Company names are the new elevator pitch.
The venerable 30-second elevator pitch is now, sadly, 22 seconds too long.
If you want to be front of mind for any prospective customer, you need a name that packs in everything you used to put in an elevator pitch.
The average attention span is about eight seconds. So, the average person takes in 7.5 things in a minute. And there are 480 minutes in an eight-hour workday.
A forgettable name becomes part of that overwhelming background noise. A good name, however, stands out. It’s the first step in reputation management.
In this post, I’ll give you a checklist to follow to brainstorm a good name, advice from naming experts, and advice on how to vet your short list of good names to find the right one.
Good tech company names require a pivot in your thinking
The first step to picking the right name? Make that decision as front of mind for you as your name will be for a prospective customer. Your name is the first thing customers will see, so make it a priority.
Too many small-business owners figure they can name their company after they’ve finished the other setup work.
The savvy small-business owner, however, turns everything they know about naming on its head:
- The right name’s an integral part of your product, not an afterthought that describes your product.
- Choosing the right name gets a dedicated day or two of brainstorming and discussion, instead of being put on the back burner.
Customers may hear your name long before they know what you do, or who you are. A good name will bounce around their subconscious until they hear more details.
You want your name to be sticky. You want it to tell a story. You want it to demand a customer’s attention.
Dedicating a day to picking a name may seem like a waste of time to a busy startup owner. That’s 180 degrees the wrong way to look at it.
View the time spent picking the right name as an investment, no different than picking a domain, a shipment provider, or CRM software. Skimp on any of those, and your business will suffer.
How to assemble a short list of names
Here’s a checklist to get your brainstorming started off right:
- Your name should be Twitter-friendly: It should look good with an “@” in front of it and shouldn’t have too many characters—if it’s over 20, people will have a tough time remembering it, and an abbreviated version of your name will make it harder for customers to find you. Finally, make it consistent across all platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.). Want to make sure your name’s available? Check on knowem.com.
- Your name should be adapted for the internet: “Make sure that your company name is Google, Google News, and social media search friendly before taking any other steps,” says Zachary Weiner of Emerging Insider Communications. “A name will not work if the company can’t be discovered across the most common access points.”
If your company name is a common word, it’s likely there’ll be a page or two of Google results before anyone gets to your page. And that’s a formula for failure.
- Your name should be easy to say, easy to spell, and easy to remember: “If your customers can’t remember your name, can’t spell it, or can’t properly pronounce it, it makes it much more difficult for them to help promote your business,” says Crowdspring founder Ross Kimbarovsky.
On the other hand, a name a second grader can spell has a better chance of spreading by word of mouth.
- Your name should express your essence: If you can get it to express your distinct value-add, even better.
CEO Keval Baxi kept this in mind when picking his company’s new name: Codal. Codal, a portmanteau of “code” and “portal,” captures the company’s unique expertise: “The code portion refers to our expertise (code and engineering), and the portal potion refers to some of the digital products we build (web portals),” says Baxi.
- Your name should set you apart from competitors: “Small businesses should make a list of all the businesses in their industry, see how similar their names are, and create a name that stands out and demands attention,” says Lynn Nichols of X Intellectual Property.
Otherwise, you risk picking the same word(s) already overused in your space.
For instance, a tech company should probably avoid overused words like “bot,” or names that end in “.ly” (which are categorical.ly obnoxious.ly overused).
- Your name should be able to grow with you: A bakery may eventually add non-bread options. An HVAC repair company may branch into refrigeration.
“Many businesses can grow, evolve, or pivot over time,” says Stuart Conover of Red Gear Works. “You’ll want to keep your name brand recognition if doing this, but not have a name that would lock you into only one section of an industry or location.”
- Your name should tell a story: One of history’s greatest brands, and bands, began with an insult: “That’ll go over like a lead zeppelin, mate.”
The speaker (The Who’s John Entwhistle) was telling Led Zeppelin founder Jimmy Page that his group, originally called The New Yardbirds, would fail. The insult became a story, the story became a name, and the name became so lucrative it hurts.
“When people ask you what your company or product name means (and they will), make sure it comes with a good story to back it up,” says Fabian Geyrhalter of Finien. “Consumers are seeking more than just a product, they’re seeking to connect with your brand on an emotional level.”
A name with a catchy story attached makes you less of a business, and more of a character in a story. Businesses are easy to forget. Characters, less so.
- Your name should be easy to remember, and flexible: Mike Koehler of Smirk New Media landed on his name because it was all of those: “We wanted a name that was short, memorable, reflective of our culture and tone and that could be built on years later.”
“Smirk has also been flexible enough to help us grow our own internal language,” Koehler adds: “SmirkStorm sessions, Smirkterns, Smirkers on the team, etc.”
This the same sort of flexibility that helps brands like Slack (“just Slack her”) or Twitter (“Tweet at him”) change the way people speak. If your name lends itself well to this sort of “verbing,” that can work to your advantage.
- Your name should have positive connotations: “More than one company has been embarrassed by a new name that had negative and even obscene connotations in another language,” Marty Zwilling notes over at Fortune.
This is how a Ghanaian soda brand settled on a painfully unfortunate name. But don’t just worry about connotations in other languages— worry about them in your own as well. Naming an American brand “Monica” in the late 1990s, for instance, would have been a serious misstep.
How to vet your short list of names
Once you’ve got a short list of names, it’s time to put them through round two, and pick one. Even a terrific, creative name can be undermined by the pitfalls listed below. Make sure your name expresses your identity without getting you into trouble!
Here’s a checklist to finalize your name:
- Make sure the name is available: This one is tricky, as someone might still own the rights to a name, even if they’re not using it.
“One of the worst things that can happen to a new business is that the owners spend time and money promoting a certain name, only to find out someone else has been using it,” says Gil Eyal of HYPR.
To avoid this sort of snafu, you’ll want to, of course, run a Google search. A professional trademark search is also a good idea, Eyal adds. It’s a good idea to do a search with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, too.
- Make sure the domain is available: Don’t go through the trouble of deciding on a name, only to realize you’ll have to pay a domain squatter for that .com you’re looking for. If you have to, however, it’s a good idea to pay for it up front.
If you don’t get the right domain name at the start, you avoid the headache of ransoming it later. When Mark Zuckerberg was asked what he’d do differently with Facebook, he said he’d get the right domain name from the start.
- Check how the name fares in SEO: “Research the name with tools like SEMRush or Moz to determine how popular the name is for both organic and paid searches,” says MoneyPath Marketing’s Todd Earwood.
Google Analytics and BrightEdge are also useful tools for checking the number of monthly searches for the words in your name.
“If your name is highly competitive with a company dominating SEO or social media,” Earwood adds, “consider another name.”
- Test it with a target audience: Whether this is through a formal focus group, or just asking people who don’t know what you do, it’s good to know how people will see you from the outside.
What’s in (your) name?
Has your small tech company picked a name you know is a winner? If so, share it in the comments below.
Interested in other cutting-edge small business insights? Check out these great Capterra posts: