Putting It Out There – Naming Your Venture

Your innovative new venture needs a name.

Forget for a moment the legal reasons, your venture’s name is an efficient, quick way for your customers and partners to remember you and your business. It is something you and they will say often, so it’s important and helpful to ensure that it encapsulates your market approach and helps to visualize the value you intend to offer.bizcard_sxc

Effective business naming is challenging for the entrepreneur.  It is wholly plausible that your skills at building and offering a great service or product might not be the same ones that help you find the best name for the business.  Finding a memorable, effective name means finding one that will help – not hinder – your success.  It’s a first step towards taking a successful product to the target market.

First let’s look at the purpose of a business name, and then how it will be used.

A unique name allows you to differentiate yourself from other businesses not only in the general business landscape, but also relative to those competing in your market.  It’s often the first impression a customer gets, and as such can convey some characteristics about your business quickly – for good or bad.

Fun, whimsical, serious, professional, elegant or irreverent, your business name will be a big influence on how you’re perceived.  Some customers will discover your business through your products, then seek your name for future reference. Others will hear about your company by word-of-mouth – hopefully in a positive context.

The word-of-mouth usage of your business name is particularly important.  Verbal referrals, especially for a small business unable to do a lot of advertising, can be your most important customer growth tool.

There are other factors, beyond those we’ll deal with here, to consider in naming. These include legal uniqueness requirements, registration and trademarks. As well, some businesses need to think about portability of the name to foreign markets and languages where the name may have radically different meanings or perceptions.

For our purposes though, let’s focus on these two fundamental questions: positioning yourself in the market, and being effective for your customers.  Here are FIVE simple rules for naming a business.

The first two rules are the best kind. You can break them. But think carefully before you do. These two simple concepts add great value in one of the most important areas – making it easy for your business to spread by word-of-mouth.

1. Maximum seven letters
2. Maximum three syllables

Anything that helps people remember your business and tell others about it is invaluable.  Or perhaps they’re passing on a bus and see your sign.   Maybe they walk past someone holding your product and have an immediate interest.  Will they remember the name long enough to look it up later?

In the early days of telephones, researchers studied peoples’ memories to see how many digits they could retain, and found that seven numbers was about the limit.  Sure, it’s not a directly transferable concept, but a seven letter limit similarly helps people remember the correct spelling of your business, particularly if you have a creative, non-dictionary, word as the name. Less is more.

You can find many businesses that break one or both of these rules yet still succeed.  They probably have a great product that allowed them to rise above, and gain solid brand identity during an early phase of the business.  But given how hard it is to succeed in today’s tough market place, why create a new barriers to overcome?  If you can do something to make the path towards name-recognition easier, why not do so?

3. Obvious spelling.
If a possible customer learns of your business by word-of-mouth, will they be able to search for it on the Internet?  What if the spelling is totally unexpected?  How quickly will they give up?cafemeet_sxc

Maybe your business sells sweets and someone enthusiastically tells their friend “You have GOT to try the peppermint candies from that shop called Sweet Candy.”  If the friend starts searching the web, they’ve got a problem on a couple of levels (see item 5 below)  If it turns out that the actual spelling of your business name is “Sue-Wheat Kandee”  they may give up long before they get a match.

Remember too that obvious spelling doesn’t have to be a dictionary spelling. More on that in rule five too.

4. Restrictive naming.
It’s a classic challenge that businesses sometimes unwittingly bind their future options by a badly chosen name.  It is not unusual for a business to serve a certain customer base and suddenly realize they have a great market opportunity adjacent to where they started.  This is a trendy word in new venture parlance – the “pivot.”  If your business name is very specific, it may limit your growth, and make attracting new customers difficult should you decide to do the P-word.

For example, you might begin as “Joe’s House Painting” but constantly hear that many customers can’t find a good carpet installation service – a skill you possess from your past.  Reaching those new customers with your existing name could be difficult.  As well, changing your name would cut you off from previous, very happy customers who will think you don’t do painting anymore.  Starting under a more flexible name like “Joe’s Home Services” might be a better strategy.  Maybe just “Joe’s Services” would leave you flexibility to evolve into non-residential services.wrench_sxc

Again, one can find exceptions where a business pushed through this barrier.  A great domestic example in our country is “Canadian Tire,” a large successful hardware, car-parts and service company.  They successfully transitioned to “more than tires,” thought that phrase was indeed their slogan for a while. How much did that cost?  Customers were gradually able to buy hammers and light-bulbs from the store that started out as automotive-focussed.  More recently, they tried to push it further, trying to offer food items like milk, and eggs and cheese in some stores, but they finally gave up.  Tires, hammers and eggs ultimately don’t go together in people’s minds – let alone in their shopping bags – and they appear to have abandoned that attempt.

5. Googleability.
Rule three already mentions that the spelling of your name should be obvious. You should also remember that most people are going to want to search the Internet to find or research your business.  Either to get your address, or phone number, to see customer reviews or to see your wares on your website. If your business name is simply “Home Services” the millions of hits generated will not be very helpful to that potential customer.  Having some uniqueness in the name will help with this.  Googling on “Tom’s Home Service” will be a bit easier. Even better would be “SpeedyTom” or  “Tom Works Wonders.”browsers_sxc

Creative name spelling will help too. But wait – remember rule three.  You can certainly get creative and try something like “Tomifaction” or “Housify.”  These are great non-dictionary words whose spelling can easily be guessed. This is branding gold.  People can easily google it and uniquely find ONLY references to your business.   This also gives you a powerful ability to track your marketing and customer activity too.  Your customers can find you quickly and easily. Just ensure you keep your creative spelling predictable.

Sixth of the Five Rules:  Testing
The best naming process is an iterative one – where you stop and test what you are closing in upon.  It’s easy to do a few tests on people around you. Say the name you’re considering and see if they can guess the spelling.  Google it and see if anything comes up (low numbers of hits, and in areas unrelated to your space is a good sign).
Test for domain name uniqueness – you might change your name when you find that housify is taken (it is).  Maybe something else would work.   This is a whole topic unto itself. (A quick-responding site like InstantDomainSearch is a pretty nice website for rapidly checking many domain names.  You’ll need to do that often to nail down one that is avaiable).

Coming up with great name ideas that meet these rules can be challenging, but there are some great techniques you can use to get there.  Contact us if you want some help on that topic.  Don’t expect to find one quickly – you should generate a big list. And don’t get married to a name right away, consider other options before you nail it down.