What's in a (brand) name?

Here at Six Things, we love helping founding teams take their companies from concept to reality. There are some founders who come to us with really clear ideas of where they’d like to take their brand, while others present us with completely blank canvases. You’d be surprised, though, regardless of what stage of ideation we're brought in at, just how many founding teams leave one of the most defining aspects of their brand for last: the name. 

If we’re being honest, we can’t blame them. Naming your brand is one of the most daunting parts of launching a new company because the right name might just make all the difference and the wrong name will certainly hold you back. This is a truth fishermen know all too well. Though you’d probably think nothing of a friend ordering crawfish or Chilean Sea Bass at a restaurant, how would you feel if they asked for fried “mudbugs” or grilled “toothfish”? Both of these fish soared to popularity after a strategic name change. Even lobster, one of the most expensive options on menus today, was once considered “poverty food” before it ditched the name “bottom feeder”. 

So what makes a good name? 

It has to be available.

This one’s pretty self explanatory, so we’ll start here. Research is essential when it comes to naming because you don’t want to use a name that is already taken or too closely resembles one that is. One mistake founding teams can make is limiting their research to the companies within their market, instead of considering all the brands their target audience might be familiar with. You'll never see the traction you'd like if you name your mobile app "Time" because Time Magazine will always be the first Time that comes to mind. You also want to look into Trademarks, because as your company grows, having a name that can't be Trademarked can be incredibly limiting.

It has to feel good.

Not to get all fluffy, but a brand name should embody the character and the offering of the organization. Like every other element of your brand, you want your company’s name to contribute to the incredible experience your audience is having, so look for a name that makes your audience feel the way you want them to feel when interacting with your brand or product. Half of what makes a name feel good is whether or not it is natural for your audience to say your brand's name out loud, but the other half comes down to association.

Think about Apple. When you think of an apple, like the kind you eat, what do you think? What do you feel? I think of something fresh, good (apples are my favorite fruit), versatile (apple pie, anyone?), vibrant (apples come in so many bold colors) and accessible (everyone eats apples). What a refreshing way to think about a technology company. 

One good way to test associations with your target audience is to tell them the name of your brand and have them guess what the company does. You'll probably get some wild responses, but it can reveal some pretty powerful insights. 

It can't be too long...or too short.

There's a surprising amount of research when it comes to the power of a name. There are sounds that will resonate differently with different audiences and letters that tend to lead to greater revenue than others. The one rule that seems to transcend industry, audience and time itself, is The 5-10 Rule.

The 5-10 rule is based on the fact that most great companies throughout history have names with 5-10 letters. These winning names will often have at least one hard consonant and at least one repeating letter, but odds are, your favorite brand names fall somewhere in that 5-10 range. 

It has to be spell-able.

Ready to take The Bar Exam? Here we go: If one of your brand advocates is at a noisy bar and tells someone about your brand, will they know how to spell it when they get home and try to find you online? Regardless of what industry your company is in, odds are a large portion of your business will come from networking or referrals - and while advertising has always been highly visual, and is increasingly digital, your referred customers won't always have the luxury of having seen your brand's name in writing. You need a brand name that a customer can hear and then type into Google to find you. Make sure your name passes the bar exam. 

The thing about this one is that it goes both ways, so you also want to make sure your name is pronounceable. Happy customers are much more likely to spread the gospel of a brand whose name they are confident they are saying correctly. 

It has to be memorable.

The truth is, it doesn't matter if your audience can spell your brand name if they won't even be able to remember it. My go-to when I'm trying to figure out if a brand name is memorable is The 3 Minute Test. For this test, I casually mention the name of the company in conversation without mentioning that we're user testing the name or still toying with other options. I'll continue with the conversation for at least 3 minutes, likely moseying into a few other topics since an average adult's attention span is less than 30 seconds, before asking if the person I'm speaking with remembers the name of the company I'd mentioned earlier. If they do, I can ask them how they think they'd spell it, but if they don't, it might be time to go back to the drawing board.

Though there are exceptions to every rule, a name that is available, feels good, isn't too short or too long, is easy to spell, easy to pronounce and easy to remember is a powerful one - and your brand deserves a powerful name. 

Kayci Baldwin