We have helped name lots of products, services and companies over the years. Each one is challenging in its own unique way. Coming up with a name is easy. Coming up with a good name is hard. Coming up with a good name no one else has thought of gets even harder. Coming up with a great name that is available and earns the commendation of management can feel pretty impossible, but it can be done.
Anyone that has been part of a naming committee or has been tasked with this feat will be able to relate to the chart above. On the Gimlet Media podcast, StartUp, founder Alex Blumberg and his business partners encountered the challenge of naming their new company. Here is the link to the episode.
Let’s put it this way: when you are reaching for names in the language of Esperanto, you’re in trouble. The episode is really funny, and paints an all too familiar picture we see with a lot of our clients. But fear not, because below are three questions you should ask yourself if you are in the process of coming up with a trademark. We call them the three As of naming: availability, appropriateness, and accessibility.
1: Is it Appropriate?
What is the differentiator of what you are trying to name? What is the brand promise of the larger parent company brand? A name has to be appropriate for your brand and market. It seems reasonable that IF you have a product that needs to be considered reliable and durable, you should not give it a soft-sounding name, but we see that mistake being made quite often. Introducing a product to a competitive market is tough enough. Don’t create a headwind for yourself with a name that will make your audience more skeptical than they may naturally be.
Many times names that are thought of in the safe isolation of a meeting room don’t sound as good when you pitch your new product to a real life customer. A good litmus test is to say the name out loud like you are introducing it to a potential client: “Hi, Mrs. Jones. Let me tell you about our new software that will enhance the productivity of your accounting company. It’s called Cheetah Rocket.”
2: Is it Accessible?
This is where a lot of companies run into issues. It is really tempting to try some tricks to make your trademark standout, like replacing an “s” with a “z,” or combining two names together to form one. These tricks can work, but they can also be hard to pronounce or difficult to search for on the web. You want to make sure people will be able to ask for your product by name, but what if they don’t know how to pronounce it or spell it? It should also be easy to remember so potential customers will be able to recall the name in their moments of need. Finally, make sure you have a name that doesn’t have any cultural conflicts if you are going to international markets. You won’t want to offend your potential customers because of an unfortunate name conflict.
3: Is it Available?
That’s right. No matter how great the name you come up with is, you won’t be able to use it if someone else thought of it first. So let’s say you come up with a great name and someone else is already using it in the market. What’s the harm in using it anyway? Well, you could get sued. You will certainly lose that lawsuit if your competitor can prove they were using the trademark first and you are causing confusion in the marketplace. The reason is simple. A trademark is an important brand indicator. Trademarks should allow customers to identify the product, service or company they are looking for. If you cause customers to confuse your product with another product, expect the courts to side against you.
But, what if they’re in a different industry? Well, this is where it gets complicated. Legally you may be OK, but will you be competing against a strong well-established brand for Google searches and mindshare? It probably wouldn’t be a great idea to name your software company BMW, for example. You probably won’t get sued for it, but you never know. Consider the long-standing trademark infringement dispute between Apple Corps (Apple Records) and Apple Inc. (Apple Computer). The two companies have been disputing the name since 1978, and it cost Apple Inc. millions in settlements over the years.
It’s always best to go on your own with something original that will stand out in the market.
Before you go to market with your name, ensure that you get trademark clearance from legal counsel. You won’t want to spend money establishing a brand that won’t be effective, you won’t get to keep, or worse yet, will get you sued. And if you are having a hard time coming up with a great name, call your friends here at Pennebaker. We’ll be glad to help.