“This is more difficult than naming my kid!”
Those words of exasperation came from a recent new client. You see, he already had a good name for his business. It was one that created the image he wanted. Unfortunately, as we discovered during our project research, there were a multitude of other companies using the same identity.
We had to break the bad news to him. What began as a logo, tagline and website project quickly turned into a rebranding effort.
This client learned the hard way what we’ve been telling entrepreneurs about business naming for years, “If it came easily, it’s already taken.”
We’ve seen this before. It’s not uncommon. People generally don’t think about others who have followed the same path. They tend to view their own experiences as unique. They are often too close to what they do to fully consider those who faced the same challenges. It’s simply not on their radar. We all fall into similar traps. It’s human nature.
It’s never fun telling people they should change something as personal as a business name. They’ve invested their heart and soul into it. It’s like telling a business owner they have a terrible logo. You might as well be telling them they have an ugly kid. But, it has to be done. If we remain silent, we’re doing them a disservice. And it will hurt them in the end. All of this stuff matters greatly. None of it is trivial.
“You’re telling me my name is no good??!!”
“Actually, it’s a very good name. In fact, it’s so good, somebody already beat you to it.”
Luckily, this client is open-minded and wanted to do the right thing. And, it wasn’t too late for him to make a fundamental change.
So, here we are. We have a new client who already committed to a logo, tagline and website. They now have to wipe the slate clean and find a new name that nobody else is using.
Business Naming Is No Easy Task.
Business naming is the hardest part of what we do. Aside from the creative challenges, there are three major hurdles we have to leap. For every name we present, there are, literally, dozens of candidates that never make the cut. The client never sees any of those.
The US Patent and Trademark Office online database is a great place to begin. However, these searches don’t go far enough. The USPTO site lists only registered trademarks. There could still be businesses using the candidate name, but never registered it. They still have a layer of first-use protection. That’s where Google searches come in handy.
We’re not referring to simple Google searches. We need to consider variations of the name and search within related industries. (The rule is that, if a name creates confusion in the marketplace, it’s infringing on the rights of the original trademark owner.) The more search results we get, the less chance of being able to use the candidate. But, getting hits isn’t quite enough. We need to dig deeper and learn about the business and how they’re using the name. Are they still in operation? Do they have any real web presence beyond directory listings? Where are they located? If we find a few who are doing things right, that poses a genuine risk. It’s time to scratch that candidate off the list. It’s incredibly frustrating and takes tons of time.
Next comes the website URL. Let’s face it; they’re all taken. Well, not really. But, it seems like the good ones all are. This is often the biggest hurdle of business naming. What good is a name if a logical web address isn’t available? We advise our clients to always strive for a “.com” or, if they’re a non-profit, a “.org” domain. Don’t waste your time with any others. Your prospects are inclined to type one or the other after your name. So, think harder and find one that makes sense and fits their habits.
When we named our own business, the URL hurdle was, by far, the biggest one. We explored many names and found “the perfect one” more than once. It was so perfect that another business already had it. Each time we felt we were on the right path, we hit another wall. But, that exercise was invaluable. It forced us to step back and stretch our own thinking about who we are what we really offer. We dug deeper to find our true Brand Promise and how to use it to distinguish us from our competitors. We could never have gotten where we are today without hitting walls along the way. It was a demanding task, but one worth taking.
If you can clear the three aforementioned hurdles, you should be in pretty good shape. You’ll find that there are no shortcuts. Moreover, we strongly advise our branding clients to seek legal advice from a qualified trademark attorney. They have more tools than we do. And, while clearing the USPTO search is a big plus, there are still state-level trademarks that could be out there. (Unsurprisingly, the states don’t publish their databases online.)
So, Where Did We End Up with Our Client?
We got him a great new name and identity that reinforce his values and how he wants prospects to view his business. And, we kept him involved in the entire process, so he never lost ownership of the end result. He now has a foundation onto which he can build his own brand and not worry about infringing on the rights of others. He’s on his way and is now poised for growth. And, we couldn’t be happier for him.
Helping entrepreneurs to uncover their Brand Promise and turn it into an identity and message is the most professionally fulfilling work we do. Nothing is more gratifying than hearing that bell ring when we finally get there. But, business naming is just the beginning. Building a great brand is never once-and-done. It’s a story that’s never completely told.
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