Brand Consultant & Coach, Published Business Writer, Brand Author & Speaker, Harpist, Composer, Mom & Wife, Spiritual Student, Educator ... and that's just on Monday. A blog about brand leadership, innovation and anything else I want to write about.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Naming Social Media & Beyond

I was recently asked by Aliza Sherman blogger and social media consultant to comment about her naming dilemmas within social media, and how I felt about using the term “social” within a name at this stage of the game.

There are definitely do's and don'ts within naming. If it were so easy, there wouldn't be an entire industry of naming consultants and agencies. So much of the English language is literally already trademarked and/or URL owned, leaving a small pool of possibilities to choose from. Which is one explanation of why what you do see out there as trademarked names are often lacking in appeal.

The first thing to remember is sitting around thinking about names is not the place to begin. You’re cheating the process if you do and will almost always regret it at the realization of time or money lost.

Like other aspects of branding, naming is defined and guided by the core positioning of the brand. The positioning is what defines the context and parameters around what the name is trying to communicate. Without context, a name is ineffectual to useless.

So what are the do’s and don’ts of naming?


1. Create your own brand positioning statement
This means define your brand on paper in 1-2 sentences that explain the what, why, where, for whom and unique aspects of your brand. For an overview see my past post.

2. Create brand communication attributes
These are adjectives (innovative, savvy, luxurious, transparent technology) that describe the relevant and unique aspects of your brand. Not only are these important words to know about how you're unique, you can use these as jumping off points/inspiration points to come up with names.

3. Know your markets
Be very aware of your intended geographic markets both in the short and long-run. Language and cultural faux pas are the stuff marketing text books are made of. Language parameters should guide the creative process of naming and kept heavily in mind during the ultimate selection process.

4. Know where the brand name will “live”
Where the name and logo will appear is a technical parameter that will dictate how long or short the name will be. If you’re naming for a social app on a mobile phone, space is a premium, therefore ultra-short is very, very good. If you’re a dotcom with a physical presence, the name may be able to go longer.

5. Use all of the above as the context for name creation & selection
The blueprint is in place, context set, now use it! Allow names to flow from the inspiration of the communication attributes; check your selections against the positioning statement and technical parameters like cultural and linguistic considerations to see if it passes muster.


1. Copy your competitors
It’s frankly ridiculous how many copy-cat names are out there. Don’t go there – your lawyer will thank you for it.

2. Ask your wife, cousin, mailman to start coming up with names for you
Everyone loves to be “creative”. The reality is unless they have that positioning in hand and are using that to guide their creative output, just say no thanks.

3. Think that one name is enough
It takes many – even hundreds of names and in some cases thousands - on a master list. Narrow it down to best fit the positioning criteria and let the trademark and URL searches weed out more. But please, don’t go into the trademark application process with just one name up your sleeve. Even the largest of companies have had this approach bite them in the proverbial rear end.

4. Skimp on trademark searches
The USPTO (U.S. Patent & Trademark Office) is not – repeat not – an up-to-date resource. There is a reason it’s free, and everything else is for a fee. Whether you go the trademark attorney route or have an on-line trademark search company provide you the raw data (without legal interpretation), do your due diligence and get the counseling to walk you through the process. If you need a free counseling resource, check out your local chapter of SCORE, Counselors to America's Small Business.

5. Use anything but WHOIS for domain searches
I’ve had friends who are savvy Internet people fall for this one only to regret it. GoDaddy, Network Solutions and the rest all offer free domain searches to see of the desired URL is available, but watch it. There are trolls who pay attention to this stuff and will go in and register it from under you only to then park and sit on the domain for a profit. WHOIS seems to be the most reliable and trustworthy source for searching.

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