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This article was published on October 24, 2014

5 steps to finding a winning brand name

5 steps to finding a winning brand name
Olga Steidl
Story by

Olga Steidl

Olga Steidl is the Growth manager at Linko.

Earlier this year, we faced a surprise hurdle. Due to a conflicting trademark in the US and a subsequent cease and desist letter, we were forced to change our brand name just before the public launch of our product.

Saying goodbye and starting anew

To say that we loved our name, “Linko,” doesn’t even begin to describe the situation. Linko is a five letter word that means “sling” in Finnish and offered us many benefits. It captured our intent of linking people and data, it was easy to remember and also was easy to spell.

Regardless, we had to find a new name. It was very disappointing and I will describe in another post why we ended up here, and how you can make sure it won’t happen to you from the legal perspective.

So, we got together and started the search for a new name. I synthesized our experience into templates and lists, and would like to share the most important ones with you.

Please note that these templates are focused on finding a name for a mobile first enterprise software product. If you have experiences or best practices on relatable situations, please don’t hesitate to share them in the comments. 

Step 1: Consider these various naming approaches

We started by identifying the different approaches to naming. There are three we considered:

1. Abstract name: This is a brand name that does not have any direct association with the product. It will take time and an investment to build such a name into a brand that reflects your product and connects it to your audience. Example: Apple.

2. Descriptive name: This explains what your product/service does in a meaningful way. This approach likely does not offer an emotional connection to the product, but rather tries to appeal to the rational decision maker.

It is possible to add an emotional dimension to the brand through well-placed design and marketing strategies. Example: Salesforce

3. Emotional name: This creates a feeling and explains on the emotional level what the product does and is the hardest type of name to come up with. An emotional name will require a solid motto or pitch to get the product explained quickly. Example: Beats by Dr. Dre

Our naming approach


In the beginning, we had disagreements on what approach we should take. We realized that we all have our own subjective biases and preferences that are only natural, but may cloud our judgment. To mitigate any biases, we did the following:

  1. Create a large list of options with choices from all the above approaches.
  2. Organized an external brainstorming session to hear outside viewpoints and even more options.
  3. Tested the names that filtered to the top with our private beta customers, top sales and marketing executives of other companies, as well as academics we respected.

Based on feedback and evidence, we concluded that for our type of product, we needed a descriptive name that our customers could quickly understand.

Step 2: Name validation

We designed the following checklist to validate our name ideas. We used the OHIM trademark search engine quite extensively to search for trademark availability and various domain search engines to find good domain candidates. We used XYO to search potential clashing names in the iOS App Store and Google Play Store. Lastly, we tested availability on Facebook and Twitter simply by typing the URLs.

Name Candidate Checklist:

  • US Trademark available
  • EU Trademark available
  • Domains directly available
  • Premium domains available for purchase from owners
  • App Store available
  • Play Store available
  • Twitter name available
  • Facebook page available
  • Name has 8 or fewer letters

After this checklist, we wrote down keywords we could use, key attributes of our product, parts of the name we could consider, idioms that explain what we do and traps we should avoid.

For example, our product has a market opportunity beyond the initial sales use case, so we specifically decided not to have the word “sales” as a part of our name.

Through this process, we ended up with two names that were ticking all of the boxes, but the process wasn’t finished yet.

Step 3: External brainstorming session workshop

One sunny summer evening, we invited a mixed group of creative people to help us brainstorm on the product name. These included branding professionals, designers, developers and business people. The goal was to start a conversation and see what these people would come up with.

To avoid biasing or limiting the conversation, we set the following rules:

  1. We won’t check domain availability right away. We wanted a good number of new name candidates through leaving all of the options completely open.
  2. Strict moderation to provide every participant a clear understanding of the process and the right to speak.
  3. Choose participants from different backgrounds and both genders, making sure that the representation reflects the natural spread in our target market. These included native English speakers, English as a foreign language speakers, designers, engineers and business folks.

An important decision, which we made in the beginning, was the choice for who would be the moderator and secretary of the workshop. We specifically chose our Creative Director as the moderator and the CEO (who is a person of strong personality and opinion) to be the secretary at the whiteboard, focusing on listening and writing down possible names.

The learnings from the workshop included firstly, to make sure the tone of the discussion is positive and nobody is dominating it. Secondly, be careful about how and what you ask … and to whom you target your questions.

Here are the steps we followed during our workshop:

1. Introduction: All participants introduce themselves, their background and what is important in a name for them. Describe step-by-step how the brainstorming session is structured and what instruments participants can use. Describe the problem and outline the requirements (see examples of the requirements above).

2. Associations: Ask people what they think about the product, what associations they have. Allow people to share their initial ideas.

Write down everything. Give participants a piece of paper to write down ideas they might forget.

3. Brainstorming: Ask participants to write down 10 names very quickly on the sticky notes. Give them a deadline. We allocated seven minutes, after which we asked everyone to write their names on whiteboard.

4. Votes: When all names are on the whiteboard, ask each participant to choose five that they like the most. On a separate whiteboard, write down names that got more than three likes.

Ask every participant what names they like from the new list and why. Cross out names that cause a negative reaction based on possible pronunciation, translation, associations, visual associations etc.

Check names on trademark availability, if not available, ask participants to think about other forms of the same name. You should end up with at least three options.

Step 4: Post workshop team discussion

team work

Keep in mind that the brainstorming session aims to start a conversation about the name associations, not to decide on a particular name. Reserve the next day for a team discussion and go through every single name created, as well as the general dynamic of the workshop.

Ideally after these two steps, you have three names you can now test on your target audience.

Step 5: User testing of a short list

In our case, none of the names we created during the brainstorming session were chosen as our company name. Ultimately, the name came to us from one of the hundred or so early candidates the next day, when we were internally on the same page about what we should be looking for.

Our consensus was a descriptive name that gives a feeling of getting work done, without spending time on it, all while explaining what we do.

As a final step, we chose a new set of the best three candidates, and sent them to multiple members of our target audience with two questions:

  1. Does this name explain what we do and why we do it?
  2. How do you feel about the name?

Pick the winning name

After completing all these stepsInbot emerged as the winner. Why? Well, in short, it checked all the necessary boxes regarding trademarks and availability.

It was clear to our audience that it is an automated companion (bot) that uses the data from the existing apps you love (in = information), and automatically gathers and analyses the sales data (inbot = automated inbox) to support them in their sales efforts.

We felt that the name was a little too technical as such, so we decided to compensate by adding emotional reach to the product. To achieve that, we decided to design a logo and marketing pitch that should attract a female B2B sales executive in her 30s and make her convinced the product is a valuable solution to her problem. We’re still in the process of transferring over, so Linko will still be around – for just a little while.

It was a long and tiring journey that proved to us how much the whole team cares about the product and its identity. We hope that the tools and practices we shared help you find better name in a shorter amount of time!

Read next: What’s in a startup’s name? Why the trend for misspelled words and -ly won’t go away

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