Dave Kerpen | 5 Pitfalls to Avoid in Naming Your Business
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5 Pitfalls to Avoid in Naming Your Business

5 Pitfalls to Avoid in Naming Your Business

This article was originally posted on Inc.com

It’s all in a name. Here’s what to look out for

I’ll never forget how was came up with the name Likeable for our companies.

Carrie, my wife and President of the company at the time, and Jenna Lebel, then our Global VP of Marketing, were sitting at a restaurant in Boston, brainstorming. We had decided that theKbuzz, our original name, was no longer fitting for a larger social media and word of mouth marketing firm. We knew Facebook was about to launch the “Like” button for brands, and Jenna and Carrie suggested “Likeable Media!”

I immediately loved it! I called up my friends Randi and AJ who worked at Facebook, and told them our plan. They loved it too, but warned me that Facebook changed things so often and so quickly, that if “Like” didn’t take off, they’d change it and we could be stuck, Luckily, of course, “Like” did take off- and so did Likeable! We bought Likeable.com for $4,000 and never looked back! The cool thing about “Likeable,”of course, is that it means way more than just getting likes on social media – it means being worthy of being liked, and talked about.

As an entrepreneur, few tasks are as exciting and important as choosing a name for your business. The name is the introduction of your business to the world, the first thing that comes out of your mouth when you pitch, the one word you hope people will remember after you speak with them about your company. Besides establishing a first impression, your name will also often serve as an enduring cornerstone of your business. You can iterate on your business plan, monetization, product, email marketing, logo design–virtually any part of your business’ strategy and execution–as you go, but once you’re set on a name, you will probably want it to stick. For all of those reasons, it’s critical to avoid some of the most common pitfalls that trip entrepreneurs up in this task. I spoke with Pamela Webber, Chief Marketing Officer of 99designs, a global online graphic design marketplace that helps thousands of startups around the world launch their brands everyday. Before jumping into the naming game, have a look at the typical mistakes we discussed and chart your course carefully.

Mistake 1: Selecting a name that does not accurately reflect your company’s mission.

What is your company really about? What is the driving mission? At the core, what values do you, as a company, believe in and seek to portray to the world? “The reason why this is important to think about is that the name is not a standalone thing,” explains Webber. “It’s the first of many important elements of your company’s brand and as such it will play a role in the other design decisions you will have to make: both visual (logos, color schemes, website, product design, etc.) and non-visual (company values, communication, marketing, etc.)”

According to Webber, a company that nails this principle is Huge, a Brooklyn-based digital agency: “You can see the ‘huge’ element embodied in the logo itself, which displays the name in a bold, all-caps font. You can see it in their untimid use of black and magenta as the color scheme. You can see it on their website in the big images that occupy the majority of the page and in the large, bold font that accompanies the images.”

Mistake 2: Choosing a name that’s too hard to pronounce, spell or is overly long.

Sometimes you can get too creative or emotionally attached to a name that just doesn’t work from a practical sense, notes Webber. “There are some famous examples of this, such as Paypal, which started out as ‘Confinity,’ and Starbucks, which founder Howard Schultz tried to spin out as ‘Il Giornale’ before the brand was restored,” says Webber.

Mistake 3: Going with something too boring or common.

Many businesses fail to stand out by choosing a name that feels most obvious to them. While it may seem logical to give your business a name that describes exactly what it is, in doing so you’re likely to wind up with something generic and, honestly, forgettable. Pam and her team at 99designs recently put together a guide for users in their blog to solve this problem for their customers, using design-thinking principles to help you brainstorm the perfect business name. In general, she says they recommend considering current naming trends, doing a competitive overview and getting creative in terms of spelling, combining words and considering word-number combinations or synonyms.

“For example, Zappos is based on Zappatos (Spanish for shoes) and Strava is the Swedish word for to ‘strive,'” she points out. “And think about WhatsApp, Airbnb, OpenTable, which combine words, or those that by add numbers such as 23andMe.” Her team suggests consulting Thesaurus for synonyms of relevant keywords, and naming tools like Naminum and Namemesh for a wide range of name variations based on a keyword.

Mistake 4: Falling in love with a name whose domain/URL you can’t have.

Webber cautions entrepreneurs against getting too attached to name before you’ve done due diligence to see if you can secure the domain. “If you’ve got a name that you like, but before you fall in love, you should Google it, check the availability of the domain on a site like GoDaddy or 1&1.com, do an App check (if you’re mobile) and scour Twitter and Facebook to ensure the social handles are available,” says Webber. There’s also a useful free one-stop-shop called Namechk that will automatically check for you the availability of each name you input on all possible platforms.

Remember, she points out, you can choose a “.net” alternative for your URL, but going much further down new domains can be risky and you might be better off using a hyphen (e.g., www.superior-pr.com” or an alternative spellings e.g., “superiorcomm.com” vs. superiorcomms.com).

Mistake 5: Skipping the testing step.

Skipping over an objective survey or testing of your name is probably one of the most common pitfalls for eager entrepreneurs, says Webber. Before you fall head over heels for any one name, Webber recommends narrowing down your name to at least 2-3 options and testing them out among potential target customers for a more objective point of view. “Take advantage of LinkedIn, Twitter and/or Facebook,” she advises, “and set up a short-and-sweet poll and share it with your connections, which you can do via free external polls such as Google Forms, or just by posting the polls directly using built-in polling tools (Twitter’s is free; Facebook’s is paid), or by simply posing a question and options in the form of a status.” Social media tools like such as Likeable Local can also help with this task, notes Webber, pointing out, “A hidden benefit of social testing is that it’s creating awareness about your company within your network and getting people excited that they get to have a say in your branding process.”

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