What to keep in mind when choosing a startup brand

When Steve Jobs named Apple, it came down to a simple decision. He just liked it; and it had the additional benefit of getting his fledgling company ahead of Atari in the phone book.

Things are a bit more complicated today, and startup founders need to consider so much more when it comes to their brand name. At the start, the brainstorming is fun — but early-stage teams will quickly get into the thick of it and need to make tough decisions. Choosing the right domain name is a good example of this, especially if your preferred one is already taken by another company.

Startup teams already have a lot to deal with. So, in order to relieve some pressure, below are a few steps to consider when choosing that all important brand and domain.

Find a name that relates to your market

To create a brand name, you first need to understand your business.

The initial step here is to define your positioning within the market. Start this by locating your target audiences, and what they are looking for. Then, understand how you are going to reach them, avoiding abstract terms while doing so. Once you have understood your audiences, then look to define what your offer is to them. Lastly, look to codify your values and detail how you need to communicate these both internally and to your customers.

Ideally, this process should help you find a name that relates to the market niche you want to conquer. Remember, though, that this is not fixed; while it is ideal to get it right the first time, there is always the option to further evolve or make revisions to the brand as you grow, incorporating customer feedback and results.

Make it easy to spell, search for and remember

Everyone has had to spell their name on the phone, and we know how much of a pain it is to do it over and over again.

Now imagine being a prospect or potential customer. If they can’t remember your brand, or find it difficult to locate the right one, then they will simply give up, and a sale is lost. Thus, the brand name needs to be easy to remember and easy to type into a search engine. Founders and startup teams should also consider how the brand name conveys across a variety of languages to ensure it works.

Investing in the right domain name is key here, as it means that a brand can perform better in terms of SEO, and, as a result, generate greater visibility.

Don’t be a dedicated follower of trends

Sometimes, contrarian thinking can create better results. Indeed, it’s often why many startups are founded — to solve old problems in new ways, or re-design categories from the ground up.

This approach can also help when brainstorming names. Naturally, you will look at competitors, companies on a similar path to yours, as well as the legacy players in your market. You might notice that some of these are following distinct patterns — and while they might all go in one direction, you might be better positioned to go the other way.

Beyond the name, this approach extends more widely across a brand; if all major players and younger companies alike in your field use similar brand colours, logo designs, etc., then there is currency in thinking differently.

Make sure it is unique

This might seem like a given, but there are far too many stories of brands facing legal troubles when similarly named companies take issue over trademarks. This is especially true when expanding to new geographies.

So, make sure your identity is unique. In the UK, the government website allows you to search for a trademark — including by key words, phrases, or images. Make sure you take the time to thoroughly search for similar brands online (no matter what industry) — especially in territories you want to target either at launch or as you grow.

Test, re-test, and test again

Marketing people love a good A/B test — whereby they pit two outputs against each other to audiences to understand which creates better outcomes.

Founders need to take the same approach with their brand name. Even if you are choosing from five to fifteen different versions or variations, it is important to test the impact with your network of colleagues, friends, family, or anyone else who can provide constructive feedback.

This enables founders to choose the name and identity that will have the most impact and ensures they will feel more confident in their decision.

Pick your domain wisely

To ensure maximum impact, startups should consider both sides of the dot when it comes to their domain name.

The proliferation of new Top-Level Domains (nTLDs) means that founders can look to better extend their brand to the domain. For example, a technology-based startup should consider nTLDs that better represent them — for example a ‘.technology’, ‘.digital’ or ‘.io’ domain. Lifestyle brands can opt to add ‘.life’ to better articulate their brand right from the start. 

The benefits nTLDs present are numerous — not just better brand recognition, but also greater SEO impact, helping you get closer to the top of the Google page rankings when customers seek you out.

This will also help you avoid the common pitfall of naming your brand only to find the domain already taken. Sometimes this will be a company with a similar brand (even in a completely different vertical to yours), or a domain speculator (someone who buys up domain names in order to sell them on at a higher cost — up to tens of thousands more).

Going beyond traditional TLDs can also help show that your company is modern, on trend, and smart. It is a sign of confidence in your brand — boosting the confidence of consumers, employees, and more. It can even be a good look for potential investors as well — with companies using a nTLD getting more attention from VCs.

While it can be fun and exciting, choosing a name is not an easy task. But if you approach it methodically, test it out, and ensure you can extend the branding to other key functions — such as your domain — then your name can set your brand up for success.