A Diamond in the Dictionary: How to Rename Your Business with Purpose & Process

By James Kwon

That perfect name is rare. It’s special. It’s unmistakable. And it’s soaring high above your competition into the stratosphere.

So, are you wondering how to rename your business, product, or service? Well, it all starts with a purpose and is propelled forward with the process. In this post, we’ll run you through a few of the tenets of our naming process so you can spot a super-name all your own.

Some names possess inherent powers that are undeniable. Think Nike, TED, The North Face, Apple, Amazon, Tesla, Whole Foods, Insert Favorite Brand Here, etc. These names draw your mind in, latch on like a vice-grip, and never let go. In some cases, brand names have sunken so deep into our collective psyches that they stand in to represent entire product categories.

Don’t believe me? Well then ask yourself, have you ever asked for a Kleenex instead of a tissue? Cooked in a Crock-Pot instead of a slow-cooker? Used a sharpie instead of a permanent marker? Sneaky, right? The list goes on and on.

But what exactly makes a top-notch company name? Is it great because of your personal connection to it? Does the perfect name have to describe your brand, product, or service literally and accurately? Should it mimic the names of your competitors? Or should it step into new territories of its own?

How hard can it be to rename your company, product, or service anyway? One thesaurus-aided whiteboard session should do the trick, shouldn’t it?

If only that were the case.

Only after wading through the nuances of your brand, tussling with a dictionary, tangoing with a thesaurus, and identifying a proper positioning strategy will the name of your dreams reveal itself to you.

Questions Are Your Hammer, Answers Are Your Chisel

What are the five words that comprise your brand’s essence?

What do you want your name to do for your company?

Should it achieve separation from competition or reinforce your positioning platform?

Will it provide a deep well of marketing imagery or show the world you’re different?

Do you want your name to be informal or formal?

Cool or warm?

Evocative or descriptive? Cheeky or serious?

Use questions like these as your hammer and chisel. Sculpt your name based on what your brand needs (hint: it can’t need everything). Avoid making pivotal naming decisions based on personal preferences or fleeting hunches. Instead, rely on the intel you uncover as you ask yourself pointed questions.

The list of questions can go on and on (and it should), but the important takeaway here is that you need to re-familiarize yourself with your brand and know exactly what you want (and need) your new name to do for you. Questions help to achieve this comprehensive re-familiarization.

If you possess a vague idea of your naming needs, you’ll land somewhere on the dartboard but won’t hit the bulls-eye. A name certainly won’t replace an ill-performing product or fix systemic issues with a business, but it can assist you to:

  1. Differentiate from Your Competition
  2. Display Your Uniqueness
  3. Bolster A Positioning Strategy
  4. Establish Deep Relationships with Your Audience
  5. Be Unforgettable
  6. Generate Marketing/Collateral Inspiration and Ideas
  7. Transcend the Goods and Services You Provide

Take a second and ask yourself which three of these seven options are most important for your business’s brand.

When a client comes to us in need of a new name, the first thing we do is pump the brakes and send them a questionnaire filled with questions that will help us better understand what they want their name to do for them. We use our collection of carefully crafted questions to chip away at the initial block of name possibilities. It helps us put their brand on a spectrum so we’re at least facing in the right direction.

We complete this preliminary stage with a brand card exercise that forces the client to decide what they are and what they are not. Again, we can’t overstress the importance of asking the right questions as a means of gathering valuable intel and insight about where your brand is and where it wants to end up.

The more nuanced, the better.

Establish a Unique Position to Box Out the Competition

I often refer to the “crowded rain-forest canopy” analogy to exemplify the vital importance of establishing a unique position in your marketplace. If you don’t find a clearing in the canopy, you miss out on the nourishing rays of sunshine and ultimately wither away into the shadows of obscurity.

In order to carve out your own place in the marketplace, you must find a name that hasn’t been exploited and exhausted by your competitors.

Igor International, a distinguished naming agency, uses Apple (are you surprised?) to illustrate a well-thought-out positioning strategy. They posit that “the company that became Apple needed to distance itself from the cold, unapproachable, complicated imagery created by the other computer companies at the time that had names like IBM, NEC, DEC, ADPAC, Cincom, Dylakor, Input, Integral Systems, Sperry Rand, SAP, PSDI, Syncsort, and Tesseract.”

Would you remember one of the above names in that cluster of letters and unmemorable words five minutes after seeing them? How about one minute? Ten seconds? See Igor’s point? Me too.

Don’t let the allure of the safe road delude you. When renaming your business, taking a well-informed and calculated risk is far better than falling into the sea of white noise with other unrecognizable brand names.

To drive this crucial point home, Igor goes on by saying “the new company (Apple) needed to reverse the entrenched view of computers in order to get people to use them at home. They were looking for a name that was unlike the names of traditional computer companies, a name that also supported a brand positioning strategy that was to be perceived as simple, warm, human, approachable and different.”

In essence: Know your competitors. Know your brand. Position accordingly. Find an opening in the naming canopy and grow into that space.

Set Parameters and Stay Inside Them

After we conduct the brand card exercise mentioned earlier, we take the results and build a keyword bank. The keyword bank expands upon the personality attributes discovered during the brand card exercise which, in turn, establishes project parameters that will gradually tighten as the process moves forward.

Each and every keyword is meticulously chosen and vetted to keep the parameters air-tight and laser-focused. Once the keywords are approved, we use them to derive three brand pillars.

These pillars correlate to the three primary aspects of the business, service, or product that need to be emphasized and positioned across all touch-points of the brand, with the name being the most important of the litter.

When you plot your pillars and connect them, you’ll quite literally have established actual brand parameters that contain all of the considerations and insights from the previous phases of the project (the questionnaire, brand-card exercise, keyword bank, kick-off conversations, competitive positioning, etc).

Now, any and all of the names you generate for your business will either fit inside of the walls established by the pillars or step out of bounds, in which case you can discard.

Sure, you’ll come up with a bunch of awesome, funny, witty, catchy names. That’s certainly the fun part. But, are those names going to help you achieve your specific goals? And to what degree? That’s where this process comes in handy. It forces you to think about all of the seemingly minuscule, strategic elements inherent in renaming your business, service, or product. It also helps to drum up internal conversations which realign everybody’s perception about the brand.

Another standout naming agency, Catchword, undergoes a similar process when establishing project parameters.

They “create a project vocabulary.” Once they’ve constructed a vast pool of keywords, identified what they want and need the name to do strategically, and have written up a naming brief outlining all of these considerations, they’re ready to enter what they call “blue-sky territory” where they explore every possibility that complies with their project parameters. Naming may be linear at the beginning of the project but, once project parameters are set-up, you quickly move into a non-linear, free-association workflow.

Set yourself up with a perimeter to explore and then let your imagination run amok within those walls.

Don’t Wait to be Inspired

Inspiration can strike at any moment and leave behind a beautiful gem of a name. But the problem with inspiration is that it’s fickle and behaves like a shy animal. The less you pay attention to it, the more it inches towards you until it finally ends up nudging your leg for attention. LikeChuck Close memorably said, “inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just sit down and get to work”.

Instead of waiting to capture lighting in a bottle, stick to a process. Chisel away at a name a little bit at a time using process and purpose instead of swinging for the fences.

Renaming in Action: Swipely to Upserve

A fantastic example of a name change we recently observed was the metamorphosis Swipely underwent to emerge as Upserve. Even though the name change was just one component of their overall brand restoration project, it was nevertheless an indespensible part of the process for which the rest of the rebrand grew from. Given the 172% annual growth they’re currently enjoying, the name Upserve seems all the more fitting for this burgeoning outfit.

The Providence-based restaurant-management software company became Upserve on March 7. It was started in 2009 as Swipely by Angus Davis, a Providence native, who said the new name is inspired by the energy and passion that restaurateurs have for their guests, staff and food.

Restaurants are behind the new logo, too, as they now represent 99 percent of Upserve’s customers. The Upserve symbol is comprised of two strong metaphors – a wine glass representing the front of the house and a knife for the back of the house. These elements overlap to form a plus, which symbolizes the idea of adding efficiency to restaurant management.

“Restaurateurs want to delight guests, provide great food and run smoother service. Upserve is the magic ingredient,” said Davis. “Our new  brand reflects our focus and commitment to our fast­-growing customer base, best evidenced by our new Spring ’16 product release, which serves up clear guidance that helps restaurants thrive.”

“Along the way, we focused relentlessly on our customers and invested deeply to help solve their challenges. Restaurants are one of the largest segments of our economy, employing 1 out of every 10 people in the workforce. Last year, consumer spending on dining out exceeded that on food at home for the first time. Most restaurants are independently owned and operated, many founded by first- or second-generation Americans. We are proud to be their partner.

“Our product has risen to meet an expanding set of needs. Today, we serve restaurants with one location, and others with many locations. We now connect the dots between point of sale, online reviews, payments, reservations, and more. Everywhere the restaurant goes, there we are, organizing key information into one place. Our new name catches up to where our product—and our customers—already are.”

Before You Leave…

Let’s review how to rename your business:

  1. Decide what you want your name to help you achieve.
  2. Leverage an exhaustive list of question to discover more about your brand and your goals.
  3. Conduct some sort of brand exercise (we recommend this one) to establish an aligned understanding amongst your team.
  4. Setup project parameters to work within – build a keyword bank and boil it down into three pillars.
  5. Search for viable names within those parameters.
  6. Have fun 😃 !