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The 4 Essential Steps to Choosing a Brand Name for Your Business

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The 4 Essential Steps to Choosing a Brand Name for Your Business

Updated: March 27th, 2020

brand name guide for business

The world is moving faster than ever before. The overwhelming amount of information flying around makes brands fight more desperately than ever for a moment of audience attention. Customers are exposed to so much digital noise that it’s become harder than ever to stand out.

In almost all cases, the first exposure a customer has to a brand is to its name. In these crowded digital times, having an evocative and memorable brand name has become more critical than ever before. Brand names aren’t just first impressions. They’re a brand’s identity and mission statement condensed into one to several words. 

It isn’t easy to come up with effective brand names, especially considering the massive amount of trademarks filed every year. Here are some concrete steps you can take to make sure you choose the right brand name for your business.

Outline your brand

One of the most common branding myths is that companies should decide on a name first — before working on the rest of their branding. Doing this will just lead to wasted time due to a lack of direction. Outline your brand vision by knowing your target audience and listing your brand’s core values.

Creating an appealing brand without knowing your target audience is impossible. Different audiences respond better or worse to various types of branding. For example, while quirky, ironic branding resonates with millennials and Gen Z, baby boomers tend to be confused and turned off by this style. Identifying and researching your target audience is the first and most essential step towards outlining your brand. 

Once you have a specific target audience in mind, it becomes significantly easier to narrow down your brand style. List out all the qualities that make your brand valuable, unique, or give it personality. Then, condense them into a couple of sentences. A few examples of this would be:

  • My banking brand is strong, everlasting, and prestigious. We want our older, high-end customers to feel like their money is in safe hands.
    • Name examples: Gold Oak Capital, Primdale, Truth Eagle
  • Our breakfast diner is playful, casual, and fun. We want our urban millennial audience to feel energized and entertained by our quirky branding.
    • Name example: Brunchee, Eightish, Honey & Nuts
  • Our tech startup disrupts a traditional industry with cutting-edge, proprietary technology. We always want to appear ahead of the curve to our trendy, tech-savvy young adult audience. 
    • Name example: Cloudiyo, Clarivos, Binarily

Having basic brand outlines like these makes it significantly easier to come up with a fitting brand name. After identifying your target audience, you won’t risk wasting any time coming up with names or branding styles that fail to resonate.

The most surefire way to know if your brand name appeals to your target audience is to put it through audience testing. With audience testing, you can get in-depth data about your audience’s perception of your name. It will provide you with practical and sometimes unexpected input regarding the direction of your brand.

Choose the right brand naming style

Once you know everything you need to know about your target audience and brand vision, it becomes significantly easier to choose the best naming style. Each of the naming styles (classic, emotional, modern, pragmatic, and playful) works well for specific audiences but poorly for others. Here’s a brief overview of the various naming styles:

  • Classic: For brands that want to seem luxurious, high-class, reliable, or premium, a classic name is your best bet. Classic names sound established and prestigious. Examples include Nordstrom, Barnes & Noble, Louis Vuitton, and Fidelity Mutual. 
  • Emotional: If you want your brand to appeal to passionate emotions like pride, happiness, or triumph, go with an emotional name. Getting audiences emotionally invested in your brand will encourage loyalty and engagement. Popular emotional names include Greenpeace, Triumph, Riot Fest, The Honest Company, and Workjoy
  • Modern: The broadest of all the naming categories, modern names can fall under a few different sub-styles. Intriguing names are names that use established words and apply them to entirely different industries, enticing the customer to learn more. Names like Amazon and Nike fall into this sub-style. Abstract names, like Hulu or Venmo, have no inherent meaning but are popular among brands as they don’t come with any baggage or negative associations. Lastly, outlier names blatantly defy all branding standards. Apple, Virgin, and Urban Decay are names that are truly off the beaten path for their respective industries, which has garnered these brands much positive attention.
  • Pragmatic: Pragmatic names are straightforward and descriptive, immediately letting the audience know what they’re getting into when they purchase from you. Names like Urban Outfitters, Dollar Shave Club, and the [blank] for Dummies series are charming and refreshing in their honesty and simplicity. 
  • Playful: Names like Squatty Potty, Lululemon, Tik Tok, and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! all fall under the banner of playful names. These names use poetic devices and wordplay to instill a sense of fun and causality in their audiences. The idea is that because these names are fun to say out loud or amusing to read, customers will want to engage more will want to engage with the brand.

Think outside the box

Despite there only being 171,476 words in the English dictionary, there have been over 6.7 million trademarks filed. As you can imagine, this is making it more difficult than ever to find effective, unique names. To get around this issue, one must think outside the box.

One useful technique is to name your brand after one of its most basic, essential elements. These elements are less about features and selling points and more about the values and attributes most important to your brand.

An excellent example of this naming technique is Apple. The name Apple was and is considered a highly unusual name for a tech company, especially given the sterile and corporate sounding names of its competitors Microsoft, HP, and IBM. The word “Apple” wasn’t chosen randomly, however. Apples are an incredibly common household item. The fruit is well-liked, easy to incorporate into different dishes, and they’re considered natural and healthy. All of these qualities are why the name Apple was chosen, as Steve Jobs envisioned products that were user-friendly and deeply integrated into our daily lives.

By stripping down your brand to one of its main ideas, you can find a name that perfectly encapsulates it.

Don’t just use your gut feeling

Many people think that it’ll be love-at-first-sight when they see what will eventually become their name. In reality, a name that doesn’t immediately blow you away may end up becoming the best choice. There may be several reasons a name you love can’t work, such as unexpectedly poor audience reception and trademark violations. Don’t get too attached to a specific name in case things don’t work out. And make sure to consult a wide variety of opinions, including audience testing. 

At the end of the day, if you’ve done your due diligence and end up with a list of names you care about, it’s ok to use your gut feeling to move forward. What’s important is conducting the proper research to narrow down your choices as much as possible. You’ll feel confident in any name you pick, as you’ll know data support its appeal.

Final thoughts on choosing your brand name

The importance of a thoughtful, evocative brand name in today’s digital world can’t be overstated.

Your name should outline the core values of your brand, letting customers know what your company stands for and why it matters. By listing out your brand’s most important values, you can then decide which direction to take the tone and messaging of the name. This will also help you create names that are outside the box, helping your brand distinguish itself from the crowded competition. Lastly, by utilizing audience testing and other research, you can make confident decisions based on data instead of just on your hunch.

Don’t let your name get left in the dust. Be just as careful with your name as you would be with any other major part of your business.


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