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Branding for Tech Startups: Top 12 Steps to Get a Killer Brand Name

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

What is the most challenging activity in branding? I’d say name selection. Before engaging your team and organization resources in an expensive and long branding project, make sure you prioritize a proper time for the brand name selection. Many branding agencies and consultants will not go the extra mile to help you create a great new brand name. This is simply because it will consume many billed hours; because you know your business better; and also because you have a whole team who is more eager and excited about the new brand than any external partner.

Selecting a brand name is not just about coached fancy brainstorming workshops, sticky notes, and flip charts. It is about thinking until your brain hurts. It is about a small group of highly creative and passionate people doing individual and group brainstorming, over and over again, generating long lists, research, play with vocabularies, and challenge their minds.

There are a few key facts you need to consider before starting a new brand name selection process. The process demands time and dedication. It is not an action item to be squeezed in one or two working days. A name stays with your brand across its entire life cycle deserves a proper time allocation.

You have no choice but to be creative and out-of-the-box thinker simply because almost all simple and straight forward brand names are already taken. Fortunately, there is always a great brand name out there yet to be discovered. You just have to work harder to find it. Do not settle for mediocre or safe brand names. The brand name selection process is iterative in nature. Ideas usually start weak and limited and then mature gradually. So don’t panic if you don’t find your great name in the first few days of trials. Let people sleep on it, dream about it, and think about it for a few weeks if necessary. The more you think about it, the higher quality you will get.

A recommended approach to start a brand name selection process is:

  1. Assemble two separate teams: a Core Team and a Focus Group Team. The Core Team consists of two to four highly creative individuals and it must include the product or brand manager. This team is the one responsible for the idea generation and final decision. The Focus Group Team is a wider team (10 or more) of internal and external individuals who may or may not know about the product or brand. Their job is just to review shortlisted brand names and provide immediate and instinctual feedback. They will be your pilot group of audience hearing the brand name for the first time.

  2. Identify a few broad and basic boundaries for brainstorming. Educate your Core Team on the product nature, positioning, value, and target audience. Do not put too many details and limitations even if it results in ideas far from what you imagined. Keep the natural subconscious creativity flow.

  3. Put the Core Team into action. Start by individual brainstorming sessions. Ask all members to think over an initial list of names within a period of 3-4 days and come to the first group workshop with a list of five names per each participant.

  4. Review the first batch of names. Found a good one? Don’t stop there will be better ones.

  5. In the group workshop, assign the Core Team individuals specific tasks. One person should be online all the time searching for vocabularies and different meanings of words, picking floating thoughts and patterns and completing them. Another person should be responsible for research certain broader topics.

  6. Review your key product functions and what is does exactly for its customers. List one to three of these functions.

  7. Ask the research person to generate five to ten words from each key product function. These words can be related to product users, experience, geography, market, history, or physical characteristics.

  8. Ask another researcher to look for those words’ translation in other languages, singular, plural, and other vocabularies.

  9. Collect all ideas in a spreadsheet. Not impressed? Start the process again. Change research strategy. Search further meanings and values for your product key functions. You can even look at other known brand names for inspiration. Continue the next day if you find the team drained and out of ideas. While they leave a little frustrated, you will find them coming the very next morning with fresh and interesting ideas.

  10. Provoke yourself and your team subconsciousness. Interrupt them with short questions about the product and collect instinctual answers. Ask them to write down ideas whenever it comes to them in any place at any time.

  11. Prepare your pre-final list, distribute to the Focus Group Team and get feedback and votes. This list should be at least 15-20 brand names that are at least memorable and relevant.

  12. It now comes to the final step, filtering. Your filtering strategy should be through exclusion. Get rid of the weakest names and shortlist to strongest ones. Do not start filtering until you are comfortable with your final list. By reaching this step, you should already have one or two names that you really like. If you are not comfortable, go back to step six.

Be careful when your shortlist to keep your branding strategy in mind. Are you building a new standalone product that you don’t wish to relate to your organization or other product line brands? Is it a new product to join an existing brand family or umbrella? is is an extension to an existing product? Your final chosen brand name should be:

  • Unique. The new brand name should have a clear and strong personality. It should not be close to other brands, and it should not be too broad and generic.

  • At least among the top three catchy and memorable names in your pre-final list. The name should be short, easy to say, and easy to recall.

  • Tested for different cultures, nationalities, races, and native languages. You have to know exactly what your brand name means in other cultures and how it sounds to their ears and perception.

  • Doesn't have special or native characters that are difficult to be pronounced or read in other languages.

  • Chosen after comprehensive and proper research on trademarks, domain name availability and similar businesses or products with similar names. This is tricky because you can always differentiate your new brand by playing with letters, words, or a mix of two words. In all cases, you have to be careful not to violate copyrights. Ask your legal department if necessary.

  • Tested on Google search. This is important because if you Google your new brand name and found many similar results, even if irrelevant, you have to know that they will be competing with your brand in an online search.

  • Appealing to most of your Core Team and Focus Group Team. Do not get married to a single name that you only find great. If many in your team don’t like it, then you are wrong.

Lengthy process? It is worth every minute!

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