The concept of brand only matters to huge companies, right? Oh so wrong. In today’s world, where even tweens are focusing on their personal brand, every entrepreneur needs to consider what their company brand stands for.
And while you might be most concerned with clients and your product or service during the launch phase, you never have a second chance to make a good first impression, which is why creating a strong brand at the outset is vital.
Here are tips from entrepreneurs and branding experts on choosing three crucial elements: your company name, logo and website domain.
Choosing a company name
Be clear on who you are and what you represent
Tackle brand strategy first, recommends Robyn Young, brand strategist and founder of branding agency Robyn Young & Co, who advises to explore questions such as:
- Who is your ideal audience?
- What’s your mission statement?
- What’s your value proposition?
- What problem are you solving?
- What are your core values?
- What’s the bigger vision you have for the world, industry, etc.?
Focusing on these questions first will help you hone in on what makes your brand unique.
Do a free association exercise
Kristi Porter, founder of marketing firm Signify, sat down and chronicled her stream-of-conscious as if she was explaining her company to a potential client. “It gave me a wide variety of words, phrases and ideas to work with,” she says, adding that once you begin searching availability, you can go back to the drawing board with those ideas as inspiration if needed.
Consider the client viewpoint
“When picking a name or logo, it’s easy to let your preferences guide decisions, but you are not the customer.
The success of your business relies on your ability to speak to them in a way that is relevant and creates positive emotional reactions,” says Allison Schmidt, marketing manager for Get Online NOLA. Her firm recommends creating ‘personas’ to better conceptualise who the business is talking to. “Once you know who your clients are, it’s much easier to craft your branding to something they will be able to connect with and appreciate.”
For example, when Lisa Cox, brand strategist at Lisa Cox Studio, was leading the branding for Izza Pops, they chose the phrase “plant-based frozen treats” after talking to target customers.
“When we used the term ‘dairy-free,’ they found it implying ‘less than’ and ‘vegan’ was too ostracising; ‘plant-based’ was a term they had positive feelings towards and understood well,” she says.
Simply describe what you do
Rather than trying to be clever, make your name relevant by telling people what you do, says Anja Smith who helps local service contractor businesses with their marketing at TradebizToolbox.com. “Weird spellings and words people have never heard of won’t help you build a plumbing business.”
She also recommends putting your major competitive advantage—speedy, fair, ethical or a bargain—in the name of your business in addition to your main service. “Let your customer know how you edge out your competition,” Smith says.
This strategy can also work well for people who are building a brand around themselves or a location—as in “Last Name Corporate Law” or “Chicago Juice Makers,” says Erryn Cobb, CEO and owner of Fetch Integrated Marketing Communications. “However, remember that it may limit the brand’s growth beyond the founder or location.”
“While a little mystery can be a good thing, you don’t want your potential clients to have to guess what you’re actually offering,” says Mike Novak with Rise Digital.
Create your own word
It’s hard to argue with the success of companies like Google or Zappos. If the above tip doesn’t resonate with you, do the opposite, says David Burrows, vice president of marketing and business development with Alford Internet Properties.
“Some successful brands will take a simple word that incorporates who or what they do and combine it with another word,” he says, citing “Carvana,” as one such memorable brand for a company that sells cars. “The combined words ‘car’ and ‘vana’ create a fresh unused word that’s easy to brand,” he notes.
Even if you’re starting small, it’s possible you will expand into different product offerings or geographic locations.
“Weigh the advantages of a company name narrowly tailored to your current services versus one flexible enough to work for different industry-related services,” suggests Earl White, marketing manager at House Heroes LLC. “We wanted an identity that could progress across related services, rather than having to ‘rebuild the wheel’ for every new company initiative.”
Read up on the name
Check to see if your chosen name has any negative connotations, recommends Tim McCouch, vice president of marketing firm TLK Fusion.
“A great example of this is several companies that had incorporated the name ‘Isis’ into their brands. With the rise in terrorism, the name now has a completely different meaning and can create negative effects on a business.”
Make sure it’s not trademarked
You can search yourself, but Marc Misthal, principal with Gottlieb, Rackman & Reisman, recommends hiring a trademark attorney, who can perform a comprehensive search to determine if the brand name is available for use and registration.
“It’s worth spending the fees to have a lawyer check on this, because if you eventually receive a cease-and-desist letter, there will likely be higher legal fees as you sort out the problem and potentially have to change your name.”
Australian businesses should do their research through the Government’s Intellectual Property website here. “There could be users who have not registered their trademarks and nevertheless have rights.”
Designing a logo
Come up with options
“If you’re working with a professional designer, make sure they will give you several options to choose from. Sometimes you don’t know what you like until you see what you don’t like, so it’s helpful to have multiple versions to look over and compare,” Porter points out.
And then, seek opinions from friends, family, other business owners and even potential clients to get other people’s perceptions about them, Novak recommends.
Make sure it resonates with your target audience
Cox shares the story of a client who designed his logo referencing old-school California imagery. However, he was trying to appeal to younger millennials. “His target customer is not going to have the same nostalgic memories he has; they are going to feel the company is dated,” she says. “There is a disconnect with what will appeal to his customers versus what he prefers.”
Consider simplicity for printing
Consider how the logo will look in a variety of uses, Porter recommends, noting that an overly intricate logo won’t look as good when used in small spaces or on mobile screens. And the fewer the colors, the better and less expensive it will be to print, says Bret Bonnet, co-founder and president of Quality Logo Products, Inc.
Shiva Remala, digital marketing professional at CloudFuze, Inc., recommends “name as logo,” and/or using a rectangle orientation to meet all those criteria.
Create an entire brand identity
The logo is just one part, points out Porter. “You should have a colour palette, fonts, and images to work with outside of a simple logo. Your brand is represented by the entire package.” Using a style guide will ensure consistency, especially as you grow.
Landing on a website
Checking website availability often goes hand-in-hand with choosing your name in the first place, since you want to be able to get a similar website domain to help with search engine optimisation.
Keep it simple
“Make sure it passes the ‘radio test,’” says Jeffrey Sass, CMO of .CLUB Domains, as in, it can be easily understood. “Shorter domains are easier to remember and take less effort to enter into the browser bar effectively, especially from a mobile device,” says McCouch.
And Remala recommends you avoid hyphens and numerals, unless the numeral is part of your actual company name.
Do competitive research
Get Googling! You want to make sure your URL cannot be confused with another business, or worse one of your competitors, or be interpreted to an inappropriate or inaccurate meaning,” says J.J. Zielinski, owner and designer of Lakehouse Studios, a digital media company.
While you’re at it, try to find out the URL’s history if it has been used in the past, recommends Remala. “You can search expired/deleted domain name databases like expiredomains.net but then use a tool like SimilarWeb or web.archive.org to make sure the domain name didn’t carry out spam or toxic activities in the past.”
Match your other branding elements as closely as possible
Try not to venture too far from your brand name so potential clients can easily find you online, suggests Cobb. And ideally you want to have your URL and social handles be identical or as close to identical as possible. She recommends a Namecheckr as an easy-to-use free tool that will allow you to automatically check the availability of your desired names across multiple platforms.
Get creative if you have to
Porter had her heart set on “Signify” as her company’s name, but every simple version of that domain (.com, .net., .co, etc.) was taken or required big bucks to acquire. So she went with something nontraditional by using .solutions in the URL. “It does sometimes confuse people who call my company Signify Solutions, but in truth, anything that isn’t one of the most simple domains would do the same,” she says, acknowledging that it was a risk regardless unless she changed the company name.
“My advice is to do the best you can: Secure a website you’re happy with, along with social media handles, and then do everything in your power to make sure your brand stands out so that no matter what your URL ends up as, people can find you and they’ll know your brand when they see it.”
And sometimes using a different domain name can be a benefit, points out Sass. “With all the new domain extensions now available, you can choose a domain where the words to the right and left side of the dot together say a lot about what you do and what folks can expect when they visit your website.”
Given the ambiguity of no hard-and-fast rules for choosing a company name, logo and website URL, many entrepreneurs give a sigh of relief when they are done with that task—and happily move on to the systematic parts of their business, like invoicing and accounting. And that’s where we have got you covered.