When people need to think of a name for their new venture, they sometimes toss their task out to the wilds of the Internet. You’ll often see posts on message boards like Reddit or AskMeFi that ask others to chip in their naming ideas for their HR business, their design studio, or their new record store. There are sites like Wordlab and Naming Force, which has naming contests, exclusively dedicated for generating names. Crowdsourcing sites and online discussions seeking new taglines and slogan are also common.
Finding a company name (or slogan) in this way seems great if the stakes are low—a pet, a personal blog, or a book club—but when someone is naming a business that is intended to be their livelihood, crowdsourcing the name is a bad idea in my view. The name of a business is fundamental to its brand identity, even more fundamental than a logo. It shapes the public’s perception of a business and is not something that can be easily changed once established.
Assigning this task to an anonymous crowd may generate some clever options, but it will unlikely unearth something effective or strategic. A name should do something, after all. It should convey a feeling, a concept, a message. A name needs to do more than win a popularity contest. As any one-hit-wonder musician will attest to, things that are popular for a moment often do not stand the test of time.
When naming a business or venture, a company owner should establish the various criteria the name should fulfill. Some things to write down include:
- The target market or whom the name needs to appeal to
- The brand qualities the name should ideally transmit
- The message or connotations the name should have
- The message or connotations the name shouldn't have
- The names of competitors or other names in the sector
- Ideas on how similar or different the new name should be in its sector
- How the name will be used, such as if it be worn on a T-shirt, need to fit on a handheld device, etc.
- A story or larger significance that the name might offer
- Other criteria, such as a need to appeal to an international audience, certain sounds to include or exclude, an ideal length, how the name might be incorporated into a URL, and so on
After creating a document that hammers out the qualities and purposes of the name, the next step in the process is to brainstorm a whole bunch of ideas. I suppose during this brainstorming process, a crowd could be helpful in generating a number of possibilities.
Indeed, often the prompts for naming ideas on crowdsourcing sites provide some general guidelines about what type of name the person is looking for, but it’s rarely detailed, and if it were detailed, few would read it or follow it. Crowdsourcing a name might work to find a diamond in the rough, but on the other hand it could just as easily be a distraction and a waste of time, or worse, it could confuse the effort.
After brainstorming, the names should then be evaluated by how well they meet the criteria that were written down. Creating a scoring matrix that assigns points to each necessary attribute can help the strongest name rise to the top.
On the other hand, when asking strangers to vote on a name, people will favor the names that they think sound nice, what gives them a chuckle, or what they happen like. The names they choose are unlikely to meet any concrete objectives, or if they do, it won’t be intentionally.
I was once helping out a pro-bono client and guided them through the creation of a tagline to serve to explain what their venture was all about. Later, I found out the client floated around a short-list of taglines to their friends and associates to see which one would get the most votes. This tactic seemed to be a poor way to arrive at a final decision to me, because the people voting on the slogans hadn’t gone through the development process. The friends and colleagues were casting their vote based on a single criteria, whether they liked the slogan or not. Again, liking a slogan, or a name, and ensuring that it meets predefined business needs are two different things.
Sometimes companies with bad names thrive in spite of themselves, but for a good name, a strategic approach will have much better odds of succeeding than a crowdsourced shot in the dark.