I’d never heard of ‘Google-whacking’ until earlier this week. It took my good friend, Rob Jones, to laughingly draw the analogy between my frustrated search for the right brand name for our new business and Dave Gorman’s magnificent ‘google-whacking’ adventures.
If, like me, you’d never heard of Dave and his adventures, I recommend checking out the linked material here. It’s an amusing read and one which I know many startup adventurers will also relate to in part.
What I’m going to share below is how to choose a good brand name for your business – drawing on all the practical and expert advice and tips that I’ve recently been given in relation to our own quest for a name for our startup. Oh and yes, there will be some Google-whacks as well…
It’s no mean feat to choose a great brand name for a new business
Well, at least it hasn’t been for me! Since sharing my exasperation at my lack of creativeness and ingenuity with many of my business founder and marketing friends, it is at least reassuring to know that I have not been alone in this challenge.
The burden of coming up with something that has the right degree of resonance and meaningfulness is hard enough. Add to that the need to ensure that it is registrable as a trade mark and potentially scalable outside your original jurisdictional market (i.e. Google doesn’t identify it as belonging to someone else somewhere else in the world) and you’ve got a full time occupation on your hands.
In fact, in almost every waking moment across 2 weeks, when I wasn’t dealing with all the other fundamentally important factors involved in launching a brand new business, I was scribbling in my notebook, trying to find the perfect word(s). I’ve managed to fill almost an entire notebook with scribbled words! And I have hated most of them.
When I described this process to expert in trademarks, Emma Reeve, an associate in the intellectual property firm Mathys & Squire, she also laughed and told me that it is really hard to come up with a good brand name and she confirmed how common this challenge is for startups and small businesses.
What should you be thinking about when you pick a brand name?
When you pick a brand name, it’s going to stay with you a long time.
From day one, you’ll be creating value and goodwill in it. You’ll be using it to build your discoverability and search engine optimisation (SEO) positioning (how well Google ranks you and how soon and how easily you can get yourself on to the first page of their search results for what you do.) Your customers, suppliers and business partners will likely be using your brand name in their published material; the awards you win, the recommendations people make, again, all of them build up a hard-earned reputation in that brand name.
It’s not easily transferrable.
So you want to get it right.
And you need to protect it properly, so that you can prevent anyone else from using it and free-riding on your hard work and creative efforts; or worse, damaging your reputation with unscrupulous behavior that gets unjustly attributed to you.
Remember that registering a new company at Companies House or buying a domain name with your preferred brand word(s) will not give you this protection. The only way to secure a brand name for your business is to register it as a trade mark.
Emma’s advice to me was that made up words are easier to protect as a trade mark – and they present far less risk of being opposed (challenged) by someone else already in the market with the same or a similar brand name.
There are now so many trade marks in existence around the world that it’s become very rare to be able to register a single, non-made-up word for a brand.
We definitely tried to find something that wasn’t made up and yet bore relevance to what we stood for… and failed. Though if we’d had a big marketing budget to spend with an agency, we might perhaps have fared better.
We found loads of words that we really liked, of course. But according to the Trade Mark (TM) Registry, they (or very similar words) already belonged to other people who were using them for the same (or very similar) products/services to us.
(A quick search of the registry, at https://www.gov.uk/search-for-trademark will show you whether you run the risk of someone objecting to your proposed registration.)
If someone objects, and the TM registry considers that their objection is well-founded (generally because your mark is in danger of causing consumer confusion between both businesses), you will not be allowed to register your proposed trade mark. Priority of ownership and legitimate use is always accorded to the first business owner to register the word mark.
When you do this search, you’ll be given the option of narrowing it to the ‘classes’ of products or services in connection with which you want to use your brand name.
This is important because a general and less specific search of the registry might well disclose the prior registration of the same, or a similar mark to someone else, but in relation to a wholly unconnected set of products and services that do not compete with yours.
If this happens, you might well be able to argue that there will not be any consumer confusion caused by your use of the word mark, so you should be allowed to use it too. If the other owner agrees with your assessment, then the registry will permit you to register it too.
The challenge with these trade mark classes is that they are very, very broad. One class can capture all sorts of activities that you probably haven’t thought of and that would not be in the slightest bit relevant to your business plan, but which are bundled in with the ones that are relevant.
If your products or services clash with someone who already has a word mark registered for that same class, you’re at real risk of being opposed and prevented from using that mark for your own business.
It’s worth bearing in mind that even if your word mark is spelled differently, if phonetically, it sounds the same as an existing registered mark, this is also counted as the same / similar and therefore a clash. So Levi and Leevi or Chanel and Shanelle would be considered a clash.
In addition, a clash may arise where your word(s) contain a clearly recognisable registered trade mark, e.g. Uberit or ipepsi. In both those cases, Uber and Pepsi are clearly evident. Given that these trade marks are registered and very well known and protected, they would each be in their rights to oppose an attempt to register the proposed words.
So while you can complete an online trade mark application yourself through the gov.uk web-site, without taking expert advice or help, this is an area where if you can afford to do so, taking a bit of advice is really worth-while. It could save you a lot of unnecessary stress and cost later.
It’s not all about the TM Registry either.
At the very least, you should search Google too. This is because even though they should do so, not every business registers their brand as a trade mark.
If they’ve been in business under their mark for a while and even if they haven’t registered a trade mark, they may still be able to challenge your application to register your preferred word.
They may not win that challenge, because only registration affords this full protection, but there’s a risk that they could do so, or at least they could make things difficult for you – especially if consumers start to muddle your business up with theirs and e.g. go to their web-site and order from it, not realising that they are not you.
A Google search is also important if you’re planning to export, or to expand beyond the UK. Not everyone registers their ownership of a trade mark across all continents. So it’s possible that a rival business exists under the same or a similar name to you, and as soon as you start to export or to expand into other countries and markets, you could face a trade mark challenge from this rival. This carries the same risk of consumer confusion and inadvertently diverted sales traffic in this new jurisdiction.
And don’t forget that any logos or icons you might design also need to be checked with the TM registry and potentially on Google too – check the images filter for this (although it’s not an exact science). Where you can, it is often helpful to apply to register your proposed logo at the same time as the word mark, but it’s not essential.
Emotionally and reputationally…
Just like me, all Emma’s clients who come to her for advice on the registrability of a brand name are looking for something that they can feel a connection with. It’s all very well having a made up name, but any old made up word is unlikely to do for most of us.
It is really hard to come up with a good made up name! There are some brilliant ones out there. It is definitely an art to come up with them. Names like Uber, Zipjet, Google, Twitter, Diageo, Deliveroo, AirBnB and Mailchimp are great examples. Even when, like Uber, the word itself doesn’t lend a clue to the service on sale, it feels fresh, modern and relatable and as consumers, we have no problem saying the word, it rolls very easily off the tongue.
This is where my own Google-Whack experience really kicked off.
Briefly explained, ‘Google-whacking’ is where you take two unconnected words and combine them in a Google search with the aim of getting only 1 hit back. It’s not at all easy to do – as Dave Gorman’s adventure comically relates – and he ended up travelling the world, launching a world-class sell-out stage show and writing a book on it!
In our case, we were looking for a Super Google-Whack: something that didn’t even score one hit!
Happily, we scored a few …. eventually. Almost a full notebook later…when we felt as though we’d been down the proverbial rabbit hole for quite a while!
Of course, the problem by this stage was that aside from feeling thoroughly jaded by the entire experience, successful super Google-Whacking doesn’t guarantee you a name that you actually like.
The elation of having beaten both the TM Registry and Google soon wears off when you realise that the word you’ve just created is total horse-poo!
Testing your name for ‘brand sense’ (or avoiding a horse-poo name)
Some of the best advice I was given is to write out the brand as your email address. See what you think of it in writing, in one of the very contexts in which you’re likely to be using it.
Imagine you’re at an event and someone asks you which business you’re representing. Practice saying ‘I’m with …’. How easily can you say the word? Does it feel neat and smooth when you say it or is it sounding a bit clunky? Are you stumbling over saying it clearly?
Another really great tip is to consider all of your stakeholders. While the decision on a brand name is very personal to the founders establishing the business, it shouldn’t be an insular decision, made without consideration of how customers, suppliers and even investors are likely to consider it.
We came up with a couple of names that we quite like, as did several of our informal test groups, millennial customers especially. But these words fell at the next hurdle, when our supplier group expressed concern that they felt it could make our platform, and with it, their showcased services, sound a bit cheap, inexpert and in their words: ‘supermarkety’ – not the impression we (or they!) were looking to convey.
As a platform brand that celebrates and showcases other brands (as we will be doing), we have a responsibility to protect the reputations and brand profiles of those other brands – or risk them not working with us.
So putting in the test ‘leg-work’ here is really valuable, even though it takes time and it is inevitably frustrating. While you definitely won’t please everyone, it’s important to ensure that even those you who aren’t ecstatic about the final name, equally aren’t in violent opposition to it.
Looking back, now with some perspective and a lot of relief (!), there have been some funny moments.
Like the time we identified the word ‘Yellidoo’ as something that we quite liked… until one of our friends pointed out that it sounded like a very enthusiastic wedding site: ‘Yell I Do…’!
Which killed that one off pretty fast.
There was a day when I threatened the team with Quewte – just to make them (lads especially) squirm when they were forced to write it as their email address in try out sessions.
We spent 2 days under the threat of being called ‘Pomegranate & Stilton’, when I got really cheesed off.
Not to mention the word that I won’t print (mostly out of embarrassment for having been responsible for it myself!), that immediately and wholly unexpectedly landed us in soft porn territory when we did the Google search!
Everyone’s a critic too. There have been several moments where, even though I knew they were probably right, I wanted to thump a couple of my very long-suffering ‘brand guinea pigs’! I also wanted to thump a number of well-meaning people who innocently commented about ‘how exciting and fun it must be to choose a new business name…’
So if you’re looking for the perfect Super Google-Whack to name your new brand, you have my absolute sympathy. I hope the tips and advice that I’ve collected above are helpful. And if all else fails, I have several pages of Super Google-Whacks that didn’t work for us but that you’re very welcome to!