16 tips for finding a super brand name – and taking it global

Calling all startups: are you ready to conquer the world… just as soon as you find the right name? Whether you’ve got your eye on long-term expansion or you’re planning to win over foreign markets right from the start, it’s worth thinking global about your name. And reading our tips.

You’ve finalized your brand concept and you’re ready to enter the market. Almost. Because you still haven’t come up with the right name. You’ve held hundreds of discussions, rejected thousands of names, and lost time and sleep over it. It doesn’t help that there are already more than 300 million uniquely named businesses out there. But it’s still worth going back to the drawing board one last time. We explain why – and what to focus on – below.

1. Think big – right from the start.

Your business is destined for great things – sooner or later. If you want to scale up from startup to multinational, you’ll need a name that can survive a restructuring or two. So lead with your grand ambitions: which markets, products and services might one day be relevant for your brand? Try incorporating these ideas into the name. That way, it’ll still suit you decades later, and you can avoid the risk of having to rebrand further down the line.

2. Forget love at first sight.

“When it’s right, you’ll know.” This might be good advice when it comes to your love life, but there’s no place for romance in the world of business. Behind every good name lies a long period of consideration, testing and legal analysis. So settle in for the long haul and remember that sometimes, it can take a while for love to develop – especially when it has to work long-distance as well.

3. Tell your story, not a fairytale.

Does your company sell socks made from yak wool? Then that’s your unique selling point, and it’s definitely worth including in your name. Ideally, you’ll tell the whole story behind the company in a single word. For example, we’re called Supertext because we create super texts in more than 100 languages. Storytelling creates positive emotions and a sense of identification and closeness. And so long as you don’t exaggerate, it can also make you sound authentic and trustworthy.

4. Play with words.

Language is a playground. You can merge words, abbreviate them, turn them back to front or reinvent them. And these are all great ways of creating a name that works internationally. Need an example? Think ADIDAS (from the name of the founder Adi Dassler) or FedEx (Federal Express). The only limit is your imagination – and you can always fall back on tools like Wordoid or Mixwords if the muse has deserted you.

5. Make your life easier – don’t play with words.

Words that are already in the dictionary have a few major advantages: people already know how to pronounce them, and they’re easier to remember and search for because their spelling is clear. They also conjure up a mental image right away: everyone knows what an apple or a blackberry looks like. The surprise is the new context – in this case, a tech presentation. Consumers like seeing familiar terms in unusual contexts (and incidentally, names of fruits are supposed to have a calming effect). Whether the terms are taken from your own language is actually secondary – it’s enough to know that they have a real-world meaning. Just make sure that there are no negative connotations to your choice in other languages.

6. Do your research.

What does your name mean in other languages? Is it easy to read, write and pronounce? Will customers elsewhere understand the name correctly? A linguistic check by a native speaker can flag up potential intercultural issues and help you to avoid localization mistakes like Chevrolet’s Nova, a car whose name means “doesn’t go” to Spanish speakers. Or Irish Mist, a whiskey liqueur that Germans interpret as “Irish crap”.

A “one size fits all” name that works just as well in Addis Ababa and Amsterdam as it does in Albuquerque can be tricky to find, as you have to take into account the cultural and linguistic idiosyncrasies of every single one of your target markets. For inspiration, look to Coca-Cola or Kodak, whose names are free from negative connotations and easy to pronounce for consumers all around the world. What’s more, they can be easily translated where necessary.

7. Cut it down to two syllables.

What do Google, DropBox and Netflix have in common? They’re all just two syllables long. Many successful international brands have similarly short names. Why? Short is simple. It’s easy to remember and lends itself to visualizations, such as in your logo.

8. Bring in the lawyers.

Trademark protection is territorial: it only applies in countries where you’ve filed for it. In the US, you’ll need to get in touch with the Patent and Trademark Office to do so. In the EU, it’s the European Union Intellectual Property Office. There’s also the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Madrid System, which allows you to register trademarks across the world. Our tip: start early. You don’t want to invest valuable time and energy into choosing a name only to have it rejected by the lawyers. You can also use this step as an opportunity to check whether any companies have similar names that could be confused with yours.

9. Ask your customers.

Your business name doesn’t need to please everyone – but it does need to please your customers. They’re your target group, after all. Make sure to canvass their opinions – at an international level, if possible. Organize a campaign or survey on social media, or go the extra mile and set up a landing page to collect responses. Customer feedback is particularly important when you’re still trying to choose between multiple names.

10. Provide emotional context.

Brand names are like baby names. If you ask a friend at random what he thinks of the name Oliver, he’s likely to complain about his negative experiences with his neighbor Oliver. But if you introduce him to Oliver, your cute newborn, he’ll probably compliment you on the sweet name. The lesson for marketers? Never present a name on its own. A mockup of your logo or product packaging will get much better results, even if it’s not the final design. A few lines explaining the story behind it will also help (see point 3).

11. Decide for yourself.

Customer surveys and company brainstorming sessions are all well and good, but at the end of the day, a business isn’t a democracy. The final decision will rest with you – or your marketing department – as will the responsibility.

12. Think again.

Once you’ve made a final decision, throw it out again and ask yourself if there’s a better option out there. Get another round of opinions or try tools like the Shopify name generator to draw up a second shortlist. It’s tedious, but effective – if your original idea is still the favorite, then you’ll know it’s a keeper.

13. The domain can wait.

Many founders get hung up on the idea that their domain needs to have exactly the same name as their brand. But experience shows that it’s better to make the brand name your top priority to begin with. Buffer founder Joel Gascoigne realized this ages ago, and only changed his social media tool’s domain name from bufferapp.com to buffer.com after several years of success. Not convinced yet? It worked for Dropbox (which started with getdropbox.com) and Facebook (thefacebook.com), too.

14. Don’t cut corners.

Creative agencies, linguists, trademark lawyers, designers – the only cheap naming process is an unprofessional one. Expertise costs money, but it also brings returns. After all, your name is going to be the most-used element of your brand. And it’ll drive you crazy every day if you don’t get it right.

15. Treat your name like a plant.

Once you’ve found your perfect name, tend it as carefully as you would a seedling. After all, it’s still young and fragile. Before you “sow” it abroad, you’ll need to test and prepare the ground. And then water it with localized content in a range of languages. Never lose sight of your goal: you want to take your business global without losing touch with its local roots.

16. Grow a thick skin.

From hate-fueled online trolls to clueless committee members, there will always be someone who hates your name. It’ll hurt less if you steel yourself against it from the start. Remember, you don’t need to please everyone. Just the people who count.

Cover image via Unsplash

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