By the time clients reach our door, they have a business with a name. Occasionally, a client shows up asking for help choosing a business name, which challenges our creative skills — and our practical ability.
A business name often is the first point of contact with a customer. You go to a grocery store with a name. You select a gas station by name. You pick a bank by name. So names matter.
But what matters most is what that name stands for. Most people would have no difficulty differentiating between Wal-Mart and Whole Foods Market. Both sell food but offer very different value propositions, not to mention almost totally different product selections.
Wal-Mart and Whole Foods Market have had time to develop and hone their reputations. New businesses start fresh, so it is important their names do some very basic things for potential consumers:
Say What You Do
It may seem obvious, but one of the most essential functions of a business name is to make clear what products or services you provide. If you are starting a bank, your business name should include the word "bank," just like a credit union would want to signal it is a "credit union." If you don't say what you do or sell, your potential customers may glide by on the street or online never knowing.
A Name to Remember
A business name needs to provide the sizzle in the steak. Chances are there are other businesses that do what you, so you need a name that stands out and attracts interest. If you are opening a fast food restaurant featuring hamburgers, you will be competing against Burgerville, Burger King, Five Guys, McDonald's and more. Maybe your best shot is "Ultimate Burger."
A Tagline That Tells a Story
Even the best business name can leave a lot of blank stares. A tagline can fill in those blanks with a short, memorable description. It is hard to surpass BMW's "The Ultimate Driving Machine." Ajax came pretty close with "Stronger than dirt," as did Apple with "Think different" and Gillette with "Look sharp, feel sharp." Taglines are opportunities to display your creative side in finding a clever, concise way to illuminate what you do.
A URL People Can Find
As more people shop online, you need a website address that people can find. The URL should reflect your business name, but not necessarily imitate it, as the hapless pen purveyor discovered when it converted its name, Pen Island, into the URL www.penisland.net. You may find a URL that plucks the best from your business name and tagline works best to deliver a memorable way for customers to search for you successfully.
A Name that is Really Yours
Lots of names are already taken. Unlike school, where it is fine to have two Susans or two Johns in a class, a business must have a name that is truly its own. A key first step after coming up with great business name is to see whether you reached the North Pole first. Ditto for the URL you chose. There are a lot of domain name speculators, which can thwart the best-laid plan. Conduct research as you consider business names, URLs and taglines. When you find one that does the job for you and is untaken, seize it quickly.
Product quality, convenient sales and responsive service are critical to business success. However, without a great business name, your customers may never find out how great you are.