Illustration by Ray Oranges for Fortune
By Verne Harnish
September 24, 2016

1. Call the Company What Everyone Else Does

If no one is actually using the name you picked, take it as a hint—and pay attention to what people are calling it. When customers kept phoning HVLS Fan Co. and asking, “Are you the guys with those big-ass fans?” founder Carey Smith listened. He changed the company’s name to Big Ass Fans (though he later reduced that plainspokenness a bit by updating it to Big Ass Solutions when the company expanded into lighting). The unconventional name has earned the manufacturer a gusher of good publicity.

2. Own the Right Words

Don’t get hung up on finding a clever name. The key is to find one that is easy to remember. One of the best ways to do that is to reflect the job the customer needs done. TrenchSafety and Supply, a company that helps construction companies keep their trenches safe, for instance, left no room for confusion about what it does. Not sure if your name really conveys what you do? Ask a few customers what they think you do for them.

3. Clear the Clutter

Adding a “Corp.,” “Group,” or “LLC” after your company’s name may make your attorney or partners happy, but it will just make it clunkier and clumsy to say. Ditch any extraneous words and you’ll be surprised at how much faster you and your team can mention it and get down to business. Once ­everyone knows what you do, consider following Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing’s example, which rebranded itself as 3M (mmm).

For more on branding, watch this Fortune video:

4. Run a Test

There’s no excuse for choosing a name that’s not ready for primetime. Test your idea in a Google Adwords (goog) or a Facebook campaign (fb) before you take it live, or use Splitly.com to do A/B testing so you know which name customers like best. Tim Ferriss used a similar approach to establish his “4-Hour Workweek” brand. (For more on Ferriss, see “40 Under 40”.) Your competitors are crowd-testing, so don’t let them leave you scrambling to catch up.

5. Brand Everything

Service firms should take a lesson from product manufacturers, who name all their creations. The Riverside Co., a private equity firm, has done so. It coins a name for everything it does, including its process for cleaning up companies: the Sparkle! System. “Sparkle” is an acronym for the multistep process Riverside uses to dramatically increase the value of a company, and it’s a lot more succinct and memorable than the long version, which stands for terms such as “scrubbed and clean,” “powerful management team,” “attractive facilities,” etc. “It gives us a shorthand way to refer to what we do that is unique,” says co-CEO Stewart Kohl.

Verne Harnish is the author of “Scaling Up.”

A version of this article appears in the October 1, 2016 issue of Fortune with the headline “5 Ways to Pick a Killer Name.”

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