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4 ways to choose a name for a business product or business

Author's avatar By Bryony Thomas 25 Nov, 2014
Essential Essential topic

Plus three ingredients that you can combine to create a powerful name and strap line

The name you select for a brand, product or service will clearly have a major impact on how prospects and customers perceive your service, but what are the options for choosing the best name? There are lots of ways to name a business, a service, or a product. The addition of a strap line can take the name a little further. From nonsensical words, like Google, to highly descriptive names, like Compare the Market – there are just so many ways to think about naming! Whilst it's true that naming is a bit of an art and today we are often constrained by domain name availability, there are certainly a few issues to consider to guide you to choose a name that can work much harder for you.

1. Nonsense names – e.g. Google

The benefit of a name like this is that once you’ve lodged a meaning in someone’s mind attached to this word, you own it. In fact, when you really nail this, it can enter the language as a verb... to do the hoovering, or just google it. It's arguable that when you get here, you've gone too far, as it's no longer associated with your brand. People simply think it's a word. Did you know that Lloyds Banking Group own the name CashPoint?

The difficulty is getting people to attach meaning to an unknown word, or to attach a new meaning to a word with an existing and clearly understood definition (Like Apple, or Orange – what is it with fruit?). You can definitely do it. But, it takes time and (lots of) money.

The downside to a nonsense name, is that you will initially have to explain what you do. So, if you're after to speed to market on a low budget, this may not be the smartest move. Of course, there is an opportunity for conversation in this initial misunderstanding, but it can also risk people simply not understanding (or mis-filing) what you offer.

2. Founder names or initials – e.g. Marks & Spencer

As above these sorts of names are meaningless in themselves. You need to get people to attach a meaning to them. Once you’ve done so – it’s yours. Once you own it, you can play with it. As M&S are in their current Magic & Sparkle Christmas campaign. This naming convention can also express traditionalism, that in industries like law or accounting, can be appropriate.

You need to think to the future to know if this is the right approach for you. In a smaller business, it can create succession and exit issues. If you have growth, or a fat cheque for what you’ve built, in mind then naming the business after yourself is not usually a good move. If however, you are building a business celebrity or speaker status, your own name has to be at the heart of it.

3. Descriptive names – e.g. Compare the Market, or WeBuyAnyCar.com

Where clarity matters, descriptive names work best. When you want to make sure people understand what you do – having a name that tells them can be very helpful.

The potential pitfall here is in extending your business or product range – if you’ve been extremely descriptive, adding new products lines, etc. can be tough. But, as PC World have shown, not impossible.

4. Conceptual names – e.g. Smart Insights

Then there’s a name that says something about you, but not exactly what you do. This is usually something that expresses your values or style of working. The great thing about this kind of name is that you can own it, like the nonsense name, and you can use it to tag onto a range. When I originally chose Clear Thought as my company name (changed last year when I decided to stick to marketing), it said something about my approach – but I could have easily extended from marketing, to finance, IT, etc.

Bringing it together with a strap line with three key ingredients

However you choose to name your business, you have the opportunity to make it work even harder for you with the addition of a strap line. This can be integrated into your logo, or work as a line that you use on collateral, document footers, etc.

Here are the three things to have on your list when briefing or working on this for your own business.

In the worked example that runs through my book Watertight Marketing, I’ve used a fictional company – VA-Voom! The strap line is: Virtual Assistants. Real Potential.

1) What you do

Tell them WHAT you do

Somewhere in either the name or the strap line, I’d recommend that you tell people (in pretty simple terms) what you do. It can be so easy to get yourself filed incorrectly in someone’s mind… making it crystal clear in the logo that appears on practically every document, etc. can definitely help.

2) How you do it, or your values / style

Tell them HOW you do it

If you can also give a sense it how it will will to work with you, you’re onto a winner. This is about values and personality. For VA-Voom! we wanted to express speed, and the feeling of someone waving a magic wand. This is also picked up in the visual styling of the logo.

3) Why people would want it

Tell them WHY they'd want it

And, of course, there’s the why. I’d always recommend include is a sense of the key benefit of working with you – i.e. how will their life be tangibly better. If you’ve read about The Logic Sandwich – this is where you want to get to that ‘towards’ emotion in place, so that people have a sense of what they’re headed towards.

You can mix and match how you put these elements together:

  • A descriptive name (what), with a conceptual (how) and benefits-driven (why) strap line,
  • or a benefits-led (why) name with the what and how.

But, if you can cover these three bases, you have a seriously hard-working name...

© Bryony Thomas – The Watertight Marketer (this article is adapted from Watertight Marketing, and a previous version of it originally appeared here).

Watertight Marketing


Thanks to Bryony Thomas for sharing her thoughts and opinions in this blog post. She is the best-selling Author and Founder of Watertight Marketing, and a no-nonsense marketer and business speaker, specialising in helping ambitious small businesses set things up. Her blog post is adapted from her 5-star book, Watertight Marketing, described as an entrepreneur’s step-by-step guide to putting a marketing operation in place that delivers long-term sales results. You can download a free sample chapter or connect with her on LinkedInTwitterGoogle+ or Facebook.

Author's avatar

By Bryony Thomas

Bryony Thomas is our Expert commentator on the fundamentals of marketing which are still so important to get right. She is Author and Founder of Watertight Marketing, and a no-nonsense marketer and business speaker, specialising in helping ambitious small businesses set things up. Her blog post is adapated from her book, an entrepreneur's step-by-step guide to putting a marketing operation in place that delivers long-term sales results. You can connect with her on LinkedInTwitterGoogle+ or Facebook.

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