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Best practices for creating a successful business name

An interview with a brand naming expert

What are the secrets to a successful business name? What are the biggest mistakes when renaming a company? What are the pros and cons of working with a naming consultant vs. crowdsourcing a name? Check out my interview with one of the country’s best namers to find out!

On a recent project, I had a chance to partner with a talented naming expert: Beth Hilden from Namelancer.

Beth was kind enough to let me interview her to share her expertise on creating business names.

Beth is a professional name consultant. She has created more than 5,000 name candidates for more than 150 clients, including Fortune 500 companies, B2B firms, and consumer product companies. Many of the country’s top branding agencies have turned to Beth for her 20+ years of experience naming brands, products, and services.

Here are Beth’s best tips on creating a successful business name!

Tips on successful names

Names of Successful BrandsAnn: How should your name fit in with your overall brand?

Beth: Your name is just one facet of your brand, but it’s a really important facet.

For one thing, your name is the linguistic part of your brand. It’s spoken, as well as heard and seen. If you just say the word “Nike,” there’s a lot of power behind that word, and it’s only four letters.

Your name also creates the first impression of your brand.

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Ann: What makes for a successful business name?

Beth: Successful names are usually unique and memorable. You may be tempted to have a name that fits in with your industry, but if your name can help you stand out, that’s always the name I’ll steer you towards.

I like a name that makes a better story—a name you can and want to talk about.

A successful name also should reflect your brand personality. Your name sets customer expectations—in a good way—and you want those expectations to be realistic. If you’re a very conservative company, you don’t want a very non-conservative name, or vice versa. You want to be honest in your name, so there’s no disconnect with your customers.

Lastly, this may seem obvious, but I prefer names that are easy to say and spell. People often look at name candidates on paper. As a test, I tell my clients to say, ‘I work at [new name]’ out loud.

This is really important with ‘coined’ names—unique words you’ve created. A name that consistently gets misspelled or misspoken may not be the best. Unless of course, you’re an edgy company and that’s what you want.

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Ann: What are the biggest mistakes companies make in naming?

Beth: Playing it too safe.Starbucks Coffee

Going too close to their competitors.

Not going out of their comfort zone.

Starbucks could have so easily been ‘Dark Roast Coffee’ or something generic.

Companies often err on the side of being too descriptive.

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Getting ready to rename your business

Ann: What are some signs you should consider renaming your business?

Beth: Maybe you’ve really expanded your focus—or narrowed it.

It’s very common to have a company grow into new product areas or service offerings, and the original name is too limited. Your clients may be confused.

There may have been some major changes to your brand or your audiences, and you’re starting to feel, ‘Boy, this just doesn’t feel like us,’ or you’re getting that feedback from other people.

Your brand is always evolving. You want your name to keep up.

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Ann: What is the first question you ask companies that are considering renaming?

Beth: My first question is, ‘Why?’

A name change isn’t something to take lightly. It can be expensive and painful, depending on how far your marketing reaches. It may not be an easy process, but if you have good reason for it, it can definitely be worthwhile.

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Crowdsourcing vs. naming consultant

Ann: Crowdsourcing has become a popular way to name brands and products. I know you participate in several crowdsourced naming forums. What are the pros and cons of crowdsourcing?

Reader note: Crowdsourcing is the practice of gathering ideas from a big group of people through the Internet.

Beth: The power of the crowd is really fascinating.

With crowdsourcing, you get speed, quantity, and a more global perspective. For relatively little money, you can get a lot of ideas quickly or see another path you may not have considered before.

It’s a giant, virtual whiteboard.Woman participating in crowdsourcing forum

Someone in London may have a very different take on names than someone in Chicago or Rome.

That being said, the quality or viability of what you get back is probably going to be very low.

You usually can only share a very short brief about your needs, and there’s limited interaction between you and the participants. That’s always a bit of a barrier.

This biggest thing, though, is the names you get back almost always have legal issues. The time and onus of checking trademarks falls on you.

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Ann: So, how is hiring a naming consultant different?

Beth: Clever names are great, but a name has to be usable. That has been the big shift in naming in the last five years. In the past, you put a bunch of really cool names together, and the client picked the best one. Now, with the Internet, it’s easy for companies to do quick legal searches and find conflicts of interest.

Today, for every 25 to 50 names you brainstorm, one may be available.

It’s such a competitive landscape, and there’s a lot to take into account when changing a name. Even if you’re a small company, you have to be concerned you’re putting your business out there in a global and competitive landscape.

Someone with naming expertise can help you navigate the minefields more quickly.

A naming expert also will understand the linguistic impact of names and offer input on what makes a successful name. What I often say to my clients is, “I’ll save you a lot of money in the long run.”

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Avoiding common naming pitfalls

Ann: Where do naming projects go awry most often?

Beth: I’ve seen naming projects go downhill very quickly when there isn’t a clear name selection process in place.

I worked with a company that initially only wanted their executives to weigh in. Then, they decided to have their 60 staff members and temps provide input—people who didn’t know the naming goals. There was no clear winner. It went badly. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, the project just died.

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Ann: So, what are the best ways to avoid going off a naming cliff?

Beth: I usually recommend that my clients keep their name decisions to a few, key stakeholders who know the process and the reasons it’s taking place. There is a science behind it, as well as legal connotations.

Naming can be taken too casually. The executive who asked the entire staff to weigh in probably wouldn’t ask for the same input on the company’s finances.

Tough decisions have to be made in branding every day. You have to keep your audience in mind and be objective about the name. Take emotion out of the decision, and really ask yourself, is this a good match for us?

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Ann: How can businesses take emotion out of a naming decision?

Beth: You want to be passionate about your choice, but you also want to judge the name by objective naming goals.Evaluate names using a goal checklist

It’s good to have goals.

We’re all going to have gut reactions to names. If you’ve got five naming goals, you want to judge the name candidates based on those goals.

I’ve seen some really good names go by the wayside because of reasons that weren’t particularly business-based. Try to keep an open mind.

Often, the more uncomfortable the name is to you, the better it will be for you in the long run, even if there are some short-term growing pains.

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Registering URLs for new names

Ann: What advice do you give your clients when they’re thinking about website URLs for new names?

Beth: When you find names you’re interested in, I advise my clients to register those URLs quickly—immediately if possible. You can always let the registration expire a year later for pennies a day. It’s worth it.

I would get the dot-com and the dot-net for brand safety, so you own as much of the name as possible.

A lot of companies want a name that has a ‘clean’ dot-com, but that usually isn’t necessary anymore. You can put a descriptive word in your dot-com with your name—just don’t go for something that is super long.

If you’re actively marketing your business, people will find you through Google. The question to ask is, “How far down are we going to be in the search results?’

If you find a clean dot-com name, it’s probably a very unique name. That’s very rare nowadays. You can definitely find them, but they’re likely to be coined names or very unusual word combinations.

Parting thoughts

Ann: What do you enjoy most about naming?

It’s a combination of art and science. It allows me to use my business acumen, but also my love of languages. It’s the linguistic part of the brand that people around the world will see and say.

It’s great to see things I’ve named in the grocery store, or on banners around town, or hear them in radio ads. When you come up with a good name and you know it’s a good match for your client, there is nothing like it!

Get more advice on building a successful brand

Want to learn more from Beth Hilden? You can reach out to her through her LinkedIn profile.

Want more brand advice? Check out my “interviews with experts” on:

Until next time!