Your “brand name” could be anything. Maybe it’s your own name. Or your new product’s name. Or the name for your new company. Whatever it is, remember that it is what’s going to face the world when you’re talking about your startup, so it better be good.
The ideal name should be:
- easy to read (is it short, easy to spell?)
- memorable (is it catchy? if a friend mentioned it, would you remember it?)
- relevant (is it obvious what you’re doing or what the product is or does?)
- unique (you don’t want it to be confused with a competitor)
Get a legal pad and start cranking out name ideas. Invite friends over and brainstorm. What’s related to your idea? What’s the idea’s spirit animal? Can you make a play on words? Can you add a suffix like “…osity” or “…inence” or “…io” to make it sound techy or cool? Remove a vowel (Bloggr) or spell it differently (Cylance)? Have patience; you’ll likely come up with good names at the least obvious times and over several days. My best ones come in the shower or on bike rides where I’m not distracted.
If you’re like me, you’ll end up with a lot of ideas. Read through them, then let them marinate for a few days. I bet there’ll be a few that stay top of mind. Run those by some friends and peers to get feedback. If you end up with three or four you really like, it’s time to see if you can use it.
The ideas below explain why each step is taken, and our FREE downloadable worksheet provides the specific action steps.
Great name, now what?
See if it’s available. Here’s how to check:
- Google it: Get ready for heartbreak. and maybe tears. What comes up? Is there something else with that name? If so, is it related to your idea in any way? Try spelling it phonetically or replace an “s” with a “z” (etc.) and see what comes up. If it’s looking like you’ve got something unique, keep going:
- Do a trademark search on USPTO.gov. Do a broad basic search first, then try the more advanced search options to check for anyone using your brand name. If that’s all clear, then:
- See if you can get the domain name. Type in your name followed by .com and see if anyone owns that domain name. If they do and it’s simply parked, contact them to see if they’ll be willing to sell it. If not, or it’s too expensive, consider adding “the” to the front or a hyphen or “…inc” or spelling it differently. Get creative, but keep it simple. Remember that if you get too crazy with the spelling, it’ll make it harder for people hearing it to properly search for you online.
- Consider an alternate URL ending, like .cc or .co or any of the newer ones. There’s a lot of good ones now that have far more availability than .com and can actually be kinda fun and memorable when combined with your brand name. Test ideas at Domainr.com, or see the mind bogglingly long list of options at Whois.com.
- Also test permutations with a dash, or adding “co” or “inc” to the name, or a prefix, verb or adjective. These can make it more memorable if done correctly. Examples: “gosidecar.com” instead of “sidecar.com” or “getflywheel.com” instead of “flywheel.com”.
If you find something you like, register it immediately. You can do this for under $15* at 1and1.com and you can always cancel it later, but once you’ve found that perfect domain name, lock it down as quickly as possible. I’ll sometimes register multiple names at a time just in case, then turn off auto-renewal on any that I end up not wanting. It’s a small investment.
* Why 1and1? I’ve used 1and1.com for more than a decade. They always have specials for the first year of registration, but after 12 months, it’s $26 per year for a private registration + $12/year for a 2GB email account. Total is $38/year. A comparable registration and email plan with GoDaddy is $85. These rates are as of February 5, 2017.
Time to get Social
Once you’ve registered the name, it’s time lock down your social media handles.
This might be frustrating because some folks might have your brand name as their handle, in which case you might need to again get creative. Maybe add “NA” or “USA” to it, or “…tweets” or something. You don’t want to just append random numbers, that looks and sounds ridiculous. Try an underscore instead. Example: @bobs_burgers looks and sounds way more professional and serious than @bobsburgers79.
An important goal is to get your handles the same across all channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, SnapChat. Add any other platforms you feel are relevant. This means checking all of them before locking down a handle on any of them. If you can get most of them with the perfect handle, go for it. Ultimately, once someone starts following you, they don’t need to remember it. And chances are they’ll search for you or click a link from your website to get to your social media channel anyway. But it definitely makes it easier if you can just say “oh, yeah, I’m @mybrandname on everything. (PS – we’re @thebuildcycle on everything)
How to set up your Social Media profiles
Now that you’ve locked down all of the social media handles you need, it’s time to upload a logo or photo. If you already have a logo, awesome, go for it. If not, at least upload a relevant photo. Maybe a phone pic of your new name scribbled on a napkin or something) as a placeholder because something is better than nothing.
Then write a quick “about” paragraph. You will refine this later, but at a minimum it should mention your brand name, a sentence or two about what you’re up to, and possibly a link to your new domain name. If you don’t have a website yet, probably best to put “Website coming soon” or nothing.
At this point, unless you’ve already got a logo in place and something to say on your social media channels, just sit on them. No need to get people liking them or following you yet. The important thing was to secure your brand name across the web. Over the next few days, start pumping content on them so that when you do invite people to like them, there’s something for them to see.
Just make sure to get a proper logo and well written profile in place as quickly as you can. First impressions are everything.
Should I trademark my brand name?
First off, I’m not an attorney, so this is based on my own experiences and conversations. If you’re not sure, talk to an attorney. That said, the actual cost of trademarking something is going to end up being much less expensive than hiring an attorney and it’s not that hard. So there’s little downside and major potential upside. I’ve sold three trademarks for amounts totaling more than a quarter million dollars. I was able to do that because they were filed correctly and maintained. You need to maintain them with periodic update filings. But first things first, should you even do it?
The USPTO has a good primer on why you should and what constitutes a trademarkable name. If you have a product and are already selling it, then it makes sense to trademark the product and/or brand name. If you aren’t actually selling anything yet, you can still trademark it with an “intent to use”, but you’ll have to go back and update the application when you actually start selling a product. If it’s a service, that’s a little easier as you can sell your service to a friend, document it, then register the trademark. If you don’t have a logo yet, you can file a Word Mark, which is simply the name of your brand/product/company in plain text. Word Marks are easier to maintain because you can change the logo however you want as long as the name doesn’t change. And as long as the name is trademarked, no one else can use it in that category.
What’s the category? That depends on what you make or do. You’ll need to file an application for a trademark in each category you want to protect it in. For example, I used to own the trademark for “Source” in the non-alcoholic beverages category. Others could have registered “Source” in, say, cosmetics or agricultural feed, but they’d have had a hard time registering it in juices, teas, etc., because those categories are too similar to where we had it registered. The broader the category you can put it into, the better.
The other thing you may want to trademark is your logo. If it’s iconic (or you think it will be), it might be worth registering that, too. For example, Nike’s Swoosh is trademarked, so you can use neither the name “Nike” nor their “swoosh” icon.
The value of owning the trademark is something you’ll need to decide for yourself. But it’s not hard to apply for one if you’ve got the time to read through the USPTO website a little. They have a short video series that helps explain it. Or speed it up with an online service like LegalZoom, however I still recommend doing a very thorough a search online and on USPTO.gov. Look for similar spellings, weird spellings, etc. If another trademark is similar enough that there’s a likelihood of consumer confusion, you aren’t likely to get your name approved.
Also worth noting, you generally need to have a product or service already in the marketplace and selling to effectively lock down your trademark. Read this article from the USPTO for more details on the steps needed to apply for and receive a trademark. And if you’re going to trademark it, just go ahead and get a federal trademark as it offers much stronger protection than state or local registrations.
Ready to get started? Download these action steps as a FREE worksheet on Google Docs you can use to get your new brand name locked and loaded on the World Wide Web!