How to name your startup? Naming a company is overrated. This blog talks about some of the basics of building a brand name.
8 steps to choose your software company's name
Did you know that Google’s original name was BackRub before their 1998 change to Google?
Can you imagine asking someone to “Backrub” that term? While a company’s success isn’t determined by its name, Google’s outside-of-the-box name and brand has led it to become the most used search engine (and spurred thousands of others to create the same).
Although there’s no wrong company name, some are definitely better than others. As a company leader, it’s your responsibility to understand and acknowledge when it’s time for a name change. First impressions are important, and the brand name is often what people first see when researching your company. Because of this, it’s crucial that your name reflects your brand’s personality - from your mission and values to tone and voice.
The right brand name is an easy yet powerful way to boost brand awareness, and ultimately drive your company’s growth. By the end of this, you’ll know everything about how to execute a successful company re-name. Let’s dig in!
Why does a company name matter?
Whether you're creating your company's first name or renaming your brand, this is important because a brand name will set the tone and culture for your company for years to come.
Especially for lesser-known companies, like B2B SaaS start-ups and SMEs, a “bad” name could hinder your growth and overall brand resonance. And even for companies who are well established, a rename may still be vital to stay relevant and adapt to changing times.
Eight steps to name your software company
While not an overnight process, putting the time and effort into your brand rename will deliver exponential returns over the years. Company name generators just don't cut it, and it's important to have intention and leadership input throughout this process. Make sure you’re integrating as many company stakeholders as possible -- not a random word generator!
Step 1: Identify your brand voice and values
Before you even start thinking about new brand names, it’s vital that your team identify brand values your company identifies with to establish your brand voice.
You can have any number of values you identify with, as long as you can convey them with your organization's messaging, positioning, and company culture. This is a common exercise performed amongst some of the world’s biggest companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. If your company currently does not have any brand values in place, we highly recommend using the Kalungi brand workshop template to get started.
Step 2: Brainstorm until you have a ‘top 5’
Now that you’ve established your brand voice to guide the renaming, it’s time to get your creatives into one (virtual) room to start brainstorming. This can include your marketing leadership team, web developers, designers, and copywriters – essentially any content creator.
Because this group includes all the people who will make the vision come to life, the name should inspire their writing, design, campaigns, and positioning. Additionally, you can set up a meeting with external facing stakeholders like your customer service and sales to gather input from them as they’re interacting with the customer regularly.
At Kalungi, we hold no less than three brainstorming sessions in one-hour blocks with our creatives before presenting to the executive leadership. Here’s how we utilize our renaming meetings at Kalungi:
Your first session will set the foundation and help get the creative juices flowing. It takes a while for everyone to feel comfortable enough to contribute and express their opinions freely. Use this time as an introduction, talk out your goals, and lay the foundation for the renaming process. In this meeting, get a sense of the initial direction of the rename. Good questions to ask include:
- What type of rename do you want? A literal or liberal take on your company’s offering?
- What do you want to avoid?
- Do you want it to be long or short?
- Do you want a real word, or something made up?
Pro Tip: If you’re working virtually, you can use online collaborative platforms such as Trello, Asana or Stormboard to easily brainstorm your ideas together.
The second session should be one to three days after the first session. In doing so, everyone has time to let the ideas initially proposed sink in and ruminate on additional ideas or concepts.. More than likely, this will be the meeting where you make the most progress. Encourage everyone to throw out potential names or concepts they have on the board, and let each team member run through their options. You can’t rush or force creativity, and it can take days for the right name or idea to pop into someone’s head. At the end of your second rename meeting, try to narrow down your options to no more than 10 favorites or best ideas.
In the third session, we decide on the final five names. Within these top five, you should have at least one hero choice -- an option(s) that the majority (if not all) of the team is the most excited about. In selecting your hero choice, look for names that have elicited the most emotions out of the team, which can be indicative of its potential success.
Although we typically hold three to four one-hour meetings before compiling a list of 5 final names, this process will differ depending on your own team’s comfort level with this process, your organization’s industry and values, and competitors. Creativity often strikes when you least expect it, so allow for plenty of time and reflection throughout this process.
Step 3: Research potential naming conflicts
Now that you’ve selected your top five names, you must conduct high-level research on any potential conflicts such as trademarks, copyrights, domains, or cultural conflicts. Marketing across cultures is tricky, and you never want to end up on the multicultural brand blunders Hall of Shame. Doing work upfront is definitely worth saving your brand’s future image -- especially if you’ve spent months rebranding.
In this step, begin a slide deck or document to organize and present this information when the time’s right.
The USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) defines trademark infringement as
“the unauthorized use of a trademark or service mark on or in connection with goods and/or services in a manner that is likely to cause confusion, deception, or mistake about the source of the goods and/or services.”
Researching for trademark infringements should require a simple google search. Enter each of your potential brand renames into Google using a combination of words from your industry. For example, if you’re thinking about the brand name ‘Kalungi’ for a marketing agency, you’d type in “Kalungi Marketing”, “Kalungi Agency”, “Kalungi SaaS”, etc.
If there are any companies that pop up during your google search that may cause audiences confusion (such as a similar industry or solution), then you may have a potential trademark conflict on your hands.
Pro Tip: We like to categorize our names under three trademark infringement categories: low, medium, and high risk. Any options that fall under the high-risk category, we replace with another choice from our “top 10 favorites” word bank that has a low to medium risk ranking. Better safe than sorry when it comes to trademark infringement!
For domain research, you can use sites such as Instant Domain Search, Domain NR, Dan.com, and GoDaddy. We recommend using a combination of these sites to ensure the information you’re receiving is correct.
You need to be cautious during your search, as it’s commonplace for suspicious activities (like domain poaching) to occur. As you’re researching, gather a list of domains that are either “available” or “for sale”.
Try to avoid going after any domains already in use by another live company because that process is often costly, time-consuming, and rarely results in a win. For more information on how to safely search for potential domains, check out this article.
Pro Tip: Looking for alternative domain names because your preferred domain is unavailable? Check out this blog for tips on picking out the best possible alternate domain.
When you’re conducting linguistic research, you can use a site like wordsafety.com to ensure that the name you chose doesn’t hold any inappropriate or derogatory connotations in another language. This step is especially important if you’re a global company.
And even if you’re not a global company, it’s still an important step as your customer base will more than likely speak other languages. Additionally, cultural research can ensure that your brand name is universally appropriate so you won’t need another rename in the future if your company does grow into a global brand.
If you find any negative associations with a potential name during this step, use your discretion and insight from your teammates on whether to swap out the word, or keep it as an option. If you decide to keep the name, make sure you disclose that information when presenting to stakeholders.
Keep in mind that this can be a very tricky, sensitive situation. The more diverse your team is, the more well-rounded the insights you receive will be. The last thing you want is a PR catastrophe after you’ve put in all this hard work into rebranding.
Step 4: Identifying the story behind the name
Once you’ve solidified your five options, create a story behind each name to provide context, purpose, and bring each name to life. Oftentimes, it’s difficult for others to imagine a new brand name and providing color behind why you’ve selected these options can help leadership see that name in action.
The story can be two to three short paragraphs that express how the name reflects the wants and needs of your prospects. It should answer questions like:
- What does this name signify?
- Why did you choose this name?
- What does this name mean?
- How does this name embody our company?
In the image below, you can see an example of what our slide deck looks like before entering in the rebrand information:
You can download our brand name slide deck above or at the bottom of this blog.
Step 5: Nail down your final three
Now that you’ve rounded out your renaming deck with the research and stories that bring them to life, you’re ready to present your final choices to the leadership team! Set up a meeting with the team to introduce the potential rename options and communicate that the goal is to pick your ‘final three’ brand renaming options.
If the leadership team doesn’t approve of anything you presented, don’t panic. Just repeat the process! It shouldn’t take as long the second time around since you’re familiar with the process and have a word bank to work off of.
If needed, you can even hold an additional brainstorm session. However, we don’t recommend repeating this process too many times. It’s your responsibility to sell these rename options to the leadership team and you picked them for a reason, so try to convince them. Going back and forth on a name for too long can cost you time, money, and company morale.
Step 6: Research, research, and more research
Once you’ve agreed on the final three options, it’s time to build upon your previous research. We prefer to wait until the final three options are confirmed to take a deeper dive into this research purely for efficiency. This research is a labor-intensive process and it’s not an effective or productive use of resources to research name options that won’t be seriously considered.
To research potential trademark infringements, look into each option rename by searching through the USPTO’s TESS database. Doing this ensures there are no other companies with the same or similar names registered for a trademark that could produce a trademark conflict in the future.
This particular step can be arduous, depending on the commonality of the word(s). There can be hundreds to thousands of names to look through in the database, but keep in mind that it’s extremely important to conduct this research carefully and patiently. For a more in-depth look at what you need to know about getting a trademark, click here and here.
Pro Tip: Make sure you only search “live” and not “dead” trademarks, this should shave off at least a few hundred options.
The great news is that not much more research is needed other than double-checking to ensure that the domains you originally listed are still available. Then, categorize your domains based on availability and list the reasons for their recommendation.
Social media handles
Next, you’ll look into available social media handles. This research is dependent on the channels your company will use, so list out all platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) and check what usernames are available.
Look for usernames that are consistently available across the channels and strive for consistency. However, if none are available across the board, you can use different usernames for each platform as long as each has the company name. We recommend using a spreadsheet to keep track of this information.
Finally, you need to make sure that nobody else in your industry has the same (or a similar) name by going onto review sites. This takes your trademark research a step further and confirms you haven’t missed a potential trademark infringement conflict.
If you’re a B2B SaaS company, software reviewing platforms Capterra or G2 would be great resources in order to ensure that no other company on those platforms has a similar name to yours. On each site, select the categories that your product falls under and go through each list to double-check there are no other companies within your field that have conflicting names.
Step 7: Present your top options with logos
Once you’re ready, combine your findings into a deck and present to the leadership team. As always, let the team know that the goal of this meeting will be to reach a consensus on the final brand name.
By providing a deeper level of research and logo ideation, try to break any ties or uncertainty about one name over the other that appeared before. We like to present the final three options with logos in order to help stakeholders envision the potential options more vividly. As this is not a light (or easy) decision to make, providing as much creative context as possible is always helpful. Naturally, some names will have better domain options, a lesser trademark conflict ranking, or stronger social media username options so that will also assist stakeholders in making the decision.
Taking all this into account will be pivotal in swaying the leadership team to decide on their final name. The rename may not be decided right then and there, but the research will be presented and the team can then ruminate on the information for a few days if needed since this is such a big decision.
Step 8: Finalize your rename (and celebrate)!
You did it - it’s time to pick the final name! In your final meeting, this should be when the brand’s new name is confirmed. Keep this meeting relatively short and positive and discuss next steps, such as:
- Purchasing the domains immediately
- Claiming social media handles
- Continuing the design process of logos and color schemes, and most importantly,
- Trademarking your new name.
Remember: your marketing team is not your legal team, so using a legal expert is highly recommended to fully complete registering your trademark.
Brand your company with the right tools and guidance
While time consuming, use patience and focus to set the foundation for strong future growth. Follow the above steps and do your due diligence to avoid future legal or domain challenges, and trust in the process!
From Google to Apple, bring your own story to your brand name & let your customers do the rest. To find out more on rebrands and cool company names, check out this blog. Thanks for reading, and happy branding!