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Monday, October 27, 2008

How To Create Your Small Business Brand or Business Name

Naming a small business or small business product depends on a few key factors:

1. The guiding philosophies of the business.
2. The goals of the business.
3. The business landscape and climate (the market, competition, etc.)
4. The sales process and expected growth strategies.

If you're trying to name the business and/or products in house, work with a select group of people from the business or friends and family (make sure it's a good cross section and not just the "creative minds"). Brainstorm until you want to cry, using a thesaurus, a rhyming dictionary, and even a cliche dictionary.

For each item, create a list of no less than 100 made up words, word combinations, etc. Pick out 3-8 that resonate with you and your people. Then pick your favorite. If you can test it with clients or prospective clients, all the better.

I do not recommend naming a business or product based on what domains are available, by the way. Name it for what it is, not for what you can get.

Be creative! This is not the stuff of formulas.

Think about your company, your vision. Start making a list of words that either describe your vision or what your company does. Get out your thesaurus. Don't judge, just write. Write down everything. Look at your list, combine words, shorten words. Play around with it. Enlist help from friends - they may look at the same list of words & see some spark you missed. Then, of course, there's the option of going with some completely unrelated name & trusting you'll be able to build name/brand recognition.

And then you have to deal with protecting the mark. You may find that you have to go through the process of finding a name many times because the obvious name choices are already claimed.

Remember the patent, trademark, and copyright implications too. Under United States law I suggest you follow this (other countries may have different law which would make for a different answer).....

To start ...... sit down at your computer with a blindfold on and just randomly and rapidly clack on the keys for at least 30 seconds, preferably for one minute. Then look at the gibberish that is produced to see if there is something that the human lips and tongue can form into an intelligible sound. There usually is; if there is not, repeat the exercise.

This gibberish-word can often become a fine name for a product (or even a company). As a "fanciful" mark (a word that didn't exist before), it is then very, very easy to protect under (at least US) trademark law.

I don't like brand names that describe the product or service; you can do little to protect such trademarks (i.e., if you call your fish market "Fisch Market," you cannot take that term for a fish market that is so confusingly similar to the generic term out of the language and just give it to you).

Some fine examples of very protectable brand names:

XEROX
KODAK
BUBBA GUMP (for shrimp and seafood)
ROLEX

Less protectable, but still excellent, tademarks are words that take a word that already exists and cast it into a meaning different from its etymological one: APPLE for computers is a fine example.

Acronyms also make good gibberish words. Think of your favorite phrase and see if the first letters of each word make a good acronym. "I Picked A Random Easy String" become "IPARES" which could easily be protected as a mark.

Then there are the yet-less protectable suggestive marks: WEIGHT WATCHERS and VISA are examples.

Descriptive marks include things like your name or a descriptive word for the product/service: SMELLY FISH MARKET or JOE'S SHOE SHOP. These have to go through a waiting period, being used in commerce for a period of years before the US Patent & Trademark Office will allow them to be registered. Even now-famous names like STEINWAY and STICKLEY had to go through this waiting period before their marks were considered distinctive enough to protect.

As I said before, marks that say what the product/service is are not protectable at all under trademark. FISH MARKET for a fish market? No.

Especially if you intend to operate globally, make sure your gibberish-word does not translate badly into some foreign language; you would not want to have a company or product/service name that is a rude word in another language. Thinking globally from the outset saves you going through the process again (and again...) and rebranding (an expensive process) for each country and culture you enter.
Note that a mark is very protectable AT THE TIME IT IS CREATED. Xerox Corp. runs the very real risk of losing its mark because the word may have entered the language too much; people "xerox" rather than "make photocopies."

Marks that enter the language and become generic to mean the product or service can be lost to their creators, even if the mark was very, very protectable at the outset. Some examples:

aspirin
cellophane
escalator

Once you establish a brand, it's important to police the mark and make sure that it does NOT get used generically so you don't lose your identity into the great maw that is the (very absorbtive) English language.

It's all about raising attention and being different, so that your clients can differentiate yourself from others in the market AND remember you.

You can decide between a descriptive name/word for your product, or an artistic name - eg "Volkswagen" and "Apple". You start with thinking what your product or company stands about, or what you want customers and people to think about your product and company. From there you set out to find words that describe that. The alternative is to choose something artistic, or even an artificially created word/term.

If you want to sell your product to other regions or globally, then make sure you check whether your chosen brandname has a meaning in different languages - you want to obviously avoid misperceptions or even worse offense taken.

Your brand and business name may not be the same.

The next challenge is to bring your brand alive and build it - that is where your marketing communications and operations come into play. It's not just advertising that name, but the experience buyers and prospective clients get from choosing or considering your product. Everyone in the company has to "live" it.

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