Copywriting Hacks: How to Name Your Business
Your business name is your cornerstone - the key that turns the lock, the foundation on which you build your success, and the first thing prospects judge. It should not only express who you are, but also why someone should care. It’s the story of your business - what it is now and what it is to become - told in a single word (give or take a few).
While there aren’t any specific rules carved into stone on this front, a good business name should communicate, instantly, the personality of your business, your overall philosophy and ambition, as well as your attitude, size, and point of view. For example, Prada means something completely different than Payless. A great deal of work went into giving those names the power they hold, and the definition we’ve given them, but if you see those two side by side, you know - instantly - that they mean two very different things.
That’s why your business name is so important. It’s the beginning of an entire ecosystem of content you will create over time. It’s the flagship for your message. Every blog post, product name & description, service, and offering should not only be informed by, but also inform, the business name itself. And since human beings are constantly searching for patterns and connections, you want to reinforce this natural process through a strong brand name that acts as an umbrella for all other words used by your business. Everything should be connected.
Of course, you don’t want to tackle something this important last. It should be a priority when starting your business, or even when conducting a massive overhaul or pivot. There can be great power in a name; but that is also part of the great difficulty in discovering the right one. For starters, most of the good names all appear to have been taken (at first glance), URL availability is limited, and you probably don’t want to end up in court due to some trademark dispute.
Luckily, there are some tried and true ways to name your business that can help you get started:
1. Give it your name.
This is considered by some to be an old fashioned way of naming your business, but in some cases it can work. Ford, Campbell, Veuve Clicquot, DuPont - all of these companies were named after their founders. So, yes, it can work; but consider that, in the age of the Internet, those names probably wouldn’t gain much traction upfront, unless a strong network of contacts was built beforehand.
Ford had little competition when he started his business, and the Oprahs of the world are rare. If you’re an unknown, you’re gonna have a hell of a time building up your own personal brand from scratch. For example, if you’re thinking of naming your business John Doe Web Development or Jane Doe Life Coaching, organic leads will rarely find you. (If no one knows who you are, how are they supposed to search for you?)
On the flip side, it probably won’t be difficult to find an available URL, and if you have a strong personality that comes through your content, it might work. Just be advised that with all of the competition out there, you’re going to have to work extra hard to give your personal name the necessary weight.
2. Choose a meaningless name.
Think Kodak, Kotex, Camel, Yelp!, Google, Twitter, etc. These names are unique, but they required Herculean efforts to mean something to the market. People needed to be taught what Google meant, same for Yelp! and Twitter. However, once they knew what Kotex meant, that name stuck to memory and helped to distinguish that brand from its competitors.
This also applies to naming your business after a sound or sensory experience. For example, Zip Car. That denotes a car with the sole purpose of zipping around town. It works. So the trick when choosing a meaningless name is to try to embody the concept of your business. Yelp!, for example, offers customers the chance to relay their experiences with certain restaurants or vendors. Maybe they’re “yelping” because they had a terrible experience, or because it was so good, they had to share their story.
But if this direction doesn’t work, you always have the option to make up your own word, like FireFox, by mixing and combining other words or pieces of them. Just don’t get too “out there.” You still want prospects to understand what it is you do. And if you start pairing random adjectives, nouns, and sensory words, remember: if your prospects can’t pronounce or spell the word, then it won’t make them feel anything but confused - and that’s not what you want either.
3. Be descriptive.
Band-Aid describes pretty accurately what they are and what they sell. Sales appeal is basically built-in to such a name; but it may be constrictive when it comes time to expand your business. Try to come up with a name that can grow with you, especially if you plan to branch out later on down the road.
On the other hand, puns can play well too, depending on the personality you wish to express. One of our favorites is from the film Runaway Bride, where the local hair salon was called “Curl Up & Dye.” (Still chuckling over that one.) But, as with any business name, it really depends on your goals, personality, and what your target audience will appreciate. You can be funny, but you don’t want to offend your prospects either. If you’re cutesy, offensive, or mocking — even if in jest — it may turn certain people off, permanently. And maybe that’s something you want to avoid. Charming and clever are good; goofy and unprofessional, not so much. But again — it depends on what you’re selling.
Another direction you can go in, if you’re feeling descriptive, is to make your business name an actual statement. For example, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. The name stands out, expresses the value proposition, and manages to be memorable. (Those Fabio commercials certainly helped.) And even if you don’t plan to go this route with your business name, attempts to create a brief description or phrase can be a helpful exercise in and of itself. For instance, if you’re selling a very complicated product, see how well you can simplify your idea. You may even get a tagline out of it.
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So, what are some pitfalls you should try to avoid? There are two directions which are pet peeves of ours, which we would recommend you steer clear of; however, we understand that everyone is on their own path, so do what you think is best. We’d simply be remiss if we didn’t highlight the following:
1. Acronyms (aka Alphabet Soup)
If you’re just starting out, the chances that you’ll become the next IBM or CBS are pretty slim. And while we know what those initials represent today, it still took a ton of effort to educate customers on their meaning way back when. Today, with all of the competition out there, you really don’t want to waste all of that time, effort, and money trying to explain what your initials mean.
Prospects have an extremely limited attention span, and if they don’t know what you’re about in mere seconds, they’ll probably move on. You simply don’t have the luxury of that kind of time. Furthermore, being cryptic won’t serve your marketing efforts, unless you’re going for that DaVinci Code experience. You want your potential customers to know what you’re about at first sight, not after reading a 2,000 word essay on why you named you company FJS4.
2. Alternative Spelling
While this can work, and we’ve seen it work, this whole alternative spelling thing appears to be getting way out of hand. Just look at some of the company names listed on Product Hunt. We get it - naming your business or app is extremely challenging - but changing the spelling of certain words doesn’t make your business name more innovative. At times, it can make it even more confusing for prospects, especially when the names don’t even match the actual service or product. But again, with certain companies, such as Publix and Krispy Kreme, it works. Just don’t get too clever. You not only run the risk of creating a different version of alphabet soup, but that clever name may also go out of style much faster than you think.
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Remember: your business name should last as long as your business does. And the words you choose to describe your business will remind your customer of something, whether it’s what you originally intended or not. Make sure it reminds them of the identity you’re presenting and the solution you pose.
It should also represent your personality: are you going for modern? Traditional? Serious? Fun? Indignant? Rebellious? That’s what your prospects will ultimately connect with emotionally, so give it some real thought. Who are you? What do you stand for? What does your business actually do? What are the benefits? And why should someone care?
Once you have the answers to those questions, you can start playing with your words to discover a business name that might work. Create as many options as you can, then pick out your favorites. Once you have three to five really solid contenders, ask for feedback from people you trust. Does your name say what you think it says? Is it easy for strangers to pronounce? Will it be confused with other business names out there? Is it memorable?
We once started a blog named Creativesen Avenue, only to realize that no one could pronounce or spell it. It also didn’t tell visitors anything about the blog itself, just that it had a weird name. The feedback we got from friends and colleagues was invaluable, and it helped to steer us in the right direction. And while Words by Sørensen isn’t the most descriptive name ever, it does include our last name, and we really loved its design agency feel. Plus, we were sure that if our name ever went global, it wouldn’t translate into something deeply offensive in a foreign country. (You can never be too sure.)
So, in short, you just need to think about what your business is, where you see it going in the next few years, and why you’re different from everyone else. Then play with your words until you find that sweet spot. Once you have that “ah ha!” moment, you’ll be glad you did the extra work early on. And if you need assistance, you can always snag a free copy of The Brand Swatch to dig a little deeper into your brand’s identity, or reach out to work with us one-on-one. We’re always here to help!
Amber + John