Apr 072011

How important is naming your product or service? Many experts will tell you that the name alone can make a huge difference in whether your offering succeeds or fails. This may be why there are specialized companies out there that advise clients regarding naming their new product or service offerings. The fees for these services can run into tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. The reality is that as a startup entrepreneur or small business, it’s unlikely that you have the financial resources to invest such a sum in naming your product or service, and even if you do, it’s likely that you’d prefer to allocate the resources elsewhere. The good news is that if you’re willing to put some time, research, and thought into naming your product or service, you likely can do a pretty good, if not great job, on selecting the name yourself.

First, let’s get one thing out of the way: naming your product or service usually is not the same thing as naming your company. Remember, a company is a company, and by necessity, it can have just one name. It may have divisions that have other names, but the company itself will have just one name, let’s say XYZ Company, LLC. A company can, however, have many different products and services, each with its own name. So it’s important to bear in mind that while you may want to agonize about the name you should give to your company, in the end it’s the name(s) of what you will be offering to your target market that really matter. Unless they are one in the same (your company and offering names), focus more on getting the names of your products and services correct than you do on getting the perfect name for the entity that will market those products and services.
Now let’s talk about what makes a good name for a product or service. Let’s do a little exercise, bearing in mind that I said sometimes the product or service offering and the company name are the same. Let’s take moment to think about the first 10 “offering” names that jump into mind. Don’t limit yourself to a particular geography. Think global. Just jot them down, as quickly as they come to mind. Write your list without looking at mine below first.

Burger King
Wells Fargo

Ok, so what does your list like? If it looks anything like mine, it includes a lot of companies whose company name and product/service names are virtually synonymous. So does my own list contradict my point that you should focus more on the product and service names than on the company name? Perhaps, but bear in mind an important point: these global brands jump to mind for us for a couple of key reasons. First, they have products and/or services that we consume on a regular basis. Second, they have spent billions upon billions of dollars marketing to us over a number of years, to ensure that the names of their companies AND the names of their products/services never escape our minds and in fact, are at the top of our minds when we’re thinking of making a purchase in their space. Do you or your business have billions of dollars to undertake a constant advertising effort to remain “top of mind” for consumers the world over? If yes, thanks for reading my humble article. If no, then let’s talk about the realities of marketing as a small or start up business.

In a small business, we don’t have the luxury of huge advertising budgets. Every cent we spend on advertising, marketing, public relations and other forms of promotion MUST COUNT. So let’s get back to naming your product or service then. Why do we want to focus on the importance of naming your product or service, rather than getting the perfect name for your company? Well, unless they’re going to be one in the same, i.e. unless the products/services will have the same name as the company, you must realize that what you will be trying to sell to your prospects are your offerings, not your overall company name. For example, do you expect to go out to your target market and say, “please buy XYZ Company, LLC – we’re a great company and we can do great things for you?” Perhaps if you are in a professional service business and you build into your company name something about the services you offer, then yes, you’ll market the name of your company to the target audience. However, if you’re XYZ Company, LLC and you’re selling a product, let’s say an all natural, citrus-based cleaning product, you’re more likely to go to the target market with the name of your product, such as Citrus Naturally Clean (I have no idea if this is a real product name – it’s just an illustration here.)

So what are the key issues you’ll want to focus on in naming your product or service (or company, if they’ll be one in the same)? First, you’ll want to make the name memorable. How do you do this? Well it helps to use alliteration, where appropriate. This is where you use words starting with the same letters, such as Dancing Dolphins. The name can often also be made more memorable by making it rhythmic, so that it has kind of a sing-songy sound to it and flows off the tongue very easily. Dancing Dolphins again is a good example, as it has a rhythm and is easy to say and remember. You may also note that this name evokes an image in your mind – when you say it, you may even imagine a couple of dolphins dancing on the water – this can also help with making a name memorable.

Next, if possible, try to have the product or service name promise a specific benefit. This makes it very clear to the target market what you are selling and sometimes can help to create a sense of credibility and confidence right away. An example here would be the Sewing Success System (again, not sure if this is a real product – it’s just an example here). It uses alliteration. It’s rhythmic – notice each of the words has two syllables, so it has a rhythm and a flow to it. And finally, it promises a specific benefit – if you buy this system, you will have success with sewing. I’m sure it’s also not lost on you that this is a situation where a decent company name (or your name) could come in handy as well. For example, you may take the chance to put in a plug for your company too. If your company were called, Johnson Sewing Solutions, LLC, you may refer to this offering as Johnson’s Sewing Success System, thus capitalizing on the opportunity to build both your company and product brand. If you had other offerings, you could name them in the same manner and thus continue the theme … Johnson’s Perfect Patch, etc.

Now that you have created some ideas for names, you’ll want to take a couple of other very important steps. First, you’ll want to head over to a domain name registrar, such as GoDaddy.com and do a search on available URLs (websites) with the name you are selecting, or something similar, so that you’ll be able to create a website to promote the product or service. The match does not have to be exact, but if it is, that would be ideal. If the name you’re looking for is taken, you’ll want to check out who has it and what they’re doing with it. Just go to the website and see what’s there. Often times you’ll find out that nothing is there – it’s just a “parked domain” – someone registered it and did nothing with it. If you want to see who owns it, go to a site such as whois.sc. If there is an active site on that URL, check out what they’re doing. If there’s not, once you figure out who owns it, if you want to buy it, you can make them an offer.

Second, and related to the idea of checking URLs and activity with the name you selected, you will want to do a trademark search on USPTO.gov. Unless you are a lawyer specialized in the area of intellectual property rights, you’ll only be able to do a preliminary search to determine if anyone has trademarked the name you’ve selected or something similar. Just click on Search Marks, then Basic Word Mark Search and put in the names you’ve come up with and similar variations. Remember that the standard for trademark violation is confusion in the mind of the person hearing the name. So if it sounds similar and it’s been trademarked, or is in the process of being trademarked by someone else, and it’s in the same “class of business” as you’re looking at, you should likely move on and not waste your time. Also remember that this is a specialized area of law, with many nuances, so it’s OK to do a basic search to get an idea, but you need to seek competent legal counsel to get the “final answer” regarding whether the name you’ve selected is without trademark issues. A good attorney in this area will also be able to tell you whether the name you’re considering is something that can be trademarked, if you’d like to go that route.

In conclusion, put some time and effort into selecting the names for your products, services and company, realizing that the greatest focus should be on naming your offerings, as these are what, as a small company, you are likely to have the resources available to advertise and market to your target(s). Be sure to make your names memorable and realize that it’s not about being cute or clever. It’s more important that you come up with something that will be easy to remember and ideally, promises a specific benefit. Finally, always be sure that the name you’ve selected is not violating someone else’s intellectual property rights. If it is, there’s a very good chance that will come back to bite you and you will have to endure all kinds of unnecessary costs, frustrations and lost time.

If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment or questions below or in the top right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

  • janelle

    I think the best thing when naming a product is to have something that is easy to remember. Your example of dancing dolphins works well as it creates that image and can easily be recalled later. Your product can be fantastic but if it has a long or hard name it won’t be remembered and your target audience will use something else. I didn’nt realize you could find out who owns a specific domain, that could be fun to look up random things in ones spare time, but could be useful if you have something related to your idea. A trademark is also key to help in recalling your product so have fun with it but make sure its memorable.