How would it sound if someone said that they did a Backrub Search? It would sound weird, right? Larry Page and Sergey Brin thought so too. ‘Google Search’ sounds so much better, which is why they changed the name of their tech startup from Backrub to Google just before its launch in 1998. That right there is an example of powerful, effective, and practical branding. Here is a brief guide on choosing the right brand name.
When Netflix split their DVD rental business and launched a streaming service in 2011, it wasn’t called Netflix. It was called Qwikster. Netflix received a lot of push back from customers. Besides being forced to have separate accounts, users decried the new brand name. They just didn’t like it. They much preferred Netflix. Thankfully Netflix listened. Qwikster was soon renamed to Netflix, and success followed.
There are many such examples which prove that brand name matters. A brand gives a startup its identity. A clear identity is central to positioning. The right branding creates recall in the customers’ minds. In a 2015 study published in ‘The Trendara Files: Marketing and Media Report’, 78% of the respondents said they would prefer to buy from a brand they recognize.
A brand name goes way beyond merely being a catchy word. Many factors contribute to the success of a brand. Why did Blue Ribbon Sports rename itself to Nike? It wasn’t only because it sounded cooler. It was to rebrand themselves as the sportswear of champions. As it turns out, in Greek mythology Nike is the Goddess of victory.
A good brand name must have a clear and strong position. Burger King is the ‘king of burgers’. Best Buy is the place to get the ‘best buys’. Shoppers Stop is a one-stop solution for shoppers. A startup must pick a name which solidifies its business identity, not dilute it. Take cues from businesses which are leaders in their domains. Dunkin’ Donuts changed its name to Dunkin’ in 2019. It wasn’t just offering doughnuts now; it was also serving other foods. The previous brand name was diluting its position. Tesla Motors dropped the ‘Motors’ from its name in 2017. In 2007 Apple Computers did the same. When it forayed into mobile devices and technology, Apple Computers made way for Apple Inc.
Pronounceable and memorable
It is sometimes unnecessary for a brand name to mean something. Many successful businesses have catchy and fancy names which have nothing do with the business. The important thing is that the name is easy to pronounce and remember. GoDaddy sounds like a store for new and expectant fathers. It is nothing of the sort. GoDaddy.com is a very popular domain registrar and a web hosting service. How about Starbucks? The name has nothing to with coffee. It is derived from a character in a book the founders’ read. These names succeeded because of their high recall value.
Another way of naming things is to simplify. A service that works as a ‘book of faces’ can be called Facebook. A card that can do many things for its owner is MasterCard. A service that lets you link to organizations became LinkedIn. Jeff Bezos had initially settled on the name Cadabra. When someone called it ‘cadaver’ by mistake, he was appalled. This was a useful experience, because Amazon Prime Video sounds so much better than Cadabra Prime Video. Today Amazon commands annual revenues upwards of $280 billion and employs a million people worldwide. Many of these employees are migrants who send international money transfers to their home countries as remittances.
After abandoning ‘Cadabra’ Bezos now wanted his company’s name to start with the letter ‘A’. The reason was simple. This was a time when business directories were still in use. He wanted his business to appear on the first page of every business directory.
Although we rarely use printed directories anymore, a similar principle applies today. Startups must realize that their brand names will eventually also become domain names. Think availability. Wal-Mart decided to lose the hyphen in 2018 and rebranded itself to Walmart. It did this to make its legal name match its domain name. Twitter initially had to launch as twttr.com because the domain name ‘twitter.com’ was registered to a bird aficionado. Twitter eventually purchased the domain name for $7,500. Most startups cannot afford to do the same. So, if you’re thinking about where to buy domain names, new businesses can decide to explore places like GoDaddy, Wix, and WHOIS, to check if a domain name is available.
Shortly after Sam Buck Lundberg opened her coffee shop in Oregon she got sued by Starbucks. She had named her shop ‘Sambucks’. The coffee giant though it sounded too similar. The court ordered Ms. Lundberg to drop the ‘bucks’ from her brand name. This shows it is important for startups to check for potential trademark infringement issues before settling on a name. Use the WIPO Global Brand Database to check trademark availability. UK startups can check availability on uk.gov. or by also using formation services similar to Clever Company Formations as an example.
SEO (search engine optimization) and SERP (search engine results page) matter. Startups want to attract more visitors to their sites. This becomes easier with a high SERP ranking. Low ranked sites don’t feature high enough in search results. Buzzfeed and Reddit were so named for this reason. It is easy to determine how frequently a name features in free and paid searches. SEMRush, Moz, and Keysearch.co are useful SEO research tools for this. Businesses should also research the popularity and usage frequency of social “hashtags”. This can be done on BuzzSumo. Similarly Namechk.com can show the availability of any username on 157 different social media sites.
About the author:
Hemant G is a contributing writer at Sparkwebs LLC, a Digital and Content Marketing Agency. When he’s not writing, he loves to travel, scuba dive, and watch documentaries.