To share their passion for art collection with the community, the Henderson and Kunkler families launched H+K Gallery in downtown Spartanburg in 2015. While A-LINE had the pleasure of developing a brand image to illustrate their love of Southern art and style, H+K came to us with an agreed upon name, which had personal meaning as the father-daughter duo combined their last name initials.
It’s not unusual, however, for companies or organizations with a clear mission and focused offering to come to the branding table without a name already in place. Or, sometimes the leadership team is considering renaming the company. We at A-LINE can help them discern, evaluate, and name their company or brand.
Here are guidelines we’ve developed over the years to help clients in the process of coming up with a company name. The process is designed to help embrace creativity and possibility, yet stay focused and analytical.
1. Build your naming team. This could be the marketing staff, your upper management team, everyone on payroll, the board of directors, a peer group, family, friends, or some combination of these. Try not to let the group become too large, though, as it’s harder to have focused conversations and reach consensus in large groups.
2. Set expectations. Establish the rules of engagement. What criteria will the team use to evaluate the potential names? Who, if anyone, has veto power?
3. Brainstorm purpose. Articulate together what you’d enjoy and expect in a name. Decide the top three priorities the name will serve. For example, is the goal of the name to achieve complete separation from your competitors? Is it to provide a deep well of marketing images for years to come? Is it to nurture a positive, engaging presence with your audience? These questions just scratch the surface, but they’re a start.
4. Do your homework. Effective naming requires harmony between qualitative and quantitative data. Invest time compiling a list of the top 20 competitors in your industry and geographic area. (You may have other, specific data to consider, too.)
Analyze the competitors’ names and brands based on different types of name categories and identify possible gaps and opportunities for differentiation. Examples of name categories include literal names that describe what the company is or does (think “Taco Grill”) as opposed to an evocative name like “Willy Taco.”
It can be a fun process as you’ll often uncover naming trends and get a feel for what’s working well or not so well for these companies. What themes do you see in how the companies are positioned? Do they give off a similar attitude, and what are the aspects of that attitude? Quantify and qualify the tone and strength of competitors’ names. Through this research process, you’ll get a feel for the competitors’ visual branding choices. Do you uncover any gaps that you could uniquely fill or clearly see opportunities for differentiation?
You may go so far as to self-perform market surveys among customers and prospects, or hire a market research firm to help you evaluate the name landscape.
5. Get official. For potential names on your shortlist, research if domains and related social media handles are available. If you ultimately need to trademark your name, prescreen potential ones in the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) Trademark Database. You may find it helpful to hire a trademark attorney to guide you through the trademarking process, as well as discern the likelihood of a name’s ability to be trademarked.
When my husband and I foresaw a potential name conflict with a well-established brewery releasing a year-round beer similar to our start-up brewery’s name, we hired experienced beverage trademark attorneys to help us assess whether to stay the course or make a change.
Even as a young start-up, this was money well invested. We decided to change, then with their help, discerned the likelihood of which new potential names could be trademarked. We landed on “Fireforge.” We wanted a name that could be imagery-rich, go way beyond us as founders, and one that conveyed a love for craftsmanship and stewardship.
6. Have fun! During this process, many of your potential names will hit the cutting room floor. While saying goodbye to a name can be painful, at least you don’t have 50,000 branded koozies in your office that are out of date! Swallow ego, pivot early, and return to Step 3: Brainstorm Purpose.
There are many risks and rewards for a bold, unique name selection. Invented names offer an empty vessel for you to create meaning over time—think “Google” or “Zappos.” If your name comes across as too generic, hard to say, or too close to a competitor’s name, it can run the risk being forgettable, confusing, or mistaken for another company. Weigh the pros and cons of the names on your shortlist and assess your threshold for creative risk.
7. Strengthen your brand foundation. By laying the groundwork with a thoughtful, intentional name, your foundational branding tools will fall into place. The logo design, marketing strategy, website development, and any supporting tools, materials, and visuals will have long-term impact. This solid foundation will keep your internal team in alignment, as well as any future creative partners and consultants.
If you’re looking for more guidance on this process, feel free to reach out.
Our goal is to turn what can sometimes be a daunting process into a fun and energizing experience that results in an authentic name and visual brand you can build on for years to come.