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Marcus Mitchell
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Naming for the long term

Naming a brand or business is one of the most long term communications decisions and investments a business makes. Finding the right name is more than a creative exercise and challenge, often the perfect name you want is already being used and you need to think again.

More frustratingly, a name can appear available, but then turn out to be problematic for legal or digital ownership reasons at a later stage. A lot of time and angst can be saved from the outset by understanding how to check you will be able to use a name in practice and what you can do to protect that name from being used or abused by others.

Securing a name legally and digitally

When looking at a name that you want to use and protect there are three 'spaces' that need to be considered:

  • Legal – for trademark registration of the name in the sectors and countries you want to use it. Not all names can be registered, a trademark-able name needs to be distinctive in its context, for example Pharma would probably not pass that test for pharmaceutical products and therapeutics, but might in Financial Services. You also need to 'get there first', in other words the name has not already been trademarked. If your name can't be trademarked that doesn't stop you using it, but you don't get the automatic legal protections (and savings in legal costs) that a trademark registration gives you.
  • Internet – for domain name or website address registration. Trademark and domain registration are completely separate processes. Having successfully registered a trademark does not in most cases give you rights to the domain registration, and vice versa. Generally we advise looking at domain and trademark registrations in parallel.
  • Social – for control of your name on social platforms. A domain name or trademark registration does not give you rights to that name on social platforms, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram etc., which may be where customers and other audiences who are important to you may look for you.

The long term value of naming

Of course, a name in principle can be changed at any point, but the timescales to agree one that can be used and protected across the three spaces (legal, internet and social) is long, from three months upwards. It then takes time and resource to re-build awareness and the strengths of your reputation under the new name.

Businesses' logos and slogans are changed more frequently than names. Names, logos, slogans, even colours and scents can all be trademarked, but only names need to be viable in all three spaces. This creates a barrier to name change.

However, more fundamentally the name of your business, product or service is the 'hook' in people's heads from which everything else hangs: your reputation, strengths, logo, slogan etc. So a name change requires significant effort and time to transfer all those valuable associations under the new name.

If you are looking for a name or planning to re-name, this checklist of tips and use and protection issues is a good start point:

Naming checklist

  • Choose a name for the long term – What will serve you well as you grow? Or give you flexibility if you pivot your business model?
  • A name is a communication opportunity – What meaning could it communicate about your vision, origin story or point of difference?
  • Product or business name – Are you sure your current product or service is the long term focus of your business? Could you be marketing a family of spin-off products or additional services in a couple of years? While all of them may need names, consider what is going to be most important. A lead product or service? Or the business as a whole?
  • Allow room for growth – Check legal trademark availability beyond your immediate geographic target markets. Legal searching globally in hundreds of geographies is usually impractical, but broadening beyond your initial set of markets (e.g. US, EU and UK) is worthwhile, making your name and brand ready for growth.
  • Meaning and pronounceability in other languages – Check that the name is easy to say and doesn't have any negative associations in key market languages.
  • Identify your trademark classes – Trademarks are registered in specific internationally agreed product and service classes. Your main product or service may be registrable in more than one class, because so many business offers involve combinations of products and services, such as devices, software, technology and advice (services). Based on your business model and plans registering your trademark in a number of related product and service classes may be relevant.
  • Digital protection – In addition to registering a domain name and social platform handles for current or later use, look at acquiring similar domain names (e.g. the .net and versions as well as the .com) and handles to discourage accidental or other infringements.

A checklist is start-point for consideration but being guided through the process is essential. We have worked with a number of clients on naming exercises and associated brand and identity creation – to find out more and discuss the broader implications and process please get in touch

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