April 27, 2020 6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
When beta testing your business name, my first inclination is to say “Don’t.” Be confident. Stick to your choice. But that’s hard to do. You’ve likely never named a company before and will want some assurance that you aren’t totally crazy.
But some ways of getting feedback are better than others. Here’s how to set up a test for your name finalists.
Create a Deck
Using presentation software, find a photo that’s relevant to your industry. Place the image in the background of the slide and make it darker so the word will be clearly legible when viewed in white text. The image will make the word feel more like a brand name and less like a word on a screen. People must be able to imagine the name as something that stands for a company, not just a word on paper. I’d use the same image on each slide to ensure your group is responding to the word and not the image. Then create two slides for each name using two different fonts. For the first slide, use Helvetica. For the second, use Times New Roman.
Run a Focus Group
Gather a small focus group. The best group will have a broad cross-section of people. Ideally, they’d be potential customers, but that might be logistically difficult. The main thing is to ensure you have a range of people, from those who know a lot about language to those who have a fairly low literacy level. By that, I mean people who don’t read much or think critically about language. (This will be easy because that’s the majority of people.) This kind of group will give you valuable insight into how very different people will respond to your potential names. One person’s “I love it!” is someone else’s “No way. I don’t get it.”
Give your focus group 30 seconds with each slide, or a total of 60 seconds per name. Have them rate each name from 1 to 10. Also ask them to jot down a few initial impressions. Then go back through and tell them a few sentences about the back story to each name. Have them note down whether knowing what the name means makes their reaction more or less favorable. This will tell you if an origin story will help the name or hurt it.
Tally up the results. This information shouldn’t make the decision for you, but it will tell you how some people might respond to your name. Here’s a word of caution from Alexandra Watkins in her book Hello, My Name Is Awesome: “Because language belongs to all of us, most people feel very qualified to comment on it. What’s tricky is that we’re not very good at drawing the line as to which bits of linguistic comment require specialist knowledge and which don’t.”In other words, listen to what people say about the name, but remember that they’re not experts. Often people feel obligated to give their opinion when asked, even if they have no knowledge base for making that judgment.
How to Pick Just One
After eliminating some names with the above criteria and testing the remaining names with your focus group, you should now have fewer than five names on your list. Here are a few concrete ways to narrow your list down even more and determine which name is the best choice for you.
State Business Name Search
Go to your secretary of state’s website to see if the name is already registered in your state. There’s likely to be some competition for many names. You have to be able to register your name with the state to do business there, so the level of competition will help you eliminate some of your choices. Making sure no other business has your exact name is important; however, you’ll likely find names that are similar or that use some parts of your proposed name. For example, you might find an Acme Business Solutions. That does not prohibit you from registering Acme Pools as a business name.
At this point, you aren’t actually registering any names. You’re simply using the state business name search tool to whittle down your shortlist of names. You’ll likely be able to eliminate one or more names because they’re too similar to another name in your state and in your industry.
Basic Market Research
Next, do some Google searches to check for direct competitors with the same or similar names. Try looking by geography. For example, if you wanted to start an athletic shoe company in the Pacific Northwest called Nike (obviously not a good idea), you could search for “Nike Portland.” Or you can search by type of business: “Nike Athletic Shoes.” Or “Nike running shoes.”
You can do similar searches on social media platforms. Sometimes international companies that you might have missed elsewhere will show up there. Again, this isn’t a definitive approach to picking one name. These simple steps will eliminate any obvious, glaring issues that might come up, such as another company by the same or similar name in the same or a related industry. You won’t catch everything with these searches, but don’t worry—the next step will get anything you missed.
The next step is to run your finalists through a trademark search. You need to know if there’s someone out there who already has and will defend the name you want to use. The easiest place to do this is at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s website (https://www.uspto.gov/). This isn’t a substitute for applying for your own trademark—at this point, you’re just trying to eliminate names that are already trademarked by someone else.
In the end, it comes down to a difficult decision. With all the criteria, care, and technique in the world, you still can’t predict whether your customers will get it, love it, or just ignore it. You can put your best foot forward, though. And this process is oriented toward that goal.