. The more upfront research you do, the less likely you are to run into complications down the line. 

Keep it simple

Avoid anything too difficult to pronounce or spell (people will never find it on the Internet) or too long to remember. Think about your marketing resources. ‘Out there’ names like ‘EE’ or ‘Google’ can work brilliantly if you have the time and budget to build awareness and understanding. But if you’re a small company, naming your business in a way that explains what you do is much more self sufficient.

Don’t be a slave to fashion

In the early 20th century, names like ‘Vaseline’ and ‘Ovaltine’ with Latinate endings flourished as the potential for a widening European market grew. In the ‘70s, everything ended in the techo-sounding ‘tron’. In the ‘90s we were awash with dotcoms or names formed from made up words like ‘Diageo’ or by stitching descriptive elements together to create new meanings, like Centrica and Corus. Some of them sound dated now, which highlights the importance of future-proofing when naming a business. 

‘A’ is for ‘an early listing’

Business names that start with numbers or letters from the beginning of the alphabet may gain an advantage in listings directories and search engines. But only go for such a name if it fulfils all your other criteria.

Mind your language!

Check for undesirable connotations in other languages if your product might be marketed there. Try using foreign language translation websites or asking native speakers who will spot slang and colloquialisms. If your company trades overseas, consider seeking advice from a specialist linguistic agency. This is a sensible precaution when naming a business. 

Keep it legal

Watch out for trademarks or anything that sails too close to another company’s name – even if you’re in a different business. It pays to be thorough. Getting a professional legal search and having your shortlisted business names trademarked could significantly reduce costs in the long-run. 

Don’t be strangled by a URL

In an ideal world, you’ll find a genius name for your business with an up-for-grabs .com. But so many domain names are now registered, that’s a tall order. Don’t devise an obscure or bizarrely spelled name just because the .com is available. If you build a great brand, people will get used to a different web address (The Evening Standard online, for instance, has won awards for www.thisislondon.com). Alternatively, consider extensions like .biz, .net or .tv. As mentioned, the Internet and domain availability has made the process of naming a business all the more complicated. 

Run it up the flagpole

One of the best ways to choose a name is to create a list, either internally or with the help of a business naming agency, and then get staff to rank it in order of preference. Feedback from customers and focus groups can also be invaluable.

Make it flexible

With so much media fragmentation, your name will need to work on a wide range of media – from your website to digital marketing campaigns, traditional media, signage, promotional merchandise, packaging and across mobile devices. A communications audit and plan will help you to understand the extent of the roll-out phase, and is a helpful early step when naming a business. 

Finally, bend with the wind

If your name isn’t fulfilling your brand’s potential, have the confidence to change it. Naming your business can open up a world of opportunity. You’ll need to put investment behind the change to avoid confusion in the crossover period, but it will be worth it in the end. Cellnet certainly looked a more attractive purchase when its name was changed to O2 before BT sold it off. Now see what you can do.

About the author...

Stewart Hodgson

Marketing Director. Brand master. Audiophile. Stewart lives and breathes design. (Even his toaster is a Porsche.) Has spent the last 20 years getting businesses like The BBC, Johnson & Johnson and AXA excited about what good design can do for them. Makes sure Fabrik delivers it – and then some… Always tuned in to clients’ needs. Always plugged it to iTunes. Has OCV (obsessive collection of vinyl).

    One Comment

  1. There’s definitely an art to naming. It goes much deeper than pulling names out of thin air (or a hat?) They’re enjoyable and often challenging projects to work on, but by asking the right questions and perseverance, you can find the right name for your company. And if you can’t, ask an expert to help you!

    • By Steve Harvey |
    • 04 May 2017
    • Reply

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