Choosing a Brand Name: Descriptive or Unique Coined Word?

Brand name for small businessI get asked this question quite a bit by startupping entrepreneurs and even established business owners:

When choosing a name for your business or a new product, should you go with a name that is descriptive (if somewhat boring)?  Or should you coin a unique made-up word?

There are different schools of thought on this.  Some people fall squarely in the “unique made-up name” camp — others think descriptive is best.

Personally I tend to fall into the descriptive camp. I like descriptive business names because they do not require as much work to convey what the business does. That is especially useful for small local businesses without much of an advertising budget, where the name on a sign or on a vehicle or in the yellow pages may be the only sort of advertising you can afford.

While there is no one right or wrong answer, I do think there are specific considerations in a small business you need to keep in mind when coming up with brand names.  Naming tends to be a somewhat different process for small businesses versus large corporations.

I examine the advantages and disadvantages of both schools of thought in my latest post at the SMB Marketing Guide, called “Choosing a Brand Name: Being Descriptive vs Coining a Unique Word” which I’d like to share with you:

Now let’s take a look at using a newly-coined word or phrase for your brand. Using a unique, made-up word or phrase to name your business has its advantages:

  • Made-up words set your brand apart — Think of some of the Web 2.0 business names: YouTube, TechCrunch, Squidoo, Gizmodo. Those words did not exist until they were made up by the brand owner – they are as unique as you can get. They are distinctive and usually easy to remember.
  • Flexible enough for strategic business changes — If your business is named Mary’s Bakery, but later on you decide to open a deli or develop a line of mail order gift baskets, you may find your name is too limiting. Whereas, something like “Toodleberry’s” does not limit you to a single line of business.
  • Easier to trademark – With a name you’ve coined, you don’t have to worry about it being so generic or descriptive that the trademark examiner refuses to pass it on the grounds that it would prevent others from using normal words in everyday parlance or just is not unique enough. In general, made-up words are easier to trademark.

Anyway, read the whole thing over there. The post is in-depth.  And if you like it, please click the link over there under the post title, stating that you found the post useful. That way, I know I’m not just talking into the wind.  :)

27 Comments ▼

Anita Campbell - CEO


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses, and also serves as CEO of TweakYourBiz.com.

27 Reactions

  1. Martin Lindeskog

    Anita,

    You are not “talking into the wind,” you are more talking to the choir! :) Do you know about specialized companies that could give consultation regarding this matter? Here is my comment (awaiting moderation) on Small Business Marketing Guide:

    Great list of things that you should consider. After you have decided the name of your company you end up with a hard task to convince the “companies registration office” in your country about the uniqueness of your name and that you should be able to stick with it. I had a long verbal “fight” with registration office in Sweden about my company. I wanted to have the following name: Ego International Business Coordinator. I want to build on my long standing EGO blog and use the Latin word for I. The bureaucrats thought that the word ego was too similar with other entities so I had to come up with another suggestions. I ended up with Egoist International Business Coordinator and I gave them a lesson in philology and philosophy! ;) My company name is descriptive and has a twist to it at the same time. Could you imagine how telemarketers and other sales people have to pronounce my company name and read it out loud. I often hear a pause of silence and that they are scratching their heads on the other side of the telephone line.

    In order to “hammer in” the message I have added the following tag line on my business card: “Trader in Matter & Spirit.” I have symbolic picture of a glass jar with pieces of gold inside. I have recently purchased the domain name Ego Sole Trader and I will describe my services on the site and I will give sole traders (proprietorship) and business owners moral support by writing blog posts and supply them with other types of reading and listening material.

  2. TJ McCue

    Hi Anita
    I voted in the wind as number 10 that found the post useful.
    Numerous friends of mine are brand experts and I have always been impressed with their work. And I’ve anguished over naming several of my own companies. Now I don’t anguish anymore because for my service-based company it doesn’t really matter. I know it can be argued that it does matter and my branding expert buddies certainly have given me flack here and there.

    There is value in it. It does stick with you a long time and it is a pain to keep changing your name if you don’t like it. Besides, constantly changing isn’t a good option — you’ll look like a flaky business.

    I’m going to ask one of the top branding guys I know. He runs a branding shop called Authenticity run by Nick Bean. His tagline is: The Cure for Brand Anxiety… I love that tag. It isn’t just that he’s good at it — he is incredibly passionate about it and that always inspires.

    http://authenticity.net/
    TJ

  3. Backing up to the begining of this process, the best brand names are the ones based in a strong positioning strategy.

    Vicks Company invented the “night time cold medicine” market segment. They named their product “NyQuil” to take advantage of their “positioning strategy”. NyQuil is still first in consumers minds some four decades later.

    That is a strong brand naming case study.

    Steve

  4. I agree with Steve and due to past life in large companies I prefer to be able to trademark the brand name.

    Small businesses may also want to conduct a simple test with their target market to see which brand names appeal the most before they make the final decision.

  5. Hi Anita,

    I also voted it as number 12 who found it useful. ;)

    I honestly fall under the creative camp. There are always changes and I usually prefer my brand name to be as flexible as possible.

  6. RE: “especially useful for small local businesses without much of an advertising budget”
    Yes, descriptive name is useful for specialized small companies.
    But if we have the company with many spheres of activity the unique BRAND is necessary.

  7. Great thoughts on both sides of the coin. I’ve seen budding businesses run polls for consumer opinion on business names. I think it’s a good idea to get the actual opinions of your future consumers.

  8. Kare Anderson

    I go for made up names – IF and only if they remind people of the product + are easy to remember and fun to say – like Doogles – googles for dogs that need to protect their eyes from the sun.

    We have 3 naming firms in my small village of Sausalito so I’m very aware of the value some firms rightly place on creating a name that reinforces the brand image.

    Those three traits, quoted from the guide are essential.
    Here’s other considerations when choosing a name
    http://sayitbetter.typepad.com/say_it_better/2008/04/the-art-of-nami.html

    I clicked like on this post

  9. TJ McCue

    Hi Anita
    I happened into a great site around this topic: The Name Inspector. Guy has a great blog and explains some of the things you’re doing from a linguistic perspective. Pretty cool. Plus he looks at all these popular terms and names and adds some cool commentary. He’s in Seattle, but I don’t know him. Yet.
    TJ

    http://www.thenameinspector.com

  10. Anita,

    I do not think your point about the ability to expand can be overlooked. Your brand needs to not only be consistent with your current strategy, but supportive of future success. Often small businesses forget to plan for great success and make decisions based upon their current business model only.

    Cecilia Edwards
    Equipping Business for Phenomenal Success
    http://www.ceciliaedwards.com

  11. It’s been a while since I’ve worked on the product branding side of marketing but it used to be a favorite of mine. Our rule of thumb was the name(for the most part) should not be longer than two syllables; preferably end in an ‘up’ vowel (a,e,i); have meaning that tied to the product (or service or business); had meaning if possible – but if there was too much competition it was always better to work with a made up name, than one that sounded similar to a competitor.

    Enjoyed the article – it brought back some great memories (one of our hardest-to-name products had us literally dancing on our desk tops to Marvin Gaye’s Heard it through the Grapevine – once we named it!).

  12. At ePhiphony we chose both descriptive and unique. As a whole, our name is intertwined with our mantra to “Reveal Hidden Wealth”. In individual components our name continues to tell a story. e implies easy and electronic. Phi also known as the Golden Ratio communicates to us the optimum balance of cost and cast so that economic profit is maximized. Finally -ph and -ony like a symphony our solution brings together all the elements of a business, ie its inventory items, together in harmony.

    Our product name Phitch is the same way. Just like pitch in music, our solution defines the frequency of ordering an item. The process of assigning note names to pitches in music is called tuning. Our solution Phitch fine tunes each inventory item (ie note) at the point of maximum economic profit, which again is represented by the Golden Ratio or Phi. The best part of this naming strategy was that it was developed by my 11 year daughter.

    While at first glance someone may not be entirely aware of all this, it is subtle enough that as the relationship continues it becomes more clear. Our uniqueness in name is often a great opportunity to tell or describe our story.

  13. I’m new in the internet business field. I’m skilled in the graphics side, but I need info to learn about this business. I was going through your post and got a few pointers.

  14. I am Looking for a “Brand Name” for my “Event Management Company”.
    Can U Give Me Any Idea???

  15. iam a home based retailer dealing in branded perfumes and also selling the splits of the same. iam in search for a good name for the purpose . i have some names which i have worked out , which i have listed below . help me out with a good name .
    scent touch , scent rite , scent shine , scent impress ,
    scent breeze , scent sense , scent berry

  16. Thanks for a great article. Looking to create an up market leather jacket website. Have a few ideas and open to any you guys h=might have. Thanks

  17. There are definite pros and cons to both styles of names. However, your points about the benefits of unique, coined, brand names are spot on.

    The other thing to consider about this type of name is longevity. In addition to allowing your business to grow and change, this style of name only develops with age. Unlike generic keyword names, that eventually fall flat with customers, the right unique name can have a catchy quality that continues to attract more interested customers over time.

  18. A nice tip for you all is this naming resource: GlobalNaming. It’s really powerful.

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