Whether you’re hoping to launch the next unicorn, create a novel product, or add something to your existing list of deliverables, you’ve gotta call it something.

Something, but never just anything.

That you know, and you’re here for it.

So here’s Chapter One in what over 10 years of working with everyone from virgin startups, to Inc. 500 and Fortune 50 companies has taught us:

Brainstorming brand names is hard.

You’ll want to pack the most meaning into the fewest letters, and arrive at a name that turns cheeks, captures attention, resonates with your core audience, and is eventually easily memorable.

There’s room to return if you get it wrong or want to pivot. (But your budget will agree it’s best to get it right the first time if you can.)

That’s how "BackRub" became Google, "Brad’s Drink" became Pepsi, and "Starbucks Coffee, Tea and Spice, Il Giornale Coffee Company" became just Starbucks (thank god).

In brand names, shorter is better: The shortest domain names command the highest prices, the shortest brand names command the most respect, generally speaking. Ergo Vogue, Tesla, OpenAI, eBay, Apple, Bird, ByteDance, Klarna, eToro, Facebook. But also, Xiaohongshu. (“China’s Instagram”).

There are Only 3 Brand Names, Really

No matter the specific word or collection of words you end up with, the name of your brand, business, product, or service will always be one of the following:

  1. An existing word, to which you’ll give a new definition. (Apple, Amazon, Caterpillar, Nike, Dove.)
  2. An invented word, for which you’ll provide definition, meaning, and context through your branding. (Uber, Kodak, Xerox, Verizon, Google)
  3. A derivative, or combination word or phrase, for which you’ll also provide definition through your day to day operations. (WalMart [Sam WALton + MART], Investopedia [INVESTment + encyclOPEDIA], Google [“Googol,” is a math term for 10 to the power of 100 (or 1 followed by 100 zeros.] Pavemint combines PAVE + MINT, letting you earn cash for renting out your parking space.

Brands aren’t static, but evolutionary.

You’ll do your best to define who you are, and We the People will tweak your definition based on what you do or don’t do and how well you do it for us. 

Apple means what it means because it does what it does how it does it.

What’s In a Good Brand Name?

A good brand or product name is one that aligns with the “core values” of a brand or product.

There’s beauty in this: Your brand or business can be anything you want it to be. But the best brand name is one that aligns with whatever you’ve decided are your core values and qualities.

You’ll want to decide what those core values are upfront, and rarely if ever change them. But if your branding clashes with your core values, then by all means change it.

Market research comes into play here: Where on the product totem pole do you want to be? Do you cater to a specific audience only? What does your ideal client look like? How much does your product or service cost?

This market play is a matrix: Change one thing, and you may have to change another so everything gels in the end.

You’ll make money mowing lawns anywhere, but is that what your brand actually is? Or is it closer to a higher-end landscaping service that goes above and beyond the tips of your client's grass?

Story is a plus. Mandatory, really.

Nuances like paying homage to something brand-relevant is another.

Nike is the goddess of victory, Adobe is named after the Adobe Creek River, Brookline pays homage to a town in Massachusetts.

Longer names are mostly long gone. The 1900’s ‘Firestone Tire and Rubber Company’ is now just Firestone. 1911’s ‘Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company’ is now just IBM. Things are quirkier now, but in just the right measures. Less is more.

Questions to Answer Before Brainstorming Sessions

However thoroughly you answer these questions, you’ll need to do so at some point, and the deeper the better.

  • Who are you catering to?
  • What are you offering? Is it a full stack service, or does it address a specific problem? Is it a one-off job, or a retainer-based service suited to long-term results?
  • How much will your service or product cost? Why is that the price, and why is it not higher or lower?
  • How valuable is your product or service? Different than your chosen price point, identifying the value-to-client is key. Price alone is a distinction, and most tend to underprice and undervalue what they offer.
  • What sets you apart? If you have a truly innovative product or service, congratulations (and call us, will you?). In most cases, however, your value-adds are more likely to be a better location that’s closer to clients, or a better way of doing something they can already do elsewhere. And that’s not a bad thing. Hello Uber, hello Lyft. Hello Google and Apple Maps, hello Waze. There’s almost always room in the market, in any market, if you can truly identify and leverage what makes you specifically different—and hopefully it’s something that already speaks to clients and consumers instinctively. We all want bigger, faster, better, and more reliable. Can you deliver it?

Before You Settle

When you’ve done all of the above and feel you’re about to cross the finish line, run your name through this short checklist.

  1. Is it memorable?
  2. Is it spelled how it sounds?
  3. Is it timeless?
  4. Does it evoke emotion?
  5. Is an exact-match domain name available? Or are you happy with the alternatives?
  6. Is it already owned? Visit the US Patent and Trademark Office to find out for free.

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