Startups: don't paint your brand into a corner

Startups: don't paint your brand into a corner

For some reason, when you’re starting out on a new business journey, people expect you to be able to reel off brilliant answers to questions, like:

   “What are you gonna do, roughly?”

   “Exactly how will it work?”

   “How the heck will you make any money doing that?”

   “Who will be your customers?”

   “How will people find you?”

   “What will you call it?”

…and so on.

OK, you probably ought to have an answer to that first question. But after that, things tend to start getting vague.

Far from revealing embarrassing holes in your business plan (if you have one), this vagueness can be a good thing. In recent years, and partly due to the rising popularity of "Lean Startup principles" (the scientific approach to managing startups), healthy doses of reality and pragmatism are beginning to prevail. Nowadays, allowing a business to develop and grow organically, incrementally – and in response to commercial experience and feedback – isn’t just fashionable; it makes a lot of sense.

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A creative name is good for business

A "lean startup" doesn’t worry about honing its product to perfection or crafting the ultimate pitch before it goes public. It doesn’t hire staff or take premises until it absolutely has to. Instead, it goes out there with whatever it's got: it tests the market; talks to potential customers; learns from competitors; and feeds this back into whatever it’s selling or making. In short, it learns on the job.

It’s this approach – let’s call it a revolution – that makes starting a business viable for a new generation who don’t have access to funding, but do have a good idea and the energy to make it happen.

All this said, every new business needs a name. You can only get away with referring to it as, “My Great New Idea” for so long.

But if you don’t know quite who your customers will be, and exactly what you’ll be selling – let alone what your marketing strategy will be – what do you call it? How can you name a business, when you don’t know precisely what the business is going to be?

As with most problems, the first step towards the solution is to acknowledge it. And the fact is that, when you’re at startup stage, you don’t know much. So don’t try to tailor your name and branding to a business you almost certainly don’t yet fully understand. If you do, you’ll be pretty much shooting in the dark and painting yourself in to a corner (apologies for the mixed metaphor).

Think brand, not bland

Be aware that your business could – and probably will – change a lot during its early years, even morphing into something completely different from your original spark of inspiration. But avoiding a "descriptive" name doesn't mean being anonymous or bland. You can still keep your options open by choosing a name that simply feels right - but explains nothing - and gets you remembered. There are too many businesses out there called something like Agile Software Solutions.

Be distinctive and memorable, at least. For example, if you’re branding a tech-driven business, there's no need to for the name to say anything specific about your business – simply sending out contemporary, "techie" signals is enough. 

Although it can take a bit of confidence to choose one, a distinctive business name that does little more than ‘feel right’ is a great way to avoid painting your business into a corner.

Use our simple 5-point checklist to test out whether your naming idea is a good idea.

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